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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 3524

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - I support the estimates for the Department of Minerals and Energy, The Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who is at the table, has repeatedly drawn the attention of the nation to the world energy crisis or, rather, the crisis in hydrocarbons. He has implemented policies which are directed to a balanced evaluation of our minerals and energy resources. These policies are geared to be in both the short term and the long term in the best interests of the nation as a whole. In dealing with the real energy crisis, I point out that less concern would have been shown in the crisis in America were it not informed opinion that there will be, indeed, within a time of interest to most of us, difficulties in keeping up with the expanding need for energy if we are at the same time to eliminate the pollution caused by venting the products of burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere. Correspondingly, the threat of fossil fuels exhaustion has long been on the horizon.

The reasons why this situation is now taken seriously are, first, that it has been expressed in a quantitative form. It is not a matter of the world's fossil fuels running out in the literal sense for perhaps 25 years; but the site of the remaining oil, which is under the sea or shale, leads to difficulties in extraction, so that the price will rise greatly. Correspondingly, much fossil fuel, particularly coal, contains sulphur, and this is costly to extract. Secondly, the date has been stated for the exhaustion of the indigenous supply at about the present price in constant dollars in the United States. That date is about 1985. The prospect of the United States placing 80 per cent reliance upon Arab oil involves prodigious dangers. An extraction of all world fossil fuels, including coal, is foreseen within 2 generations.

The alternatives currently are atomic energy or solar energy. We ought to ask whether large scale atomic energy utilisation will be able to overcome low intensity radiation hazards. The whole question of nuclear technology as it applies to both reactor and waste disposal has not yet reached the level of meeting national accepted standards of safety. The position with regard to the degree of pollution of the atmosphere by atomic reactors is still contentious. Eventually it will probably depend upon how much one can pay to build in safety features, which of course affects the price of the energy produced. As the world for perhaps the first time is being made aware of the exhaustibility of its energy resources, particularly in fossil fuels, research upon solar conversion will increase in many parts of the world and become massive in some because of the growing doubt about the viability of the large scale use of atomic energy, and about pollution and the pollutive prospects of gasifying coal. There are 3 parts of the world which are ideally situated for solar energy conversion. They are the Sahara, north India and central Australia. So to that extent I feel we ought to exploit this advantage to its maximum.

I noticed in the 'Sunday Mail' of 16 September a report that Dr Lloyd Herwig of the National Science Foundation of the United States of America has predicted that Australia could become the world's biggest energy rich nation in the 1990s through solar energy. It is reported that the Foundation has urged the Australian Government to proceed to a massive investment in solar energy development. Dr Herwig states that Australia can be a major exporter of energy by storing the excess solar energy which falls on Australia in the form of liquid hydrogen and exporting it as natural gas is exported. I believe that the solar energy potential of Australia is of paramount importance to this country and that solar energy will be overwhelmingly more valuable to us than perhaps our mineral resources. The solar energy potential of Australia is, of course, inexhaustible.

Solar energy can supplement our existing and future energy requirements in 3 main areas. The first is in domestic and commercial hot water systems, house and office heating and cooling. In this area we lead the world, particularly through the research that has been carried out by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The second area is in the provision for fuels for transportation from distillation and fermentation of plant material, and the third is in electrical power generation. Of these 3 possibilities the first is already economically viable but needs Government action to encourage installation of solar hot water systems. These have a higher initial cost than do other hot water systems, but because the fuel needed for their operation is free they become economic over a period of years. Some incentive is needed for the householder to install these units rather than a penalty as is presently imposed by the electricity generating authorities by not allowing cheap tariffs for booster heating.

The wider use of solar units would also encourage industrial development by a large factor and would produce significant cost reductions. Further developmental studies are being carried out by the CSIRO and university departments, and will increase the effectiveness of such units. Research on the use of solar energy in the other 2 areas I mentioned is not so well developed, but research carried out so far indicates that significant contributions to our energy needs can be provided by solar energy. The potential of these energy resources is of such importance that a major research program is totally justified. At the present time several groups in Australia are working independently in this area with negligible funding for a project of this national importance.

Groups are working on solar energy at the following universities: Queensland, New South Wales, Sydney, Australian National University, Melbourne, Broken Hill University College, and at the university in my own electorate, the Flinders University. Regrettably, much of the effort is fragmented. It badly needs coordination and direction. The Australian Government, and in particular the Minister for

Minerals and Energy and the Minister for Science (Mr Morrison), have the resources to achieve co-ordination and direction. I take this opportunity to request both Ministers to call a national symposium of all interested groups to hammer out a national policy in this area. I feel that a national policy on solar energy is urgently needed. I take this opportunity to request both Ministers to allocate a modest sum in the vicinity of $2m per annum initially to fund research in this area. Close co-operation between the CSIRO, universities and industrial organisations will be required. This will be achieved if the development of solar energy is approached as a national effort.

The work at Flinders University is directed mainly towards electrical power generation, and it is likely that four or five years of intensive research work is required before the full promise of this aspect can be properly assessed. Since it would then require a further 5 to 10 years for engineering and pilot plant studies to be carried out, this will take us into the latter part of the century before significant contributions to our power industry can be effected. By this time our oil and gas reserves will be tight and power costs will have escalated. This is why I believe that it is a matter of some urgency that we as a nation begin an extensive program of solar energy research now. I ask the Minister for Minerals and Energy to call a symposium of the groups involved in the area of energy research and to give urgent consideration to the allocation of the modest sum of $2m to ensure that this nation develops its potential and increases its energy options. I support the proposed expenditure.

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