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Australia urged to aim for 100% renewables by 2030s

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One of the world’s leading climate experts says Australia needs to aim for 100 per cent renewables within two decades as part of its efforts to meet climate targets, and it stands to reap enormous economic – and environmental – benefits if it does.

Bill Hare, a Perth-based climate scientist and director of research group Climate Analytics, says there is renewed pressure for the world to act to cap average global warming at 1.5°C given the increasing evidence of extreme weather events, heat-waves, coral bleaching and other impacts.

Despite the Paris agreement to keep average global warming “well below” 2°C, and possibly to 1.5°C, the world is heading towards a minimum rise of 2.8°C, and the carbon “budget” to meet more ambitious targets is rapidly depleting.

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Australia is also increasing its emissions, with the electricity sector recently reversing course after the scrapping of the carbon price.

One way to address this was to develop a strategy to move towards a 100 per cent renewable energy system by the 2030s, and a long term plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the 2040s. Australia, Hare says, is well placed to lead the world, because of its excellent natural resources.
 It could use surplus renewable renewable energy for generating energy carriers and duplicate the LNG industry – but with clean fuels – and the mining and metals industry would benefit from meeting growing demand for high tech metals in a 1.5°C world.
“There is no fundamental technological limit to renewable energy integration to existing energy system,” says Hare, who delivered a major lecture, The Keith Roby Memorial Lecture at Murdoch University, in Perth last night. (His full presentation can be found here).
His comments come on the same day as a 27-strong team from Stanford University, led by Mark Jacobsen, released an updated plan on how 139 countries, including Australia, could reach 100 per cent renewables based around wind, solar, storage and hydro.

The group has developed roadmaps, including for Australia, on how to reach an average 80 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050.

It includes details of how much land and how many rooftops these power sources would require; and how the proposals for each country would reduce energy demand and cost when compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

If the 100 per cent renewable energy targets seem outlandish, and the work of ideological researchers at NGOs and universities, as the detractors have wasted no time in claiming, they should be put into some context.

Four of the world’s biggest companies – Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook, have vowed to source all their electricity needs from renewable energy within a few years, and they have also been joined by the likes of IKEA and brewing giant In-Bev, the owner of Foster’s.

Other Australian major energy users, like Sun Metals, Telstra, the Whyalla steel plant, Nectar Farms, and numerous smaller businesses are also investing heavily in wind and solar and storage, some up to the level of 100 per cent.

The Australian network operator Transgrid says 100 per cent renewable energy is both feasible and affordable, and the network lobby, Energy Networks Australia, put together a detailed path with the CSIRO on how to decarbonise the Australian grid in the 2040s.

And, Hare notes, ANU’s Andrew Blakers has suggested that doubling the current combined PV and wind installation rate to around 6GW per year would enable the country to reach 100 per cent renewable electricity in about 2033.

This contrasts with the federal government’s position that even 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 is “reckless’, and the strong push-back from the coal lobby and conservative commentators that the 42 per cent renewable energy level by 2030 contemplated by the Finkel Review would also be a disaster.

Hare’s argument is that the pace of change is accelerating on two fronts – on the climate and environmental impacts of global warming, already been felt in barrier reefs and extreme and changing weather events; and from the falling cost of clean technologies.

He agrees with the likes of Professor Ross Garnaut and UNSW solar pioneer Martin Green that Australia can greatly benefit from positioning itself as a source of cheap, clean energy.

“We can still be the lucky country,” Hare says of the transition. “Australia has massive renewable energy resources – more so than most.

