Ten bucks a litre? Dick Smith misses the point

I quite enjoyed all the aerial shots of open-cut mines and power stations, but Dick Smith's documentary on ABC TV Ten Bucks a Litre seemed to miss the point.

As the promo blurb stated:

Dick Smith explores Australia's options as the era of cheap and abundant energy is replaced by an age of scarcity and high cost.

Unfortunately, this premise is fundamentally flawed. Energy is as abundant as ever (we just seem to love looking for it in all the wrong places), and we're not destined for a high cost future.

Energy wastage is the key

The documentary was comprehensive and wide-ranging and I commend it for that.

Energy wastage was mentioned. But coverage of the topic was tokenistic and had a not-so-subtle undertone of having to choose between a life of comfort and one stuck in a bush cabin.

We do need to change our behaviours, but the choice is not even remotely that stark.

The documentary would have you believe that the energy efficiency opportunity in a typical Australian home is about a 30% reduction in energy consumption. Wrong.

Saving energy does not cost money, it makes money

The house profiled in the show used a fairly typical 24 kWh per day of electricity.

I run a business from my place and use about 2.4 kWh per day (ie. 90% less than they do). And no, I don't even have solar PV panels on the roof to offset usage down to that level.

Here's the important part: slashing our energy consumption by this amount (or any amount) normally has a negative net cost. In other words: it saves money, it does not cost money.

You might dismiss me as an outlier, but times are changing. Despite rising population, Australian energy consumption is actually declining in all states.

On the energy production side (where the documentary spent just about all of its time), Dick Smith presents us with three main options for our energy future:

  1. Business as usual (dominated by coal and gas)
  2. A nuclear-power Renaissance
  3. Renewable energy (wind and solar)

This was accompanied by a narrative that options 2 and 3 will cost increasingly more.

Well, he's certainly right about nuclear costing more.

But the price of renewable energy is dropping rapidly. Solar is already cheaper than grid electricity in many parts of the world.

Energy is abundant

It's always a good idea to go back to first principles (something the documentary failed to do).

Despite our huge global population and wasteful consumption of energy, the solar radiation received on planet earth in just one hour is equivalent to total global primary energy consumption for an entire year (you can check my maths).

Far from being scarce and costly, our real energy future is cheap and abundant.

- Ryan McCarthy

To read more on this topic, including details about how I keep my bills low, see this follow-up article: Average Household Energy Cost

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