By Andrew Hobbs, Group Editor

IF THE Energy White Paper 2015 is anything to go by, then there is no doubt the Australian government shares the oil and gas industry’s belief that natural gas, not renewable energy, is Australia’s energy source of the future.

A good portion of the document, which sets out a framework for future government policy in the area, set out three key targets for the future of electricity generation in Australia.

All three of these – increasing competition to keep prices down, increasing energy productivity to promote growth and investing in Australia’s energy future – play directly into Australia’s gas markets and industry.

Chief among the direct announcements is an inquiry to be launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, looking into competition and transparency in non-retail gas markets.

That policy has received the support of Opposition energy spokesman Gary Gray and criticism from the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, which says the inquiry is unnecessary.

But the decision comes at a time when Australia’s eastern gas market has started exports of liquefied natural gas, with government predicting that gas exports may more than triple domestic gas consumption by 2018.

With new pressures on gas markets and a bi-partisan opposition to domestic gas reservation comes a demand for not only increased electricity generation but more efficient energy use.

In this, the White Paper sets out a plan for a national energy productivity improvement target, which it says could be as high as a 40 per cent on current levels by 2030.

That target, measured by the ratio of real gross domestic product to primary energy consumption, is achievable but would require regulated and voluntary contributions from a range of sectors including construction and manufacturers of vehicles and other forms of equipment, the White Paper said.

On its launch, the White Paper was condemned by some media commentators as well as the Labor and Greens parties for its alleged lack of focus on fostering sources of renewable energy, with some taking it as an opportunity to criticise the government for ignoring environmental issues.

There is something to be said for the argument that a focus on increased competition in electricity generation should consider increasing the capacity of renewable power to compete with gas-fired power stations.

But renewable energy only made up 13% of all electricity generated in Australia in 2012-2013, a poor third to the 21% generated by gas and 64% generated by coal.

In addition, Australian gas production shows no signs of slowing down, particularly as the nation prepares to lead the world in LNG exports – and as use of gas and renewable sources of electricity generation rises.

Finding better ways to use the energy we have already generated, rather than new ways of generating it, might be the new green solution that Australia’s environmentalists, its manufacturing and construction industries have been looking for.