“Australia also has many of the high tech metals the world will need; we have first rate science and technology
development; we have excellent engineering and latent manufacturing capacity; we have a highly skilled and productive work force; and we have excellent logistics.”
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Hare says that what Australia does need is a new “future oriented” international strategy on climate change that advances global action to meet the 1.5°C limit, whilst taking sustainable advantage of its renewable energy and natural resources.
“Growth of coal and natural gas demand in our region is a threat to us, not an opportunity,” Hare says. “Pivoting to a strategy of developing an export market for renewable energy carriers and low carbon, hi-techminerals would turn this into a major economic opportunity.”
Hare notes that Australia’s emissions are headed in the wrong direction, and the current Federal Government focus on coal and gas risks missing the big “turn” that other countries are now making.
Hare says it is clear that new build renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, and that there are increasing number of options to balance the grid- including battery storage, pumped hydro, solar thermal, and renewable-based hydrogen, which present massive export opportunities.
Indeed, ARENA has commissioned a study into Australia’s options for “dispatchable generation” and will deliver its report early in the New Year, while AEMO is also expected to shortly release its assessment of “base-load” power needs after being asked to do so by the federal government.
Hare cites the cost of solar PV, wind, battery storage and other technologies are falling fast, the carbon technologies offer new economic opportunities, but the federal government has instead chosen to focus on coal
 and gas assets that risk becoming stranded investments.

  

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  • Hettie

    Who in their right minds thinks we have 20 years?
    Extinction point is a 3.5 degree rise above 1850 temperature, and we are racing towards that like a runaway train. Some experts are saying 2035, but every month they say no, it’s happening much faster than we thought possible.
    Talk about a frog in boiling water.
    Face palm.

    • Robert Westinghouse

      Agreed. We need to do more than something …NOW

    • Cooma Doug

      Can man vanish because he doesnt fit? Certainly can.
      So now they want to go to Mars and move it in the direction from hell to heaven.
      Can we not work to sustain this planet. It should be simpler.

      • Hettie

        Extinction point is not just for humans, but for most life forms on the planet.
        It’s the extinction of food crops and animals that will see us off.
        I do hate the anthropocentric assumption that only humans matter or will be affected.

    • Mike Westerman

      Neither Hare’s nor Blaker’s figures include the electrification of the transport sector that uses almost as much energy as the power sector, of which virtually all is FF, and almost half of that is imported. If we assume wind and solar are going to cover all that, then the rate has to be >10GW/a for 20y. The great thing about doing both sectors together is that the amount of firm power from having 10x as much wind will go close, along with some pumped hydro and existing hydro, to covering night time demand, and the proportion of load that is curtailable (ie all those EVs) increases considerably, making any notion of “baseload” bizarre.

      • UK estimate for full EV is 10% lift in electricity. why would it be different here?

        • Mike Westerman

          According to the Office of the Chief Economist Australian Energy Update 2016, transport consumed 1.6TJ and growing, compared to 1.67TJ for the power sector and falling. For transport that’s 185GW of continuous inputs. Assuming that the conversion rate for mostly ICE (either GT or recip) is probably around 25% or more, the electric equivalent would require >46GW at 100% CF. For RE, CF averages of 25% are not unrealistic, so that would need a nameplate rating of of 185GW or 3x what we have at the moment.

          • Tom

            1.67TJ? Tassie consumed about 40PJ alone – 26,000 times the amount that you’ve cited for the whole country.

            Even this scales down to only about 3000GWh, as electrical energy is converted to motion at least 4X as efficiently as ICE. (The theoretical limit of ICE conversion is around 28%, so 20% is really really good. Electricity should achieve at least 80%. And then there’s regeneration.)

            Tassie consumes less petroleum products per capita than Australia, but not much less. So let’s multiply this by 60 – that’s 120,000 GWh pa in Australia. So 33 GW continuous, or 100GW at 30% capacity factor (SAT PV 25-30%, Wind 30-40%).

            Easy done.

          • Mike Westerman

            Sorry Tom EJ – just force of habit. Sure you gain in efficiency by 4x times but the figure is the input energy, which I have converted to nameplate power by the capacity factor of RE which is on average 1/4. 1600PJ is 50GW (not 185GW – must have missed out the 3.6 divisor) nameplate required now to cover transport or double current electricity system capacity. The nameplate rating for RE to replace the current FF generators is about 90GW, so total nameplate of about 140GW. This should hold if energy efficiency offsets all energy growth, which hopefully it will.

