The Australian government’s preference for low-emission technologies has flowed through to the introduction of new regulations that will expand the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to include a wider range of clean energy technologies.

ARENA, which previously providing funding purely for renewable energy projects, will now be required to consider carbon capture and storage or utilisation projects, blue hydrogen projects and other projects that purport to “control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to a material extent”.

Shockingly for renewable energy proponents, this could mean funding for gas projects given that the Morrison government has said it considers gas to be a low emissions technology.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage company CO2CRC welcomed the change saying the expansion of ARENA’s role to support the widest range of low emissions technologies across all industries will encourage the development, application and scaling up of technologies that can strengthen industry and create jobs while reducing CO2 emissions.

However, the Australian Conservation Foundation was much less enthusiastic, saying the changes would contradict ARENA’s intended role and set it up to become a financier for coal and gas industries.

There is no guarantee the new regulations will pass, with the Greens saying they will mobilise against the changes.

“CCS is a failed pipe dream,” Greens party leader Adam Bandt said.

“These regulations are a climate disgrace that will funnel public money to big coal and gas corporations, and we will move to disallow them when parliament resumes.”

Low-emissions technology?

There is still a case for low-emissions technology supplementing rather than replacing renewables.

Technologies aimed at increasing energy efficiency are welcome regardless of the source of said energy while the ability to substitute – preferably – green hydrogen for gas or coke in the case of steel production.

While net zero is an enviable goal, even the ability to slash emissions by half in the short term is a damn sight better than twiddling thumbs while waiting for a better solution.

Likewise, carbon capture and storage has yet to be proven commercially but that might be a case for the produced CO2 to be captured and reused in industries that actually require CO2 that would otherwise need to be produced separately.

Even natural gas could have a limited role to play – particularly as a replacement for coal – though this is far less than it would have been a decade ago… though environmentalists may strongly disagree.