Learning the lessons from major infrastructure upgrades

June 26, 2020

Future Fuels CRC’s latest research helps to prepare for future transitions to net zero emission future fuels, by learning the valuable lessons from previous infrastructure upgrades and fuel transitions in Australia.

Lessons learned from major infrastructure upgrades RP2.1-01

The research covers three case studies gathered from past infrastructure upgrades and fuel transitions in Australia to determine what obstacles might be encountered in contemporary and future transitions to net zero, future fuels.

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Although each of these three case studies is defined by different events, technologies and incentive schemes, there are similarities and overlaps in the lessons that they contain. First and foremost, the three case study illustrates the importance of gaining and maintaining the public’s trust in a new industry or fuel:

1960s Town Gas to Natural Gas
In the late 1960s, many gas consumers in Australia were presented with a new fuel, natural gas that was not only cheaper but also cleaner and more reliable than the coal gas that it replaced. Nonetheless, gas companies had to invest considerable effort to ensure that customers accepted the so-called “lazy blue flame”. Thanks in part to those efforts, the conversion to natural gas was widely considered successful.

1990s Ethanol and LPG as motor fuels
When petrol stations in New South Wales started blending ethanol into petrol in the 1990s to produce a cheaper fuel, motorists were initially happy to use it. Ethanol was only ever competitive with petrol because it was not taxed as heavily. But by the early 2000s, concerns about engine damage and poor governance caused a consumer backlash which no amount of government subsidies, consumption mandates and awareness campaigns was able to fix. The LPG industry managed to recover from a safety scare in the late 1970s and had a boom in the years around 2005 on the back of generous government subsidies; but the popularity of LPG reduced when subsidies were removed and with the emergence of new diesel and hybrid technologies.

2000s Coal Seam Gas
The third case is the rapid expansion of the coal seam gas (CSG) industry across a broad geographic area. The CSG industry initially began to develop in the 1990s without issue but became increasingly controversial from the mid-2000s. Communities were not prepared for the impacts that occurred when a vast network of infrastructure expanded onto high-value agricultural and rural residential areas. The initial failure of the industry to build productive relationships with landholders and communities contributed to the ongoing trust problems and widespread public opposition that ultimately ensued.

 Drawing on published information, these three case studies provide accounts of the issues that arose during the upgrade or transition and the approaches that industry and government used to manage these issues. The report distils applicable lessons and frameworks from academic literature about stakeholder analysis, megaprojects, and the social acceptance of industries and technologies. It also identifies tools that can be used to develop consistent communication around the future transition to hydrogen and other future fuels.