How Australia could reach 90% renewables by 2030

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Greens proposal for 90% renewables may be ridiculed by conservatives and vested interests. But unlike mainstream parties, at least they have a plan – with a mix of rooftop solar, storage, public finance and capacity auctions, and early closure for coal generators.

share
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Australian Greens have now launched details of how they would meet their long held policy proposal to take Australia to 90 per cent renewable energy for its electricity needs by 2030.

The first thing that should be noted is that it is not going to happen. And that’s not because the technology doesn’t exist to effect the transition, it does: The Australian Energy Market Operator assured us of that in a detailed analysis completed in 2014, and said it may not be any more costly than business as usual.

The reason it won’t happen is that the Greens would not get into power fast enough to effect that change. Even a power sharing arrangement with Labor couldn’t achieve its policy goals, because Labor – despite its proposed 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 – remains too wedded to the fossil fuel industry.

The Coalition, meanwhile, has said that 23.5 per cent renewable energy is more than enough, and nothing said since Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister suggests anything much is going to change quickly. The ongoing capital strike by the private sector players is indicative enough of that.

The other reasons are a mixture of ideology and vested interests. Witness the headlines and commentary that will surely appear in the mainstream press, and which has accompanied Germany’s Energiewende (energy transition), and the impending closure of the last coal fired generator in South Australia.

Powerful interests, in the fossil fuel and the pro-nuclear sectors are launching a scare campaign against wind and solar that rivals the campaign launched by the fossil fuel industry against climate science.

But let’s have a look at the 90 per cent target that Greens leader Richard di Natale is proposing. As he agrees, it is ambitious, “but ambition is what required”, both to meet climate targets and to ensure that Australia remains competitive in a largely decarbonised society.

Indeed, the Paris climate talks – beginning next week – are poised to reach agreement on a target that will essentially decarbonise the world’s electricity system by 2050. Australia, with its huge wind and solar resources, is better place than nearly any other country to adopt those technologies.

And if the Paris talks do result in agreement – and a long term target that could include net zero emissions, or “carbon neutrality” by 2030, or even keeping an option for a 1.5C target that Australia suggests it is prepared to sign up to – then the world is going to have to get moving pretty quickly.

The Greens are merely making the point that if the world wants to meet these targets, then it needs to move to net-zero carbon pollution by 2040.

The 2C target will require the world to do more or less the same by 2050 in any case. The difference between the Greens and the mainstream parties is that they have actually mapped out a plan to get us there. For the others, there is a disconnect between rhetoric and policy.

And the proposal is not as outlandish as many will make out. Even the conservative The International Energy Agency has said that renewable energy and energy efficiency – the two fundamental planks of the Greens policy – can account for nearly three quarters of required emissions reductions.  (It puts nuclear’s role at a mere 8 per cent of emission reductions and carbon capture and storage – if it works – at 11 per cent).

The International Renewable Energy Agency, in a report to be released this week, says renewables and efficiency can account for most of the reductions. It has previously said that Australia should be aiming for than 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

So, for the details of the Greens policy. First of all, here is what the Greens say that 90 per cent renewable energy generation might look like in 2030 – although they point out that technology shares could change depending on their cost curves in coming years.

greens generation mix

The Greens note that wind energy will play the major role in the next few years, before solar PV, and to a lesser extent solar thermal become the dominance new technology. Energy storage, while not specifically separated out in this generation forecast, will play a significant role in managing the network and matching dispatch times.

The Greens have proposed two possible policy scenarios that could deliver this target, which is based on the assumption that widespread adoption of electric vehicles and electrification of manufacturing production (rather than using liquid fuels), will increase demand to 358TWh, more than 50 per cent above some scenarios, and a similar amount above current levels.

The first scenario envisages a series of reverse auctions administered by a new body, called RenewAustralia, in a similar fashion to those pioneered by the ACT government in its own program to reach 90 per cent renewable energy by 2020.

This would deliver about 100,000 GWh of new clean energy generation capability by 2030. This would be supplemented by what could be the most controversial element of their proposal, the use of public funds for publicly-owned generation assets (a total of 129GWh).

