Australia could be a renewables superpower

October 23, 2015
A new BZE report says wind and solar energy are both marketable and competitive.

The Zero Carbon Australia: Renewable Energy Superpower report published by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) is now available.

Author Gerard Drew and a brigade of contributors provide much detailed technical evidence that demonstrates the potential for Australia in a global transition away from reliance on fossil fuels.

The report says, “The world is shifting from polluting fossil energy to renewable energy. A global transition to renewable energy is an unavoidable condition for containing global warming below 2°C; the globally agreed limit. This transition is already underway and will accelerate in the years ahead.”

In an international comparison of the top 10 nations for wind and solar energy resources, derived from NASA meteorological data, the report ranks Australia:

• 1/10 in energy production potential from rural land areas;
• 2/10 in energy production potential from total land area;
• 3/10 in energy production potential per square kilometre; and
• 3/10 in energy production potential from initialised land.

When comparisons of wind and solar are made with Australia's Economically Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of fossil energy along with the asset life, production of wind and solar resources are “assessed to be both marketable and competitive,” the report says.

“The contributions of the various fossil energy reserves are estimated at a total of 2,876 exajoules and are dominated by black coal (58%), followed by uranium (23%), brown coal (15%), natural gas (4%). All remaining oil based reserves (crude, condensate and LPG) account for only 1% of Australian fossil energy reserves. The wind and solar resource total of 5,054 exajoules is 75 per cent greater than Australia's fossil energy EDR.”

This positions Australia to become an energy superpower. The report states that renewable energy superpowers will be nations with abundant, high quality renewable energy resources as well as skills and industrial capacity

The report provides a convincing argument for starting an immediate transition to 100% renewable energy and distribution with jobs transfer. This is essential to be consistent with the international agreement to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C (450ppm of carbon dioxide).

It recommends reform of the national electricity market; ceasing gas distribution networks; promoting a shift from mass gas to electricity and promoting a shift to electric vehicles.

The strength of the report is in the evidence compiled that proves that the technology already exists for an immediate transition to renewables and a transformation of industry based on this.

However, the weakness of the report is that it relies wholly on government and business (and in some cases on individuals) to bring this about.

While perhaps beyond the scope of what BZE envisaged in producing the work, the question of how a just transition can be achieved needs to be addressed.

One thing needed is a thoroughgoing conversation in local communities on how to ensure that any transition to renewables is in the interests of people and communities and not hijacked by corporations.

Furthermore, while measures like shifting to electric vehicles might help make Australia a renewable energy superpower, for there to be any hope of keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 450ppm, private cars, even powered by renewables, will need to be superseded by public transport.

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