The Future of Clean Coal?

Storm in the city (Sydney)Since the beginning of the industrial revolution coal has played a central role in building the world as we know it today. For Australia, coal has been a dominant energy source and a major export commodity. Yet in a world committed to global decarbonisation, as represented by the Paris Climate Agreement, coal will have a future only if its emissions are dramatically reduced. However, the case for “clean coal” may be hard to make in a world where alternatives are becoming increasingly cheaper and the cost of new coal plants or refurbishing old ones remains very high. In our first Future Energy forum of 2017, our Panel to explored whether clean coal is a crucial step in the transition towards a net zero emissions economy or an expensive and retrograde step that will be almost impossible to finance.


Maxine McKew is an author and Hon Fellow of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. Her most recent book, published by Melbourne University Press in 2014, is Class Act –  a study of the key challenges in Australian schooling. This publication followed the success of her memoir, Tales From the Political Trenches, an account of her brief but tumultuous time in the Federal Parliament. Maxine’s background traverses both journalism and politics. For many years she was a familiar face to ABC TV viewers and was anchor of prestigious programmes such as the 7.30 Report and Lateline. Her work has been recognized by her peers with both Walkely and Logie awards. When she left journalism and made the switch to politics, she wrote herself into the Australian history books by defeating Prime Minister John Howard in the Sydney seat of Bennelong. In government she was both parliamentary secretary for early childhood and later, for regional development and local government. Maxine lives in Melbourne and is a director of Per Capita and the John Cain Foundation. In 2015 she was also appointed to serve on the board of the State Library of Victoria.


Tania Constable, Chief Executive Officer, CO2CRC, was chief advisor in the Personal and Retirement Income Division of Treasury, working on tax-related matters. Prior to her work at Treasury, she held various senior resources and energy roles in the Department of Industry. Ms Constable was the Head of Resources for more than four years. She had responsibility for policy advice to the Minister for Industry on oil and gas regulation, exploration and development, and mining activities. During this time Ms Constable also had the privilege of being the Australian Joint Commissioner and Sunrise Commissioner for Australia and Timor Leste leading joint activities on the development of the Joint Petroleum Development Area and Greater Sunrise Project. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2014 for outstanding public service in the development of Australia’s liquefied natural gas and other resource and energy industries.

Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies Australasia, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, has 25 years financial markets experience, mainly in Australia, but also covering global equities. Tim provides financial analysis in the seaborne coal and electricity sectors for IEEFA, studying energy efficiency and renewables across Australia, China and India, and stranded asset risk in Australia. Tim has published numerous financial papers, including “Peak Thermal Coal Demand by 2016” in conjunction with the Carbon Tracker Initiative in September 2014 and “Indian Electricity Sector Transformation” in November 2015. Tim was co-founder of Arkx Investment Management, a global listed clean energy equities fund (2009-2013) that invested in the opportunities of energy market transitions. Westpac was a cornerstone investor.

Professor Michael Brear is the Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne. He guides the Institute’s research on the technical, economic, environmental and social impacts of energy systems. Much of his own research is collaborative with industry and government on: the technical, economic and environmental analysis of transport and energy systems; systems featuring reciprocating engines and gas turbines; and, combustion of conventional and alternative fuels. Michael is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and the Australian Institute of Energy and he previously established the University’s Master of Energy Systems. Prior to commencing at the University, he undertook graduate studies at Cambridge University and post-doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.