Cronshaw at peak of energy security debate

By 2020, Australia will overtake Qatar as the global “superpower” producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), according to Ian Cronshaw (pictured), Flinders alumnus and consultant to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Mr Cronshaw spoke to Flinders Indaily from his Canberra home ahead of the launch of the IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) – an annual report which provides insights into trends in energy markets and what they mean for energy security, environmental protection and economic development – of which he is an expert contributor.

A 2011 WEO special report, Mr Cronshaw said, highlighted Australia’s gas production efforts.

“Coal seam gas (CSG) is not new but as the price and demand for gas has risen in Asia, we’ve seen the potential for CSG to be extracted and liquefied and shipped to Asian markets,” he said.

“Three massive projects in Gladstone, Queensland – the world’s first such projects – plus several very large conventional gas projects in WA will make Australia the next big LNG power globally. I have no doubt about it,” he said.

Our interview also coincided with the launch of the federal government’s energy white paper – the first since the Howard Government’s white paper of 2004, of which Mr Cronshaw was a major contributor.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, from a number of aspects,” he said.

“I think we got a very complete package in that white paper – looking at the whole issue of energy production, energy use in Australia, electricity and energy market reform in general.”

Canberra holds a special place in Mr Cronshaw’s career. He moved there in 1975 as a recent graduate of Flinders University, with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) majoring in physics and mathematics under his belt.

Over the next 36 years, he held a range of senior analyst and management positions in departments including science, and resources and energy, before becoming general manager in Invest Australia in a role attracting investment in energy and resource industries.

His most recent post was as Division Head in the IEA, covering global gas, coal and power markets.

He heralds Australia’s energy diversification and energy market reform over the past 30 years as one of the country’s great energy policy success stories.

“There was massive expansion in Australian energy production, in oil and particularly coal, matched by a commensurate effort to diversify the energy sector,” he said. “And obviously, for the future, gas is set for significant growth.”

Since his earliest work with the IEA in the 1980s – he and his wife have a pied-à-terre overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a second home – he has observed a similar move among most of the other 27 IEA member countries.

“That energy diversification is arguably one of the most important things that’s happened over three decades in terms of ensuring energy security and affordability globally, at least as far as electricity is concerned.

“And the availability of an affordable and continuous supply of electricity is very important to our lives. As we saw recently with the super-storm Sandy, life comes to a halt pretty quickly without electricity: we’re talking minutes and hours.”

Ironically, it’s the availability of electricity that may impede the energy future of Iraq – one of the special topics in this year’s WEO report.

“Iraq is absolutely central to the global oil future. It’s a country with large reserves and tremendous production potential,” Mr Cronshaw said.

“One of the most obvious things it needs to make its own energy future is electricity. But in Iraq today, you might have electricity available for only five or six hours a day.”

A second “big story” in the WEO report is energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency is very important to having a more secure energy supply. There’s a tremendous untapped potential in energy efficiency in a number of fields.”

Despite the European financial crisis and the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, Mr Cronshaw said there were many reasons for optimism about energy supply and security, citing the revolution in gas production and consumption; the boost in US oil production and its attendant reduction in oil imports; the US as the only major country to register a reduction in energy related greenhouse gas emissions in 2011; the effect of fuel efficiency standards in the US; the ongoing diversification of China and India’s energy sectors; and the decreasing cost of renewables.

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