In this scenario, the large-scale renewable energy target would be expanded and extended to 52,500 GWh of electricity generation by 2030; and the small scale target would be continued to provide 25,800 GWh of small-scale renewable energy gene ratio, mostly rooftop solar.

A second scenario anticipates much higher uptake of rooftop solar – both residential and commercial (39,000GWh) – but is in line with the uptake envisaged by AEMO is some of its recent network planning. This scenario envisages less capacity delivered by public finance, but more capacity from reverse auctions.

These mechanisms would be combined with wider market trends towards greater energy efficiency, and household storage.

It would also be accompanied by legislation that would place strict pollution limits on coal fired power generators, of the sort that have been imposed in the US and China (remembering that Australia has some of the dirtiest coal fired generation in the world).

This is not likely to please the incumbent utilities. AGL Energy, for intance, has proposed no new coal fired generation but wants to keep plants such as Loy Yang A – Australia’s biggest polluter – open until 2048. The Greens would have that facility closed in little more than a decade.

Hazelwood, one of the oldest and dirtiest plants, would be closed in 2017. The black coal generators in NSW would be closed between 2024 and 2029, and the Queensland coal plants between 2020 and 2030.


It would include transition funds to help coal industry workers transition to new jobs, and it expects there to be plenty of these with all this renewable energy investment.

“There is no escaping our economic future. It is clean and green or it is no future at all,” the Greens document says.

“For Australia to secure all the benefits of lower prices, better technologies, more jobs, competitive advantages, significant export opportunities for innovative Australian technologies and services, building the clean economy needs to start right now.
“If we don’t start now, we will get stuck importing technologies while our best minds leave to take their ideas to be developed overseas.”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

18 Comments
  1. John Knox 4 years ago

    I don’t think you can say the brown coal generators are closing ‘early’ – weren’t a lot of them supposed to be ‘end-of-life’ years ago???

  2. lin 4 years ago

    It is good to see that one political party in Australia is taking this seriously. No doubt they will get shit poured onto them by the same vested interests who make money from polluting, pour huge resources into keeping the major parties owned and are behind the propaganda that keeps a significant percentage of the public wilfully ignorant.

    • MaxG 4 years ago

      Most of the population is actually wilfully ignorant — so I learned over many conversations, when you even mention the word politics, within seconds your ‘friends” have more pressing things to attend to.

  3. JohnRD 4 years ago

    Keep in mind that once the loan is paid off renewable power is essentially free.
    Also keep in mind that this progframme will give abadly needed boost to our economy.

  4. Adam 4 years ago

    So dismiss carbon capture but fail to question where all the geothermal and biomass is going to come from. And fail to mention the Greens can’t possibly have a clue what the cost curves for those would look like. And nothing at all outlining costs to various sectors. So all total finger in the air bulldust.
    Question: why are you publishing Greens media releases as editorial?

    • Peter Campbell 4 years ago

      Even if no biomass or geothermal ever eventuated (an unlikely, worst case scenario), and its portion of the graph above were substituted by gas, we would still have a very high proportion of renewable generation from established renewable technologies. Doesn’t seem a big ask to me.

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        i think anywhere you are seeing gas peakers solarCST with thermal storage will outcompete it within a decade for sure if gas price increase on trend.

        Of course there’s a bigger picture as Giles led off this article by stating, the Grid, the PPAs the whole darn NEM privatisation gold-mine that needs reconsideration because the system is not delivering the results we need from it.

        In fact we have gone backwards in a very poor show since Abbott became leader of LNC and emboldened the coalocracy to go on what Giles calls a capital strike vis a vis PPAs. We’ve slipped from 11th to 39th deployer of large-scale RE worldwide in a single year (Clean Energy Australia Report 2014), PV (which is entirely rooftop in Australia) plateaued to moderate linear growth in 2011 while the global growth index remains exponential; doubling global deployment every two years.

        The task is doable, even with PV alone (plus utility class storage) at the global growth rate we could smash 100% RE, but the economic system that we’ve design, we have designed to deliver certainty and muller for an elite in a fossil fuel world. This economic construct must end, or it’s our world that ends. A market system designed to facilitate that fossil world and it’s views of how things must be is fundamentally in opposition to its replacement with distributed RE with it’s variability, and the current overcapacity it brings.

