Bad news for coal-huggers: Renewables at 50% by 2030

“King coal to rule for 20 more years” screamed the front page lead headline in The Australian, following the release of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 20-year blueprint for the future of energy, known as its Integrated System Plan.

Hate to say this guys, but that’s not what the AEMO report says. Here’s the thing: AEMO’s blueprint makes it absolutely clear that even if current climate and emissions and policies are not changed, then the shift in generation is going to happen anyway, and quickly.

This graph above shows that by 2030, based on the Coalition government’s existing policy and the various state targets in Victoria and Queensland, black and brown coal contribute barely 100,000GWh, and the share of renewable energy will be nearly 50 per cent by 2030.

That so happens to be the same as Labor’s renewable target, and the level that the Coalition government describes repeatedly as “reckless”. AEMO says it is unequivocally the cheapest path, and one that will keep the lights on.

This scenario takes into account AEMO’s modelling that allows for existing coal fired generators to continue operating until the end of their technical life i.e. 50 years.

But contrary to the claims of conservative commentators, it does not recommend they be kept open for longer. That’s because the combination of wind, solar and storage will be cheaper, as AGL has highlighted.

So, by 2030, out of the system have gone Liddell (2022) and Vales Point, both in NSW, and Gladstone in Queensland. It does not rule out this happening earlier, either due to the inability of the coal generators to make money, or catastrophic failure of their machinery.

In the 2030s, Yallourn, Eraring, Bayswater, Tarong and Callide are gone. By 2040, the “rule” of King Coal is but a memory.

(Please listen to our Energy Insiders Podcast interview with Zibelman recorded today. either below or here).

But there’s more.

Like the National Energy Guarantee and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report, the central scenario of AEMO gives no regard to climate change policies, the need to accelerate targets to ensure that Australia does its bit to meet the Paris climate target.

Where it does, the outlook is even bleaker for “king coal”. Renewables have a much greater share of generation – going towards 60 per cent.

This graph above shows the “fast change scenario, and shows that the combination of black and brown coal and gas generators account for less than 100,000GWh out of total grid demand of around 250,000GWh.

And that “fast change” scenario is further complicated by other factors thrown into the mix – the assumption that consumption grows faster than the neutral scenario, that EV uptake is greater, less demand management, and the roll-out of rooftop solar is not co-ordinated.

So the end result could be even more bleak for the coal-huggers. A fast-change scenario that dials in appropriate climate change policies, co-ordinates distributed energy, promotes demand management could actually see more coal out of the system earlier.

But that detailed modelling would just be too scary for some – best to keep it in the adults-only section. Or not to publish it at all.

Update: Little wonder that Labor’s Mark Butler was impressed, saying in a later statement that the IPS  “vindicates Labor’s renewable vision” for Australia’s energy future.

“The AEMO report confirms that the future of energy in this country is renewables,” he said in a statement.

“It confirms that coal will stay in the mix – as we have always said it would – until it is phased out and replaced by cheaper renewable energy, and it confirms that there should be no new investment in coal.

“In contrast to claims being made by members of the Turnbull Government, AEMO do not advocate for the extension of coal power plants past their technical or design life, and in particular, they do not call for the extension of the Liddell or any other coal power station.”

“Just like Labor, the energy industry, experts and the Australian public, AEMO understand that the energy future of Australia lies with renewables.

“This is placed beyond any doubt by AEMO modelling, which shows renewables making up 46 per cent of NEM generation by 2030 in their Neutral scenario, and 61 per cent of generation by 2030 in their Fast Change scenario.

“This modelling confirms Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target is both achievable and responsible.”

The Greens also noted the pace of transition, observing that just 6 coal fired generators would remain in the system by 2040.

“The government wants to spin this coal’s way, but once again AEMO has shown that the future is cheap, clean renewable energy”, climate spokesman Adam Bandt said.

“The ‘fast change’  scenario outlined in the report envisages the equivalent of only 6 coal plants still operating by 2040. There would be the equivalent of 1 large plant left in NSW, 2 in Victoria and 3 in Queensland.”

“AEMO confirms coal would drop to only 6% of the country’s installed generation in 2040, down from 40% now. The report shows it is possible to close down almost all coal and get as high as 85% renewables.”


