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The federal government has been hinting that it will announce significant investment into natural gas to drive down prices and create jobs.

Somebody needs to tell the government that it is too late. There’s momentum in the opposite direction to remove gas from industry, commerce and households and replace it with smart and highly efficient electricity.

Not only is gas a fossil fuel and its extraction and use a concern on environmental grounds but its traditional use for heating of water and air is being met by efficient electric heat pumps.

Heat pump technology has been available for a long time in refrigeration and has moved into air conditioning and water heaters in more recent times. A heat pump is about three times more efficient than a normal heat resistance type of heating unit. High temperature heat pumps have become competitive to the point that engineers often choose them over traditional gas boilers, air handlers and driers.

Technology has moved beyond natural gas and the government needs to be aware and change course before they build a whole bunch of infrastructure that will either be mothballed, or worse, it would reduce the momentum of the move to a more efficient and effective technology.

Commercial office developments and strata apartments have (generally speaking) not been installing gas for a long time, but more recently high temperature heat pump technology (HTHP) has become the smart choice for industry and large commercial users like shopping centres.

In many cases, the business case is so strong that facilities are investing in the removal of existing gas boilers and heat infrastructure and replacing them with electric heat pump (including HTHP) infrastructure.

Natural gas usage in Australia will reduce; not just because it is expensive, but it is no longer the technology of choice for many heating requirements.

A case in point is a large meatworks north of Melbourne that’s currently replacing big gas boilers with highly efficient ammonia based electric heat pump water heaters.

The result will be heating water at different temperatures (up to 82 degrees) will be cheaper, cleaner, more controllable and, by using electricity during the day, will help address the solar generation curve.

Facilities like these use a lot of hot water and spend a lot of money heating it. The engineers established that the replacement of the gas boilers will be financially beneficial within three years. Interestingly, some of the funding support is from the federal government.

A multinational engineering firm is working on a huge abattoir in northern Queensland, which will be fully electric from day one. They are also helping large shopping centres remove gas and become fully electric, supported by sizeable solar installations on the roof and on the car parks.

As stated above, apartment blocks are being built without gas reticulated into them, and in homes many thousands of old electric hot water systems are being upgraded to the efficient heat pump units rather than gas. Again, government funding is supporting this move.

The government should continue to invest in the removal of gas, which will lead to a reduction in demand and reduce pressure on finding new sources of the commodity.

You can read an excellent recent publication on the subject by Beyond Zero Emissions, and another article providing an overseas viewpoint was published late last year in Forbes magazine citing Berkley in California and Maine prohibiting gas provision to new buildings. Puerto Rico is also outlawing gas. BloombergNEF produced a research paper back in February mapping an approach towards an electrification future in Europe.

These businesses, engineering firms, councils, states and countries are all concentrating their resources on using the cleanest possible electricity as intelligently as possible.

This is the future. Electrification, degasification, smart controls and highly efficient electric heat pump technology. Matched, where possible, with localised generation and storage. Little or no natural gas in this mix.

There’s momentum building in Australia and overseas  towards not just electrification but degasification.

We applaud the government investing in our future at such a time but suggest that further investment in natural gas is not going to deliver a good long term return to anyone outside the gas industry. It would be better for the rest of us if this money was invested wisely in the future.

Bruce Easton is the founder and chief executive of Ecovantage.


Spinifex is an opinion column open to all our readers. We require 700+ words on issues related to sustainability especially in the built environment and in business. For a more detailed brief please send an email to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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