            My point tho’ is that say by the time we get to 100% RE for all energy inputs, and it is supplied by a mix of wind and solar, the firm power from the wind component, even during prolonged wind droughts, will, when combined with the hydro and other long run firm power, cover the overnight demand. There will also be considerably more curtailable load in the mix compared to now.

        • Mike Westerman

          Looking at UK sankey diagrams, the proportion may be slightly less in UK because of much greater final energy use for heating and lower per capital energy use for transport. But their transport sector still seems about 80% of the size of the power sector in terms of inputs.

      • Jodie Green

        http://bze.org.au/stationary-energy-plan/ pg 16-17 assumes about 50TWh/yr consumed for about 90% electrification of all modes of transport in Au, which based on a 100%RE of 325TWh is less than 20% but more than 10%. Yes the energy efficiency of EVs whether they are cars or freight, or rail, saves the day, using less than 400 PJ/yr compared with 1200PJ/yr now with fossil energy. To drill into more you may also like: http://bze.org.au/sector-transport/ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ff532041e5713e366485f214ab8a8206aad5c64204cb0f0c9f82b36d5da00178.png

        • Mike Westerman

          Thanks Jodie. Note that the transport sector as an energy consumer is growing, even while demand in the electricity sector is not. The 2016 figure is already 1600PJ cf to the BZE report of 1200PJ, so I think we will be relying on mode switches, TAAS and other efficiency measures just to hold to that figure. You are right to show that energy consumption will drop dramatically, but contrary to the BZE report, charging will not occur as a valley filler: the peak surplus periods will coincide with day time peak demand periods, so energy consumption, including vast amounts of self generation, will become peakier. That means less storage comparatively is needed – loads and supply are both intermittent – but it does mean the nameplate capacity of supply will be very much higher than now, not the modest increase BZE suggests. The low prices that large solar surplus capacity will induce will also induce significant time shifts in demand, as all many of technologies are implemented to take advantage of supply when it is available, rather than the old model of low prices being during period of low demand.

          On that basis, and with a CF for RE systems generally being 25% or so, the nameplate rating to cover both electricity and transport sectors will need to more than double. To me that is not an issue – it will be very cheaply done with PV and wind, with the large increase in wind installed providing the firm power thru geographical diversity, supported by short term storage (pumped hydro and behind the meter batteries) and long term storage (conventional hydro). I’m not a CSP believer – heliostats and ST are old technologies with limited scope to improve – whereas PV + pumped hydro or batteries have significant scope to reduce in cost. Our existing stock of pumped hydro was all built on stream – even Wivenhoe, which was sited to use the existing reservoir. Offstream offers the possibility of considerably improved costs, particularly with newer technologies like roller compacted concrete, improved TBMs and UV resistant geotextiles, plus the significant cost reductions from very large scale deployment of hydro in China.

          • Jodie Green

            Thanks Mike, all good points. Would probably suggest that EV charging in the workplace may emerge as home-work energy trading emerges. On the role of CST, would be interested in your view of this MEI analysis – it seems to come up as high value in the longer term : http://bze.org.au/event/discussion-group-april-roger-dargaville/

    • Mike Dill

      If we do nothing, in 20 years we can all move to Antarctica.

      • Ren Stimpy

        20 years after that the cane toads will outnumber the penguins.

      • Rod

        I wonder if my house in the foothills of Adelaide might be valuable beachfront property by then

  • Cooma Doug

    Great article.
    Optimistic and real.
    I look back just three years and see things so much better in many aspects now.

    • Alastair Leith

      The RET is about to be fulfilled a year or so early with NOTHING to replace it but the hot air and smokescreens of a NEG. I’m not so excited about that. VIC and SA going it alone, QLD too if ALP returned. WA may also pull the finger out after 8 years of denial and neglect under Colin Barnett and Mike Nahan is the up side I suppose, not that up about it.

