THE Federal Government will drop chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s proposed Clean Energy Target in favor of a National Energy Guarantee. Newly appointed Australian Pipelines & Gas Association (APGA) chief executive Steve Davies spoke with Elizabeth Fabri about the feasibility of this new energy policy, and the importance of gas to the future energy supply mix.
Q. Describe your education and professional background.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering from UNSW. However, by the end of my studies I knew I preferred economics to engineering.
I wasn’t interested in further study at that time and after a couple of adventures, I found myself working at the Australasian Railway Association in Canberra in a junior policy role. This allowed me to get into policy development and industry associations, where I have been ever since.
The Federal public service is a huge employer in Canberra and offers a lot of opportunity.
I spent three years there in a variety of offshore petroleum policy and regulatory roles in the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (the Petroleum Engineering degree came in useful after all!) and had the opportunity to undertake a Master of Public Policy too.
The experience of working in the public service was enough for me to know I preferred the more dynamic, small team environment of industry associations.
I joined APGA (then known as the Australian Pipeline Industry Association) in 2008 as the policy adviser and have been here ever since, becoming the national policy manager in 2014 and the chief executive in September 2017.
Q. What does a typical week look like for you?
APGA operates 12 committees, ranging from energy policy to pipeline operations and the Young Pipeliners Forum which makes for a wide range of issues to be across.
APGA holds more than 30 events annually around the country, so a lot of travelling is involved.
I try to take advantage of being on the move by maintaining a busy schedule of meetings with external stakeholders in the places I’m visiting for APGA events.
Focus on energy policy has been intense in 2017.
Gas transmission pipelines have not been exempt from this, we have five major reforms and reviews under way, all focused on different aspects of pipeline regulation and capacity markets.
Coordinating the industry position and then communicating it to stakeholders is a major part of my job every week.
Q. What are your views towards the Government’s National Energy Guarantee and how does this stack up to chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel’s original proposal; the Clean Energy Target?
I hope the National Energy Guarantee will prove to be effective, and that it offers a vehicle for the major parties and the Federal, State and Territory governments to agree on the future direction of energy policy.
While we’ve seen only a little detail, the policy proposal appears to create a level playing field through balancing reliability of electricity supply with the requirement to lower carbon emissions.
In that sense, it’s superior to the Clean Energy Target, which was concerned only with establishing an emissions intensity benchmark.
Of course, significant detail remains unresolved and this will be key. Good policy cannot be replaced by assertions, and the nation does require a comprehensive energy policy that aims to deliver reliability, emissions reductions and more affordable energy. Delivering all three of those elements will be incredibly challenging and, ultimately, may be unachievable.
It is great to see the Government focusing on the high-level policy settings the nation desperately needs.
Government’s role is to set the policy framework and allow investment to pick the most efficient ways of achieving the policy goals and we need more of it.
Q. You’ve mentioned that gas should have an expanding role as renewables are added to the energy mix. Can you elaborate?
Right now, gas is the technology that is in place to provide responsive, dispatchable electricity to account for variability in renewable energy supply.
There’s a lot of focus on batteries and that’s understandable – this emerging technology is innovative and captures the imagination.
But Australia already has a lot of gas peaking power stations installed, with sunk capital, ready to rapidly add supply when required. And I have no doubt it will.
Another opportunity exists to convert into hydrogen excess electricity generated, say, on very windy days.
The hydrogen can be injected into existing natural gas networks and used for energy. Projects proving this technology are already under way in Australia and overseas.
Q. What are your views on the east coast gas shortage?
Firstly, we have to stop thinking of this as a gas challenge: it’s an issue for the entire energy sector and solutions might continue to elude us if we focus on only one part of it. The energy sector is complex and interconnected and this is why we need a holistic national energy policy so that changes in one sector – for example the growth in the contribution of renewables to our energy supply – do not have unforeseen negative impacts in other parts of the sector.
Gas supplies around half of the energy required by Australia’s industry, commerce and households, so we must ensure that we have enough energy supply to meet that demand.
It is important that State and Territory governments find ways to enable gas exploration and investment to occur.
We have had many independent and well-respected inquiries into gas extraction methods in Australia, such as the one carried out by the NSW chief scientist.
That inquiry and all of the others have found that risks can be appropriately managed with the right combination of industry technology and expertise with Government oversight and regulation.
I encourage State and Territory governments to increase awareness and understanding of these findings.
Q. What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career similar to yours?
If you want a career in industry associations, it’s vital you learn to be comfortable doing lots of different things.
Most associations have small teams and everyone needs to pitch in.
For policy development, the most important skill is communication. If you can’t communicate your ideas and position simply, you will not get far.
As someone who took a round-about path to this destination, the best piece of career advice I ever got was ‘learn to be good at something’.
The skills you develop in becoming good at something will serve you to learn new skills and become good at more things.
When you find something you really want to be good at, or even the best, at, you’ll know how to go about it.