Australia can have 100% renewable energy in a decade

The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan was prepared by the environmental research group Beyond Zero Emissions. It was launched Tuesday at the Australian Parliament in Canberra. The plan outlines a “technically feasible and economically attractive way for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy within 10 years,” with wind and concentrating solar thermal (CST) as the two primary technologies. Biomass and existing hydropower provide some backup.

“Implementing the proposed renewable infrastructure over a 10-year timescale would require a small percentage of Australia’s industrial capacity, in terms of resources and labour force,” it explains.

“The required investment of A$37 billion per year is the equivalent of 3% of GDP.”

The extra money spent above the ‘business-as-usual scenario’ to 2020 is the equivalent of A$3.40 per person per day, and “avoided future costs of fossil fuels make the plan an economically attractive proposal.”

“With decisive action beginning now, the target of zero emissions by 2020 for high emitting countries is a realistic and necessary goal,” it adds.

“Should the transition period begin later than the plan accounts for, the plan still serves as a blueprint that could see 100% renewable energy achieved at a later date, but delays pose an ever greater risk of exceeding safe limits within the climate system.”

Plan based on current renewable energy technologies

To make an immediate transition, Australia can use only those solutions which are commercially available now, and the report specifies that a grid based on 100% renewable energy is based on proven technologies that are already commercially available, “that have already been demonstrated in large industries.”

The report was launched by three senators from the Greens, Liberal and Independent parties, and is the culmination of 12 months of work by engineers and postgraduate university students. It will be published by the University of Melbourne 's Energy Institute next month.

“In the lead up to the Federal budget last month, a broad coalition of Australians called for the Rudd Government to take an ambitious nation-building approach to climate policy,” explains Matthew Wright of Beyond Zero Emissions. “The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan is what that approach looks like.

“It is time for the Australian Parliament to a implement a climate and energy policy agenda to repower our economy with 100% renewable energy by 2020,” he adds.

“Concentrated solar thermal technology is capable of generating renewable electricity 24 hours a day, and credible climate and energy policy will encourage the rapid deployment of the technology in Australia. This should be a priority for Australian governments.”

Solar thermal to provide 60%; wind to generate 40%

The plan calls for 60% of energy to come from base load CST facilities to be built at 12 sites, with the remaining 40% to come from 8000 wind turbines at 23 sites. Total output would be 325 TWh of electricity a year, up from the current 228 TWh, assuming that energy use will halve by 2020 through greater energy efficiency.

Other guiding principles of the report required that the security and reliability of Australia's energy supply is maintained or enhanced by the transition; food and water security are maintained or enhanced; Australians continue to enjoy a high standard of living; social equity is maintained or enhanced; and other environmental indices are maintained or enhanced by the transition.

“Australia has some of the best renewable energy resources in the world, and should be positioning itself as a leader in the emerging renewable energy economy,” the report concludes.

“What is required to make this happen is leadership from policymakers and society, with firm decisions made quickly that will allow this transition to occur.”