  • Denby Angus

    I think you have few typos including:
    “The Australian network operator Transgrid says 100 per cent renewable energy is both feasible and avoidable,”

    I assume you mean affordable (not avoidable) 😉

    • Ah yes, thanks for heads up. We’ve got a “spell-check” that has a mind of its own, and i suspect might have been got at by the FF lobby. ha ha

  • Ron Horgan

    The weight of factual science based proposals is gradually bringing global perception to a tipping point which will sweep away the vested fossil interests and their vested supporters. The ignorant “Trumps” will not be triumphant!
    Beautiful to watch the wave gather strength.

    • john

      As you said “factual science” now that is the most important part as going forward delivering energy is what people use and yes we are a energy based society so lets look at the best way of delivering energy.
      The present system does not deliver it unfortunately and never will as we move forward Renewable Energy will deliver cheaper energy and cheaper stored energy I expect that this is the way we will get energy in 20 to 30 years time if not before.

  • My_Oath

    Meanwhile in Trumpistan, the pussy-grabber-in-chief said this yesterday:

    “We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” he said. “It’s just been announced that a second, brand-new coal mine, where they’re going to take out clean coal — meaning, they’re taking out coal. They’re going to clean it— is opening in the state of Pennsylvania, the second one.”

    So he has unlocked the secret to clean coal with a single mumble into a microphone.

    • Mike Westerman

      Well the clean coal will go well with those clean nukes once they’ve given them a polish!

    • Ian

      The renewables lobby have only themselves to blame for Trump’s play on the words “clean energy”. We assume everyone knows that the meaning of clean energy is CO2 – free energy, but actually no, it also includes nuclear energy which is far from non-polluting. In the past a clean-burning flame or internal combustion engine was one with minimal soot or particulate matter. Trump is not being idiotic in the sense that he is confused about what we think is the general meaning of the phrase “clean energy” . He is mocking the renewables effort. He is just like Zuma’s South Africa, Abbott and Turnbull’s Coalition party or Adani’s company. He is like a big Safari hunter with the last known Rhinoceros or Elephant in his sights. Who gives a ć[email protected]% about species extinction when you can nab such a fine specimen?

      • Mike Westerman

        A bit harsh Ian – my Googling shows “clean energy” was coined by the nuclear industry to gain acceptance for civilian use of nuclear, not by the renewable energy industry, which seems to have always preferred that term, along with the concomitant “sustainable”.

        As for Trump, his ignorance, deceit and crassness know no bounds. I anticipate he will either be impeached by GOP wanting to get a reliable conservative in power and shot by the alt-right for not being crazy enough. Either way is doom for the free world.

      • My_Oath

        Incorrect. He is being idiotic. He may well be attempting to mock, but the mud ends on the face of the ‘Clean Coal’ knobs, not the renewables lobby.

      • Alastair Leith

        GHGs are the issue, of which CO2 is the main one for long term warming but methane has contributed a third of current warming and represents a big opportunity to buy time on mitigation of CO2 by mitigating fugitive methane emissions in fossil gas industry. SLCPs like methane and CO have contributed 38% of current warming (IPCC AR5). So it’s not just about CO2 at all. ‘Clean energy’ has been more about population health and pollution both coal and unconventional gas having major negative population health impacts.

        Trump isnt confused so much as just reading lines handed to him by a billion dollar PR machine. As a carpet bagger he knows how to push certain buttons to distract from his own scamming and to pay back political favors.

  • Ian

    This is a quantum leap from the usual decarbonise by 2070 BS. Giles, you need to have a section just for transportation. If we don’t explore decarbonising transportation then that message may not get out. The technology and economic viability of wind and solar is very apparent and the impetus for decarbonising stationary electricity/energy use is growing but transportation energy use is way behind.

    China has been the hero in solar manufacturing, Europe, wind. Who will wear the renewables transportation mantle?

    • Mike Westerman

      Ian it is looking like China again, with their law on the proportion of EVs required to be sold. Meanwhile Australia can’t even get minimum fuel consumption standards to stick for ICE cars! Even tho’ from an energy security and balance of trade point of view we would benefit from electrification more than most countries.

