Renewables will help Australia meet Paris target early — or will they?
Research from the Australian National University (ANU) has found that Australia is installing renewable power faster than any other country per person per year — an achievement that will apparently help to meet our entire Paris Agreement emissions reduction target five years early.
According to lead researcher Professor Andrew Blakers, Australia is installing renewable power several times faster per capita than the European Union, Japan, China and the United States, based on preliminary data available for installations globally last year.
“The installation of renewables in Australia last year really ramped up compared to these other major economies, and we expect that trend to continue this year and beyond,” Prof Blakers said.
“The electricity sector is on track to deliver Australia’s entire Paris emissions reduction targets five years early, in 2025 — without the need for any creative accounting.
“Australia is on track to reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024 and 100% by 2032.”
Co-researcher Dr Matthew Stocks said the net cost of achieving the 2030 carbon emission targets set in the Paris Agreement will be zero because expensive fossil fuels are being replaced by cheaper renewables.
“The price of electricity from large-scale solar PV and wind farms in Australia is currently about $50/MWh, and steadily falling,” Dr Stocks said.
“This is below the cost of electricity from existing gas-fired power stations and is also below the cost of new-build gas and coal power stations. Nearly all of the new power stations are either PV or wind. We anticipate that this will continue into the future, provided that energy policy is not actively hindering development.”
Co-researcher Bin Lu said stabilising a 100% renewable electricity grid would be possible with technology that is already widely used in Australia, in addition to new smart energy systems that are being developed for electricity grids.
“We can do this with energy storage, demand management and strong interstate connection using high-voltage transmission lines to smooth out the effect of local weather,” Lu said.
“By far the leading storage technologies are pumped hydro and batteries. Australia’s coal power stations are old and are becoming less reliable, and transition to a modern renewable energy system can improve grid stability.”
The study has been welcomed by Minister for Energy Angus Taylor and Minister for the Environment Melissa Price, who said the ANU research confirms the government’s position on the Paris target — though the government’s own projections claim that Australia will meet its 26% target in the National Electricity Market (NEM) as early as 2022. And with over $25 billion set to be invested in 18.8 GW of new renewable generation in the Australian energy sector over the years 2018–2020, the Ministers indicate that there is “no shortage of willingness to invest in Australia’s future energy supply”.
But not everyone is so optimistic, with Clean Energy Council (CEC) Chief Executive Kane Thornton saying the ANU projections would require Australia’s renewable energy to maintain or improve on the record levels of activity in 2018 — and that, according to the Council, is wishful thinking.
“The reality is that the federal government’s current approach to the energy sector is undermining confidence in future investment, which is essential to reduce emissions across the energy sector and the entire economy,” Thornton said.
“The clean energy sector has the potential to make a huge contribution to reducing both emissions and power bills, as suggested by the ANU. But one of the biggest drivers of investment — the national Renewable Energy Target — has now been achieved. There is nothing to replace it.
“We need credible bipartisan policy to give investors confidence and to continue the record levels of clean energy investment we are currently seeing. We need investment in the electricity network to most efficiently connect the best renewable energy zones across the country and create more capacity to allow new projects to connect. And we need batteries and pumped hydro storage from private and public projects such as Snowy 2.0 and Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation.
“None of this will happen by accident. It needs planning, consultation and political leadership. The current lack of federal government climate policy, combined with ad hoc market interventions, risks squandering the amazing opportunities outlined by the ANU.”
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