The newest science adviser to Australia’s conservative Liberal-National government has said the country needs to accelerate its switch from coal to renewable energy.
Dr Alan Finkel, an engineer and neuroscientist. said on his first day as Chief Scientist that he wanted to put sustainable energy on the agenda to help Australians weigh up different options.
While Australia had already invested trillions of dollars in wind and solar energy, it will take decades for them to reach significant scale, he said.
“You need to start as soon as you can and we have started, but we need to accelerate that effort,” Dr Finkel told Fairfax Media.
All countries also needed to speed up their progress in order to achieve the global target reached at the United Nations sponsored Paris climate talks last year of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Fairfax Media reports the self-described “techno-optimist” who previously founded a scientific instrument company, said he would advise the government to invest in scientific research that helps make “zero emissions technologies” more reliable and cheaper.
Dr Finkel hoped Australia would increase its investment in storing solar and wind energy, for example in batteries.
“The problem is, it doesn’t matter how much wind and solar you have it’s intermittent.
“Without storage of some kind, wind and solar will never deliver on their full potential.”
His views came as a study by carbon consultancy firm RepuTex found that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions were expected to continue rising past 2020 at one of the worst growth rates in the developed world.
Fairfax Media reports Dr Finkel would not be drawn on the government’s plans to axe the Australian Renewable Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which invest government funds in low emissions technology.
However, he indicated that both were part of the “innovation landscape that he would advocate for future funding.
Some of his first tasks as Chief Scientist include conducting a review of tax incentives for research and development, and helping develop a 10-15-year plan for science and innovation, building on the agenda the government released in November.
Dr Finkel, who has publicly advocated for nuclear power to help reduce carbon emissions, insisted on Monday that he was “technology agnostic”, and that it would be “inappropriate” to strongly advocate for Australia to adopt it.
He maintained it should be considered as an alternative energy source saying, “if we have a vision for a low-emissions power supply, nuclear energy is one of the ones that could help us get there more quickly than others and give us the continuous delivery capability of zero emissions.
“I know it’s been condemned by a lot of people but if you look at the return per dollar investment, a lot of what’s been achieved through the Direct Action plan is as economically effective as any other scheme it’s ever come up with, including regulation or carbon pricing,” Dr Finkel said.