      • GregS

        Ehh… minimum fuel requirements have not done a whole lot for the rest of the world, especially with the lack of oversight on testing procedures. I’d recommend that we do not put any more effort into making ICE more efficient, better to put your efforts into bypassing ICE and making it obsolete.

        • Mike Westerman

          Absolutely, but if our sheeples can’t even catch up with the stragglers we have little hope of running with the pack.

  • MaxG

    It has been more than four decades since scientists began warning of the inevitable consequences of trying to pursue limitless economic growth on a finite planet. Other than rhetoric, nothing much has happened. What’s worse, the bright new tomorrow we’ve all been promised is not going to arrive. This is the bad news brought to us by the unfolding collision between industrial society and the unyielding limits of the planetary biosphere. Peak oil, global warming, and all the other crises gathering around the world are all manifestations of a single root cause: the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet, yet our fools of politicians use ‘growth’ as the panacea to all our ills. The crisis are warning signals telling us that we have gone into full-blown overshoot — the state, familiar to ecologists, in which a species outruns the resource base that supports it — and they tell us also that growth is not merely going to stop; it’s going to reverse, and that reversal will continue until our population, resource use, and waste production drop to levels that can be sustained over the long term by a damaged planetary ecosystem. Fun time ahead… in particular when looking at the prediction of another 3 billion humans roaming the earth in 2050, while we already face food and water crisis.

    The Club of Rome raised considerable public attention with its report “Limits to Growth”, which has sold 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, making it the best-selling environmental book in world history. Back then (80s), I got a copy of the 800 or 900 page version, with all the underlying data and graphs, and it took me 5 months to read through it… looking back, I stick to what I said at the beginning: not much has happened.

    I context with this article, we have the same lunatics in power as has the US, we p!ss on Paris, and with the LNP have the mob who would abandon Paris (like Trump) at the strike of a pen. Cleancoal, Galilee basin, reef, yadda yadda… think and judge for yourself. Nearly all the proposals currently being floated to deal with the symptoms of our planetary overshoot assume, tacitly or otherwise, assume we still have as much time as we need. Take no deforestation by 2002, yeah right, Indonesia, Amazon, right, both their forests have been pillaged for decades… Such proposals are wasted breath, and if any of them are enacted — and some of them very likely will be enacted, once today’s complacency gives way to tomorrow’s stark panic — the resources poured into them will be wasted as well.

    Maybe you like to watch this: https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_gilding_the_earth_is_full?language=en

    • nakedChimp

      The drive for that growth demand is based on the currency we use and it’s zero lower bound interest problem.

      Once we remove that, we could get that growth demon of our back and get to work.
      Proposals how to do that are now 100 years old.
      Real world tests have been done all the time and currently they are called regional currencies with demurrage.

      If we don’t get rid of this problem, we’ll never achieve sustainability as humans – maybe as some sort of totally controlled regime – but not as democratic societies.

      • MaxG

        Fully understand what you’re saying… but how many actually do? Yes, benevolent dictatorship 🙂

  • cardigan

    Whilst Bill Hare is an Australian and has an honorary doctorate from his alma mater Murdoch University, he and Climate Analytics are based in Berlin, where he has spent the last fifteen years, initially as a guest scientist at the Potsdam Institute in Berlin, until 2009 when he started Climate Analytics, with funding from the German government.

    He first pushed the idea of 1.5 deg in 1997, as International Political Director for Greenpeace. Twenty years on, he is now asking for another twenty years.

    The 2 deg C idea was first floated by economist William Nordhaus in 1975 and was picked up by Potsdam’s founding director, John Schellnhuber in 1995 and adopted by the EU in 1996. Subsequently it was adopted by the UN.

    • Bill Hare used to be based in Berlin. Now he lives and works from Perth.

  • Ren Stimpy

    To paraphrase the classic joke – if it were meself ’twas going to 100% renewable energy, I wouldn’t start from here.