The Greens on Thursday launched their climate and energy plan – Renew Australia 2030 – calling for rapid shift to 100 per cent renewable energy, the closure of all coal generators, the ending of thermal coal exports, and the banning of new petrol and diesel cars by that date.
The policy includes significant support for household and business solar and battery storage, a $1 billion transition plan for coal workers, and the creation of a renewable hydrogen export industry to substitute for the death of the export thermal coal industry.
“Coal is the world’s biggest cause of climate change – and Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal. Unless we phase out coal, we can’t deal with climate change,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.
“Unlike the major parties, the Greens have a plan to phase out coal exports and create a jobs boom in the renewable energy export industry. Our Renew Australia 2030 action plan will lower energy costs for households and businesses and drive fossil fuels out of the economy.”
Predictably, the policy was quickly branded as a dangerous and “radical” manifesto by the Murdoch media and Coalition MPs. The call to end thermal coal exports will be seen as extreme, but the transition plan for Australia’s own energy consumption – while extremely ambitious – is not as radical as many may suggest.
Firstly, it recognises that strong action needs to be taken if the world is going to accept the science of climate change and be serious about trying to mitigate, and that Australia – for all its fossil fuel riches – is one of the best placed economies to do this transition because it is also vastly wealthy in wind, solar and other minerals key to the transition, and technical know-how.
Secondly, as new research released last week pointed out, there is actually enough wind and solar projects to reach a 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2030. And as ANU researchers have previously pointed out, continuing the rate of installation of the last two years would get the country there by 2032.
The challenge is in having a plan to effect the transition. And that means ensuring that the grid is strengthened where needed, storage is installed in the right quantities and locations, and the market rules and regulations are reformed to reflect modern technologies, rather than last century’s.
Also, the Greens economy wide target is for “negative zero” emissions by 2040. Big investors that represent $2 trillion of funds under management are calling for Australia, and other countries, to achieve economy-wide net zero by 2050 at the latest. And analysts suggest that the Paris target implies a target date of 2042/43.
Also, as Bridie Schmidt reports in our EV-focused website The Driven, the Greens call to ban sales of new internal combustion vehicles by 2030 simply reflects moves by many other western countries.
So this policy is not so much a threat to civilisation as we know it, rather than the first serious attempt by a political party to formulate a plan to meet the 1.5°C goal.
“Australia can become a renewable energy super power, replacing coal with clean energy and exporting that clean energy to a global market that’s ready to consume it,” Di Natale says.
Their primary aim is clearly to “turf out”the coal-huggers in the Coalition, but the Greens are not convinced that Labor has a strong enough plan either.
Labor is aiming for a 50 per cent share of renewables by 2030. That target is described as “economy wrecking” by one of the major business lobbies, but would actually result in a significant slow down in renewables deployment.
The details of the policy document make for interesting reading and show some thought has gone into it. The ideas have not been plucked from the sky either, but are based largely around the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Integrated System Plan, with some added urgency and other projects that have been mooted by private developers.
The ISP is focused on improving transmission links and creating renewable energy zones. Like Labor, the Greens document suggests a “grid transformation fund” – in this case $6 billion versus $5 billion – and it seems that the striking difference between the two is the scale and speed of the transition, both in electricity and electric vehicles.
There is a $1.2 billion program to ensure that all households – including renters and apartment dwellers – can benefit from local solar supplies by sharing energy from “solar gardens”, built on supermarkets or a community building. A further $2.2 billion is targeted at household battery storage.
There is further funding for indigenous communities and regional community energy hubs, and a small business fund that will encourage small businesses to shift from gas to clean energy where they can. A separate fund focuses on heavy industry.
“Payback periods can be as low as 3 to 4 years for investment in more efficient heating and hot water systems,” the document says. “The transition away from fossil fuels should not be left solely up to consumers; government should provide powerful incentives to help households and businesses embrace this transition.”
It also aims to double energy efficiency by 2030, taking total savings to 40,000GWh, around 20 per cent of current total grid demand. Experts in the energy savings sector have been advocating for this for years, and it is a sensible and cost effective approach (saving $27 billion from bills) to accompany the transition.
Not every state actually gets to 100 per cent renewables by 2030 under the Greens plan, however, and its document recognises the difficulties that will be encountered in isolated and stand-alone grids in the Northern Territory and the SWIS in West Australia. Their time-line extends for another 5 years in WA before the closure of the Bluewaters coal generators, and gas is still being used in NT in 2040.
The document publishes a timeline for the closure of each and every coal fired power generator in the country, and it expects a 50 per cent increase in overall grid demand (to more than 327TWh in the National Electricity Market) by 2030, and a further increase to 367TWh by 2040 as electrification in transport and manufacturing continues.
The main policy mechanisms will be a renewable energy target and a storage target. The emissions reduction target will be 63-82 per cent by 2030 and “negative zero” by 2040.
And, of course, there will be a carbon price. “The Greens want the carbon price to pick up where it was trashed by Tony Abbott, mirroring the European price and driving innovation, clean investment and emissions reductions right across the entire economy,” the document says.
And it promises jobs, a total of 170,000, in projects such as coal mine rehabilitation and solar hydrogen exports, and other related clean energy industries, and economic growth. There will be $1 billion “just transition” fund for coal workers.
“We have a choice,” the document says.
“We can create those groundbreaking clean technologies at home and sell them to the world, or we can prop up the polluting exports of the past and wait until they are replaced by someone else.
“We can plan for this inevitable transition and to support coal workers and their communities, or we can leave it up to the boardrooms of multinational energy companies to decide when those workers will lose their jobs and when their communities are forced to transition.”