23 responses to “Bad news for coal-huggers: Renewables at 50% by 2030”

  1. john Avatar

    I have not read all of the article but the underlying cost of generation for energy to produce electricity is 1 Wind 2 Solar 3 using both for storage.
    I do not think Nuclear can compete on any level.
    New build Coal comes after that.
    I do not think new coal with sequestration can compete on the cost to produce power .
    Even just pure coal can not compete.
    So What is needed?
    Heaps of Solar, Wind, plus very important PHES as well throwing into the mix Concentrated Solar and Storage.
    As a backup short time Battery Storage.

  2. Peter F Avatar
    Peter F

    The “fast change” Scenario is actually slow to medium change and grid demand may well be considerably lower than 250 TWh so even that scenario kind to coal

  3. MaxG Avatar

    It does not matter what the AEMO said in their report; the corporate press will report what suits them, hence, the fake news label, which most Aussie do not even recognise.

    1. solarguy Avatar

      Sad, but true.

    2. rob Avatar

      seriously max love most of your comments…….. but enough already with every comment….You are preaching to the converted!

  4. Joe Avatar

    Rupert trumpeting ‘King Coal’…no surprise there. When was the last time that Rupert and his newsrags ever had a kind ( note, I purposely didn’t say the word ‘positive’ in place of the word ‘kind’ ) word for Renewable Energy. We know Rupe’s game plan…demonise the RE with every opportunity.

    1. john Avatar

      Yes unfortunately his Spews Rags are deplorable.
      And to think I purchased his first Australian News Paper and still have that copy.
      It really makes me sad have i missed something I should hate women hate any change to the old system and hate giving anyone a fair go?

  5. howardpatr Avatar

    Lies and more lies concerning climate change and the renewable energy future from the great Trump supporter; Murdoch and his Fox and Sky associates. Mad Monk Abbott and Co will be pleased with the ongoing News Corporation support.

  6. Steve Symons Avatar
    Steve Symons

    Just a few questions , with subsidies ending in the next few years , who is paying for all these solar and wind farms ? Covering hundreds of thousands of hectares in Solar and Wind farms to generate the above power model ? You say above that coal power stations have a life expectancy of 50 years , wind turbines were estimated by experts and governments in Europe to have a life expectancy of 20-25 years , when reality has shown it is closer to 12-15 years, solar no better. So , if we are to go down this renewable path ,every 20 years we are going to be totally replacing this countries power generation system .$$$$ massive cost.Nobody is considering the cost to the nation ,let alone reliability. At the start of July ,7 pm at night ,total wind generation according to the live NEM graph was 38 mega watts across Australia out of a capacity of over 4,500 mega watts. No solar . So without coal ,the lights and heaters would have gone out totally. The wind does not always blow ..What, are you going to run the country on batteries ? Tomago smelter lasts 8 minutes on South Australia’s big battery ..what size battery would you need to run Sydney trains or Melbourne trams , let alone Industry , because that is what you will need without coal. Who is going to pay?

    1. Mike Westerman Avatar
      Mike Westerman

      Steve – these don’t read as questions, but rather your point of view. All are quickly answered by a 2 minute Google and a little thought, rather than shallow assessments.

      1. Steve Symons Avatar
        Steve Symons

        I realise that I am commenting to the converted here and this is the type of answer I would get. It will be too late when you realise it was a mistake. Remember , every stuff up has experts who know everything and can’t be convinced otherwise. You are entitled to your view,( you must have a different google to me.) . As I am to mine.

