View from outside the IEA: Australia could run entirely on renewable energy within a decade, expert claims

Ambitious blueprint to cut out carbon emissions is presented at the Agency’s Paris-based headquarters.

18 January 2011

Australia could shred all reliance on oil, coal and gas and become entirely dependent on renewable energy sources by the end of the decade, experts at a think-tank and an Australian university claim in a report presented at the IEA’s headquarters.

By combining wind, solar, hydro and biomass resources with a range of efficiency measures, they argue that the country’s future energy demand could be fully met. The authors of the report, in which the IEA did not participate, add that this bold target of zero carbon emissions by 2020 is achievable using technology that is already ‘on the shelf’ and currently available.

“Achieving the ten-year transition is well within Australia's existing industrial capacity,” they conclude. “Adoption of this plan promises health benefits, long-term energy security, and significant economic benefits.”

This report - the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan - was put together by the think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and academics from the University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute (and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the IEA or its member countries). It flags solar thermal power with storage as a key component of the goal because it is well suited to Australia’s geography and climate, and there are no technical restrictions in constructing solar thermal plants. Other “proven, ready and mature” technologies suggested include wind energy and biomass from agriculture waste.

‘Timely reminder’

This proposal was presented to experts at the International Energy Agency (IEA) on 13th January by Dr Roger Dargaville, one of the reports editors.

“To all naysayers who have consistently argued against the practical feasibility of such a goal, this study demonstrates that it is achievable,” he said.

Dr Dargaville, who was one of a series of guests who present work on energy-related issues to IEA experts, stressed that there are significant incentives for Australia to consider this plan. “As well as the environmental benefits of slashing carbon emissions, by removing the reliance on foreign fuels and the risk of unknown future costs of oil and gas, Australias energy security will be greatly enhanced.”

Following the presentation at the Agencys headquarters in Paris, Hugo Chandler, a senior analyst at the IEA, said: “This bold blueprint for Australias future energy supply is a welcome addition to the global debate on renewables. It provides a timely reminder to all countries of the importance of renewable energy sources and the role they must play in the years ahead.”

Money and jobs

The report, which was launched in July last year, states that AUD37 billion would be needed to be invested every year for the next decade for this goal to work.

“This is equivalent,” Dr Dargaville notes, “to 3% of the country’s annual GDP, which currently stands at AUD1,200 billion. Once other factors such as increases in demand and fuel savings have been taken into account, household electricity bills in Australia would rise by AUD8 per week compared with the business as usual case.”

Responding to concern over the number of jobs that would be lost in the fossil fuel supply industry if this ambitious plan was implemented, the authors explain that a significant number of new jobs would be created in renewable energy, manufacturing, operations and maintenance.

Renewable energy - the facts

What is it?
‘Renewable energy’ is energy that is derived from natural processes (e.g. sunlight and wind) that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass are common sources of renewable energy.

What is concentrated solar thermal power CSP?
CSP devices concentrate energy from the sun’s rays to heat a receiver to high temperatures. This heat is transformed first into mechanical energy (by turbines or other engines) and then into electricity.

What is biomass?
A type of renewable energy which comes from living (or recently living) plants and animals. E.g. Wood chippings, crops and manure. Plants store up energy from the sun while animals get their energy from the plants they eat.

What is geothermal?
Energy available as heat emitted from within the earth’s crust, usually in the form of hot water or steam.

How much of the worlds energy comes from renewable sources?
In 2008, the world relied on renewable sources for around 12.8% of its energy supply, according to IEA research, but this is predicted to rise in the year’s ahead.

How much of Australia’s current supply is generated with renewable energy?
Approximately 7%, according to 2008 figures, most of which comes from hydro power (energy generated from moving water).

Photo: ©SENER/Torresol Energy

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