@Andrew Orlowski -- Re: Gas? - - And Australia's technological future.
I'm old enough to have seen reports by governments and others about future projections and directions of certain technologies then to have lived through the time-span covered to know that such projections rarely turn out as predicted. More often than not, something--usually technological developments (the Internet for instance)--throws even the best researched projections way off course.
And it's especially true here in Australia where the culture mitigates--actively conspires--against the Nation's commitment to long-term plans and strategies, and it's especially so with large projects that are in the national interest--those in which government has a say. One could dwell a long time considering why it's so, suffice to say that finding a scientist or engineer amongst the hordes of lawyers, accountants and economists in the gaggle of Australian state and federal parliamentarians is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Australia's energy plans are about as fickle as the weather and without a solid local engineering /scientific culture* to underpin, drive and sustain big projects then they'll be at the whim of all sorts of short-term political and commercial forces. Australia will continue to make decisions based on emotion, fashion, short-term economic considerations and now notional 'green' values based on idealism rather than on proven engineering practices and sound economics. Given past Australia's history, factoring 'green' parameters into this mix will be highly emotional, divisive and political; and most likely, arguments will be based in popular notions of the day rather than those of sound reason. (Australia has and has had great engineers and scientists but they've usually had little sophisticated technical and commercial infrastructure to support them. The common story is that tall poppies get cut down to size and local developments are picked up by outsiders and developed overseas.)
" So gas will be the cheapest power. But that's the only mention there is." Andrew therein lays a significant part of the reason. Moreover, gas contains carbon--and irrespective of its cleaner credentials than coal, to the Chattering Classes (those who've political influence)--the Periodic Table's Element 6 is truly on the nose in the same way as is Element 17 and especially so Element 80--elements that dare not speak their name in this profoundly scientifically illiterate milieu. It's a society whose understanding now comes from more a faith or belief than from any true hands-on understanding of science. [If you want a quintessential illustration of how the public's attitude to science has changed since the 1950s then view this: http://archive.org/details/WhyStudy1955_2 (12 mins).]
What I've said is not new or radical, Australia has a history of screwing up energy and other engineering and scientific policies to the disadvantage of its citizens. I'll cite an example but first some background.
For those outside Australia, you need to know that the country has huge and abundant energy reserves--enough for many hundreds if not thousands of years at the present rate of consumption. For instance, Sydney, NSW is sited somewhat near the centre of a huge geological saucer-shaped basin several hundred kilometres in diameter (part on land, part under the sea). Almost everywhere under this basin are coal and oil shale deposits of high quality--dig deep enough almost anywhere within this vast area and you'll almost certainly find a high quality coal seam that's several metres (~6') thick. (We owe this remarkable carboniferous seam to the vast Glossopteris forests that once covered this part of Gondwana before the Permian–Triassic extinction, about 252 Ma.)
Thus, coal has been mined in vast quantities for several hundred years since the earliest days of Sydney's settlement; until recently, it provided all energy needs: gas, heating, power, energy for steel making etc. (it's now supplemented with natural gas). Essentially, coal was and still is the backbone of Australia's development. (Nowadays, coal, although still so essential, is out of favour with so many, even though switching completely to alternative energies is still many years away.)
For ease of mining, coal and oil shale (torbanite) are extracted mainly at the edge of the Sydney basin where these minerals are close to the surface. NSW towns such as Lithgow, Wollongong and Newcastle, which are on the periphery of the basin, owe their existence to coal mining.
Glen Davis, a small town about 100km crows-fly from Sydney, located on shallow oil shale deposits, was of great strategic importance during WWII in that it produced petroleum products for the war effort and continued thereafter to do so until the early 1950s when the then conservative [Liberal] Government of R.G. Menzies closed the plant down. The pretext was that the plant was uneconomic as well as being a bed of union discontent. The real reason, however, was pressure on the Government from the big international oil companies that wanted a competition-free environment for imported oil from the Arabian Peninsular.
Not only did the Government close down Glen Davis oil production completely but also they deliberately dynamited much of the plant so that it could not be reopened (see photos). Even in the immediate hindsight of WWII, the government did not consider the strategic implications of having a local oil industry as important, moreover, the concept of modernising or expanding the plant to other oil shale fields to make it more competitive with imported oil was not even on the horizon.
Given the enormous reserves throughout Sydney basin and elsewhere across Australia, it would have made sense to develop an indigenous petrochemical industry, and Australia would have surely benefited had it done so during the Oil Crisis of the early 1970s. Only last week, oil multinational, Caltex, made the decision to close its Sydney refinery at Kurnell, and this closure follows close on the heels of Shell's decision close its Sydney refinery at Clyde (it being the only other refinery in NSW).
Strategically, Australia now stands at the precipice of having no refining capability at all in a few years time, it'll not only be an importer of refined petroleum products but also it'll have essentially no petrochemical industry at all. For those who know their chemistry, this is a disaster in the making--this industry is at the very heart of modern industrial chemistry, not only does it provide fuel but also thousands of other products from plastics to drugs. A petrochemical industry is strategic in not only the usual economic and military sense but also that it has an expert workforce who understands the chemistry and allied fields--these skills and its associated knowledgebase diffuse out across the nation adding significantly to the intellectual and commercial capital of the whole country. Either our political leaders are blind to this or they're are incapable of doing anything about it; irrespective, Australia suffers.
Australia has changed in many ways since the 1950s but when it comes to industrial and scientific nous it remains a backwater--one that's all too often taken advantage of by bigger international players. Until Australia seriously faces the situation and takes industry and the training of a local industrial workforce seriously (instead of being a service economy for mostly overseas interests), it will continue to remain an industrial backwater.
Whilst the current political and cultural climate remains, it’s hard to take any predictions as outlined in this story seriously.
* In the wake of war, there was glimmer of a scientific culture developing in Australia between WWII and the early 1960s but it became dormant in the '70s and essentially was dead by the 1980s--too detailed to discuss here.
For those interested in a background on Glen Davis here's a few links:
http://www.glendavispress.com/glendavis.html (before destruction - open 'photo gallery')
http://web.aanet.com.au/bayling/glendavis.html (after destruction by Govt.)
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/27031546 (newspaper article)
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18231951 (newspaper article)
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/40377331 (newspaper article)