        1. Mike Westerman Avatar
          Mike Westerman

          No sorry Steve – even post Trump, facts exist! If you checked you would realise that a) small generator subsidies will decline from 2020-2030, so unless there is a change in policy these (which have supported the installation of over 7,000MW of solar will continue, and b) large generator subsidies are trending rapidly to zero anyway. The solar and wind projects are largely contracted to retailers and commercial customers – nothing unusual at all about the PPAs. Coal stations have an economic life generally calculated at 50y but during this time there will be several major rebuilds. I don’t know where your numbers on solar and wind come from – certainly not from the industry, as they are so far off the mark. But even if they were remotely indicative, the “rebuilds” for both technologies are not “totally replacing” – this just illustrates a profound ignorance of asset management. One of the beauties of this type of asset is that replacement of components is progressive – the “life” is a statistical measure, so some components will have shorter lives and be replaced, while others will have longer. And yes, engineers like myself factor all these costs into the numbers on which traders base their contracts – there is no future avalanche of costs! Large coal units, as clearly stated by AEMO, are the biggest outage risk on the network, and during the obscure period you point to, the network was supported mainly by hydro, since the brown coal varies very little and black coal picks up only a proportion of the slack. Your comments are about as informative as saying that at 3am the freeway is empty, which at 5pm traffic is at a standstill. Engineers are aware of capacity management, where traffic or power – pricing is used to encourage different consumption behaviours.

          You seem completely ignorant of the current role of hydro in balancing demand and supply, or gas for that matter. Numerous pumped hydro plants are in various stages of development around the country and will gradually take over the role of support of the network during low wind/solar periods. There is no crisis, and the only thing that has been lacking is consistent government policy, which undermines investor confidence. Customers then end up paying more to cover the risk.

          As I posted, if you don’t have access to credible engineering information, at least broaden your searches and avoid obvious scaremonger sites that spread misinformation.

          1. Steve Symons Avatar
            Steve Symons

            Just one of the facts from Professor Judith Sloane in the Australian.

            Among the ridiculous claims the renewable energy sector continues to make is the idea that more renewable energy will lead to lower electricity prices. Of course our experience has been the reverse, but that doesn’t stop them throwing in the factoid that renewable energy is now the cheapest form of power — just don’t stop the subsidies, though.

            Take a look at the period 2008 to 2018, when electricity prices rose by almost 120 per cent. Over the same period, the proportion of electricity sourced from renewable energy rose about 75 per cent.

            What the renewable energy rent-seekers refuse to acknowledge is that electricity generation and the need for 24/7 reliability is not a normal market. Additional intermittent supply will generally not cut prices.

            Full Article :

            you totally miss the point have to have massive reliable ..that word reliable again. power for when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow..obscure ?.it does happen . In your argument total power capacity from hydro for industry. too many variables . I realise Renewables and Climate change are a Business and I am pissing into the wind trying to explain concerns of non believers to those invested in either as you are. But we are not all blindly going to except these massive bills being forced on us by those with a profit motive. Yes , renewables are a good business model financially to those invested , but they don’t deliver. Big difference between capacity and actual production of power. On the NEM graph of live Power..look at variance over a month..the only constant is have to build so much more capacity in Renewables above what is actually produced by your own graph to be reliable and if one component is not working .it all turns to S##t.The Tesla battery costs how much , $100 million and provides one company 8 minutes of power for its smelter, how much would back up batteries cost to run the Nation..then they suck power the next day to be recharged. It never ends. All to save the planet from CO 2 which is the staff of life. When we are the only ones doing it..” none ” was what our chief scientist answer when asked by a parliamentary committee ” what difference does it make if we totally stopped all CO2 production in Australia.”

          2. Mike Westerman Avatar
            Mike Westerman

            Yes I saw that article from well known engineer Prof Sloan. Given her poor record in economics maybe she should stick to that. Of course as a staunch defender of neolib economics if we followed her advice we would go further down the disastrous path that has given us the electricity “market” that we are all so joyous about.

            As to reliability, I can guarantee you that no thermal plant of any sort has the availability of hydro or its record for low hours of unscheduled outages – none. Simple physics really: burning things at high temperature is a tough environment, requiring regular outages for repairs and often springing unscheduled outages on you. Hydro doesn’t. Anyone, professor or not, who says otherwise is ignorant.

            And as far as those big bills go, mine is now quite small since I installed solar: why – because it avoids the massive investment in poles and wires that every review of the market has clearly identified as the primary cause of costs. You clearly understand little about power production or delivery, but I can assure you your focus on nameplate rating versus delivered energy is misdirected: these things are taken into account by investors. Like the horsepower of your car, it’s not something you use all the time, only when its needed. You point to the variation in output from renewables but ignore the equally large variation in demand. And that’s the point: lignite and black coal are limited in load following, hence the very high price when they don’t follow the demand curve.

