25 Sep 2012

Turning The Lights On The Energy Industry

By New Matilda

Rising electricity prices, climate change and the renewables boom - energy is changing, but how does it work? Our series, Future Shock, has all you need to know about what will be powering your home in 10 years

We've had two big projects underway at New Matilda in September: our annual fundraising drive and our series investigating the energy industry in Australia, Future Shock.

We've been asking New Matilda readers to get on board and fund the website for another year. Sign up here.

How do we generate energy? And how much should it cost? These questions are fundamental for Australia and they're not always easy to answer.

The debate is often very technical and dominated by experts. What's more, new technologies are making the picture more complicated. If renewable energy is getting cheaper and smarter, why are we still mining coal? Clear explanations are thin on the ground.

This is why we commissioned Ben Eltham to lead a series looking at how the energy industry works — from power generation to switching on the lights. We've asked Ben and a team of writers to take a close look at the claims made about renewable energy too.

To get things rolling, Ben and Squirrel Main researched a two-part explainer on the energy industry — from poles and wires, to regulators, distributors and the middle men. Read the first part here and the second here.

When you sign up for an electricity account at home, you're usually given a "green" option, thanks to the federally funded GreenPower scheme. It's not without contradictions, as Belinda Eslick's examination of the scheme reveals today.

The coal seam gas boom took many by surprise. As Ben and Belinda wrote last week, "Many farmers and rural landowners had no idea that mining companies could legally come onto their land without their permission and drill in search of gas. The hydraulic fracturing process employed — known as "fracking" — has been deeply controversial, with many environmentalists and water scientists raising concerns about the effects of the process on underground water tables." How did this happen so quickly? Our explainer on the CSG boom puts the massive increase in exploration and production in context.

There's also a human side to CSG. Belinda visited the Queensland town of Chinchilla to find out how the gas boom is transforming what was once a sleepy agricultural town.

Tomorrow, we'll be looking at whether windpower is all it's cracked up to be — as well as examining the tactics of the anti-windpower brigade in the Victorian town of Waubra.

Ben has also examined the brightest star in the renewables firmament: solar energy

When you fund New Matilda, you help us undertake more reporting like the Future Shock series. 

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