Feature

Beyond Zero Hero

Green Lifestyle

Dr Stephen Bygrave tells us why renewable energy is a viable choice for Australia, challenging the present government’s take on the coal industry, and shares insight into what keeps him motivated.

Dr Stephen Bygrave

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You have to be pretty passionately interested in the cause of the environment to have spent more than two decades helping to create solutions to climate change. Working across renewable energy, energy efficiency, transport, agriculture, and forestry, Dr Bygrave is one very focussed individual.

Since September 2013, Bygrave has been working as a CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions – a not-for-profit research and education organisation. Under his leadership, this year, Beyond Zero Emissions has won the Business Not-for-Profit Category of the Green Lifestyle Awards.

Q: At the end of last year, the Prime Minister expressed his positive views on the coal industry. How would you argue against his views that coal is beneficial for the economy?

It is not cheaper, that's the first point. In fact the recent review done into the Renewable Energy Target by the Climate Change Authority shows that households will benefit from having more renewable energy. By having more solar energy in our grid, electricity prices do not peak as high, and that means the consumers actually pay less for energy. Our Fossil Economy report also shows that Australia’s fossil fuel exports will be responsible for one-sixth of the world’s carbon budget by 2015, a position that is clearly unsustainable.

Q: The PM also argued that people have the right to be lifted from poverty, saying that coal is the cheaper option though?

It's short sighted to think that coal would be burnt forever with knowing that the world is heading to four degrees of warming by 2100 – which is only 80 years away. Renewable energy has far greater potential and opportunity to bring developing countries out of their poverty than coal does. Again, our Fossil Economy report highlights that countries that are key importers of Australia’s coal and gas, including China and India, are shifting away from fossil fuels.

India has said that they will not build large centralised energy. They will be developing distributed energy systems, and renewable energy is perfectly positioned to supply that distributed energy. There are thousands of projects already being built in India. It is simply uneconomic for India and they know this – to build a centralised energy system which will have huge loses in the transmission line.

Renewable energy is more appropriate for rural communities. It enables communities to take control of their energy and how they build their energy supply.

Q: Is Carbon Capture Storage, or CCS, a viable option?

The recent project in Canada is the first case in which industry has claimed CSS to be commercial. A recent article we wrote for The Conversation explains that there's nowhere else in the world that CCS is currently commercial.

The only reason the industry is saying that it is commercial in the particular site in Canada is because they are using it for enhanced oil recovery. They are pumping CO2 into the reservoir to extract more petroleum that in fact leads to more emissions because that petroleum will eventually be burnt.

CCS is a band-aid for a very big problem. It will never address adequately the emissions that are currently coming from burning coal and gas. CCS will never be able to capture and store those emissions. It is simply not economic and not technically possible.

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