            Reliability is related not just to how often something breaks down unpredictably but more importantly, the impact it has when it does. That’s the reason aircraft have multiple backups, like multiple engines. Having millions of generators on the NEM makes it more reliable, not less. These days the 10’s of trips of thermal units this year already has hardly been noticed because their failure is replaced by the significant other smaller, fast acting generation.

          3. Steve Symons Avatar
            Steve Symons

            The reliability I was talking about was the wind blowing and sun shining can take solar out at then the majority of power has to come from either gas ,wind or hydro.Having millions of generators on the NEM makes it more reliable, not less. Your words ..again I ask at what cost..if the wind is not blowing at night where is that amount of power going to be plucked from all of a sudden ..look at your predicted graph of 2040..half is wind and do not want answer this question. Don’t call me stupid ,answer that question.Your power bill is cheaper on solar because its being subsidised by the rest of us.I presume you got a government subsidy for your solar installation. Tell that to the Pensioners who are freezing because of your ideology how good and cheap it will be. Tell Business that its only a mirage , their massive power bill hikes.Why would they invest here . why stay here when its cheaper overseas ,you will not even know the business lost.There are about a third of people who are renting and will continue to rent because of the house prices .All paying for your subsidy . Again ,you show a selfishness and stuff the rest of us.As for not understanding about power production,I understand that power lines are designed to carry power one way , not have the oversupply from all these roof top solar units pushing power back the opposite way to what it was designed for ..a bit like a pipeline getting smaller the further from its source.Then there is problem is that wind and solar farms just don’t deliver the same amount of continuous electricity compared with coal and gas-fired power plants. To match traditional energy sources, these grid operators must be able to exactly predict how strong the wind will blow or the sun will shine.
            But such an exact prediction is difficult. Even when grid operators are off by just a few percentage points, voltage in the grid slackens. That has no affect on normal household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and coffee machines. But for high-performance computers, for example, outages lasting even just a millisecond can quickly trigger system failures. But hey what if traffic control at Sydney Airport drops out. Buy shares in Emergency Power System providers. A growing industry no doubt.
            Another cost to remedy by all business.
            The ACCC question why Renewables are subsidised. No need if it is viable in their words.
            There are hundreds of Hele power stations being built around the world present, but none here because we know better..Are we that bloody smart? What is the Agenda?The population is growing by a few hundred thousand a year by migration, a city about the size of Canberra every few yrs , your pumped hydro will not come online for a long time yet . And doesn’t it need power to pump water back uphill .. the power supply is not going to keep up.Yes , its your job to shoot me down but future generations will ask WTF were they thinking.

          4. Mike Westerman Avatar
            Mike Westerman

            Steve – the sun very reliably comes up every day. Wind is predictable several days out, and in any case will increasingly be surpassed by solar. If you look at a demand curve you will note that demand drops over night as well, so the primary challenge is the evening peak. At present that is covered by hydro and gas, but in future pumped hydro will dominate simply because solar+pumped hydro is way cheaper than gas.

            My solar is cheaper because I generate it myself – no subsidy required: regardless of how you do the numbers it is cheaper. I don’t tell pensioners anything: I offer to pay for a system and split the difference – that’s how much cheaper it is. I do the same for my sister in a rental. You and Sloan would rather market forces prevailed leaving them in the dark!

            Power lines don’t care which way the power flows: you have to adjust the voltage as demand varies. No magic, just maths. Coal plants don’t match their output to loads well: that’s why we end up with expensive gas generators in load following mode. And power generation and demand vary across regions as well, so AEMO constantly adjusts the balance. Vital industry is protected by local generation: only a fool would rely on the grid for their life support.

            Mate you are talking ill-informed rubbish: best stop before you embarrass yourself further or do some study so you know what you are talking about. Trouble yourself with real questions, not nonsense dreamt up by the Murdoch press to sell papers!

