Australia: 100% renewable energy by 2020

“Australia has one of the greatest renewable energy resources in the world, which we can capitalise on to repower our economy with clean, safe and secure renewable energy,” explains the summary of a report to be released later this year by the Victoria–based group Beyond Zero Emissions. The findings are a costed detailed blueprint outlining a 10-year transition to a zero-emissions economy

Using only proven and commercialised technologies, the goal would require a capital investment equivalent to 3.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) over the decade, as Australia transitions to 100% renewable energy production by 2020.

The full report, Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Project, will be released later this year. The group has posted a summary of some preliminary findings in an effort to convince the Australian public and decision-makers that “reaching a zero emissions economy is not only desirable, but ready to be implemented and only awaits sign-off from the Australian Government.”

Renewable energy replace fossils

By 2020, fossil fuel-fired electricity is replaced by renewable energy under the plan, principally concentrated solar thermal with storage and wind generation. Natural gas and fossil-based transport is also phased out and replaced by transport that relies on renewable and green power, with small use of biofuels in rural areas and emergency services.

Elimination of fossil fuels causes an increase in the total national electricity demand from 211 TWh in 2007 to 325 TWh in 2020, excluding off-grid generators. Greater energy efficiency and minimising the use of inefficient internal combustion engines, reduces the total amount of energy in Australia from 3,834 PJ (1065 TWh-e) in 2007 to 1,643 PJ (456 TWh-e) in 2020.

Measures used in their scenario include geothermal heat pumps and enhanced insulation of all commercial and residential buildings. Overall, 60% of electricity supplied by a 100% renewable stationary energy sector will be provided by concentrating solar thermal with molten salt heat storage and 40% by wind power. Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels will generate electricity during sunny periods, and hydroelectricity and crop residual biomass will provide back-up energy when needed.

Solar is strategic advantage for Australia

“Australia has the best solar resource of any developed country” and solar is “Australia’s primary strategic advantage in the new zero-carbon economy,” the paper explains.

The backbone technology for Australia’s 2020 electricity generation system is concentrating solar thermal (CST) power-towers with molten salt heat storage, the same technology that has being installed in Spain and the USA. Residential and commercial solar PV systems will still be used to reduce demand on the electricity grid during sunny periods.

Concentrating solar power provides dispatchable electricity and 24-hour baseload supply, and Australia can supply the concrete, steel, glass and expertise for the construction of concentrating solar power plants across the country, creating many jobs in the process, it adds.

Twelve sites in Australia have been chosen for concentrating solar power installations, accounting for transmission availability and quality of resource, and each site will have a capacity of 3.5 GW electrical, or a national total of 42 GW.

“World-class on-shore wind resources are Australia’s second strategic advantage in renewable energy,” it continues. “Wind power is the cheapest of all clean energy sources available in Australia and is technologically mature.”

CST and wind provide dispatchable power

Coupling wind with concentrating solar power and molten salt storage will provide “reliable, dispatchable, lowest-cost and emissions-free electricity” and 48 GW of installed wind turbine capacity (8000 wind turbines) is envisaged to supplement Australia’s current capacity of 1.5 GW running at an average annual capacity factor of 30%.

“Biomass combustion and hydroelectricity (using only existing hydro capacity) are used for system backup during extended periods of winter-time cloud cover that coincides at more than one solar plant location,” it explains. Just 12% of Australia’s annual crop residual wheat straw resource would provide 10 full days back-up, equivalent to running 50% of CST plants at 100% capacity for the period.

The full report will cover stationary energy, transport, industrial processes, buildings, land use and agriculture, and replacement of coal exports.