          5. Steve Symons Avatar
            Steve Symons

            If you yell louder you will drown me out but the facts remain. Yes ,you can yell louder and call me stupid ..classic case of when you are losing a discussion matey. You won’t answer the question. Does not matter how many turbines you have ,if the wind is not blowing they produce Zilch and although Yes you are right , the sun comes up reliably , but it also goes DOWN reliably and stops generating..if there is cloud over large areas of the country , you get NO POWER GENERATION from solar.
            We should have the cheapest power in the world ,but instead we are amoungst the DEAREST IN THE WORLD as a result of renewables…no point . You cannot see the forest for the trees. Renewables are not going to change anything except make us individually poorer . Stuff the pensioners don’t care about those who built and defended this country.
            Renewables are not going to have any effect on climate change in this country.( the original reason for renewables, certainly was not for cheaper power)
            Take away the coal taxes and royalties after you close down the Coal industry and watch the bitching from a few State Treasures and finally from the population as services are cut because the sacred cash cow is no more. Nothing in it for most people except a warm fuzzy feeling.We just want reliable power for Industry and your home. No Power equals no jobs.See what happens after Liddle closes , if Tomago stays open.doubt it .It is already shutting off for a few hours and diverting its power to the grid to keep the lights on. Anyway pointless conversation …………………

          6. Mike Westerman Avatar
            Mike Westerman

            Steve – I don’t need to yell, as the facts are there to read. I have answered the question of “sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow”, as has the AEMO ISP: storage and diversity of supply can comfortably cover it. Google it. Read it.

            You repeating the lie that renewables have led us to the most expensive power in the world won’t make it true. Read all the relevant analysis by Finkel, ACCC and AEMO: its network costs and lack of competition.

            Renewables are saving me and those like me who have installed solar thousands a year. Fact. Your rants don’t change that. Bullshit about those that built and defended the country doesn’t change that. Even if you are happy to subsidise big power users, not everyone else is. If you’re happy to give away our water for free to coal mines, I’m not. The transition is happening, whether you are on board or not.

          7. Steve Symons Avatar
            Steve Symons

            Here are some headlines that renewable people do not read.

            Power prices pushing more people into poverty

            Anglicare SA’s general manager of community services Nancy Penna said demand for the organisation’s financial services had increased by as much as 20 per cent this year.

            “We’ve calculated that there are at least 500 additional, new people coming to our services seeking financial assistance and counselling related to their cost of living,” she said.

            “People will actually state that they can’t pay their electricity bills and they’re having to make decisions about which bills to pay.


            The dubious crown of most expensive prices in the world goes to South Australia, where households are paying 47.13¢ after the huge increases on 1 July 1, Carbon + Energy Markets’ MarkIntell data service says. You can read the full report here. That is an unbiased American Company not hiding the facts that the Australian left wing press hide as they are CC fanatics .

            Look at live generation now ..all the wind and power are producing less than 20 percent of their capacity..How many more $billions are needed to equal what is required ..Mals little bit of pumped hydro is costing at least $12 billion , but that will blow out ..You must know where there is a money tree..oh ..that’s right ..the Consumer..bend over and take it up the A###e boys and girls..For What..Won’t make any difference to Climate Change.

          8. Mike Westerman Avatar
            Mike Westerman

            And if you read more than your usual anti-renewable blogs you would see that the official bodies like ACCC, Finkel and AEMO clearly show the issue is network costs, not renewables. Indeed, the ESB in releasing the latest costing on the NEG shows the savings of $550 a year are coming from further investment in renewables, and that if the NEG is knocked back, this investment will not occur or be delayed pushing UP prices.

            You can rant all you like about left wing conspiracies etc but the facts are obvious to anyone who wants them.

          9. Steve Symons Avatar
            Steve Symons

            Yes ..the fact is , we are paying exorbitant prices for electricity when there was never any need to. NEVER .

          10. Mike Westerman Avatar
            Mike Westerman

            Yes you are quite right: no justification for the high prices. Absolutely right. If the regulators stopped market gouging, if planning wasn’t interrupted by start stop policies that delayed replacement of retiring aging coal plant, if a domestic reserve of gas had been put in place to insulate us from international prices…all these things are part and parcel of the type of economic rationalism agenda run by the likes of Sloan and the Productivity Commission – no thought for you as a householder trying to get by: you are just a customer to be exploited. If you are angry about prices, be angry about the free market agenda run by the Murdoch press and the neolibs in the IPA.

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