        Fortunately the Australian Greens have started a conversation about how we change this structure that presently caters exclusively to the fossils and the incumbent energy retailers.

        Would be excellent if Greens members could see the primary text EDIT: renewaustralia.org.au download 48pp document and watch 59 minute launch video.

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Carbon capture and storage should be the king pin in government policy. Coal generators must be required to capture and store in perpetuity all carbon dioxide emissions before they burn another gram of coal. This technology is a lie as big as Volkswagen’s diesel emissions. It has been touted as a solution to fossil fuel emissions for years and has attracted government investment. Now is the time to demand its implementation. Capture your carbon or shut down.

      • Adam 4 years ago

        But everyone pretty much knows ccs is never happening. So that’s not a very credible policy. “Do the impossible or throw all your workers on the scrapheap. Choose!” Needs more work.

    • Ken Fabian 4 years ago

      In many respects all and every long term plan, with costing, is finger in the air bulldust, including that of ‘saving money’ and ‘preserving economic profitability’ by planning to do the least that can be gotten away, ie with plans such as our current Federal and State governments, LNP and Labor, routinely churn out. Yet the broad outline as well as the imperatives can be clear. Flexibility, agility, innovation… heard those somewhere, very much apply to this.

      Commitment to the broad imperatives and foundational steps of a clean energy transition are necessarily going to made without knowing how the required results are to be achieved or how much they will cost. We will have to commit to the wind and solar that take the grid beyond what it is currently able to deal with and trust that the grid and the energy storage technologies can keep up. Or rather, it depends on commitment to R&D and support for innovation and infrastructure transformation rather than blind trust.

      Geothermal? Biomass? I’d love to have a safe micro steam generator that I could feed fire hazard reduction ‘waste’ materials into, and the volumes of it that currently get piled up and burned each year are surprising. Innovation anyone? We don’t know and can’t know how much these will achieve, except it should be clear that the value of a clean despatchable energy source, as with storage, is far greater in the presence of widespread, low cost but intermittent energy like solar and wind than any daily average electricity price can reflect.

      What we do know with confidence – so long as we accept the abundant and consistent mainstream scientific advice – is that failure to adequately remake our energy infrastructure will bequeath a profound burden of costs that will endure for centuries to millennia.

      • lin 4 years ago

        “safe micro steam generator that I could feed fire hazard reduction ‘waste’ materials into”
        I have been wondering how to do this too. The number of dead trees along roads that are potentially fatal hazards is huge. Imagine being able to convert them into biochar and electricity! Local councils could make money from keeping our road verges safe.

  5. Math Geurts 4 years ago

    “90 per cent renewable energy JUST for its electricity needs by 2030”
    How about Australia’s coal export, the real problem?

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      everyone seems to have their own interpretation of what the real problem is. this week we’re up to Monday and I’ve already counted three the real problems in getting Australia’s GHG emissions down and the CC action moving world-wide. lets discuss each plan for action on it’s merits and lost opportunities not dismiss it with talk of something else.

      for example Land Use sector emissions are pegged at a whopping 55% of national emissions using 20 Yr GWP by BZE in the ZCA Land Use Report, 2014. doesn’t mean we don’t need to take on the coalocracy, and maybe they are the logical first point to defeat, ag sector will have nowhere to hide when Fossils fall.

      • Math Geurts 4 years ago

        The problem can be easily measured in emitted tons of carbon. Irrelevant in- or outside Australia.

        • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

          that’s where you show you nativity. the problem is not in the numbers, it’s in the political-economic landscape. this is a chess type problem not a linear programming or double entry accounting type problem.

          and I suspect the land sector and it’s growth are numerically more frightening than coal exports and their inevitable decline as Indonesia undercuts us and China and India stop importing the stuff.

          • Math Geurts 4 years ago

            Explain to me: want kind of political-economic landscape prohibits to stop exporting coal and always seems to prioritize solar rooftop?

          • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

            it’s still legal to dig stuff up sell it offshore in this country.

            the people in this industry have more perceived political clout than any other lobby in the country, waaay more than the solar lobby, way more perceived political power than the divestment movement (but that’s changing fast under the radar), it’s not even a comparison worth putting to paper.

            Ask PM Rudd if the mining industry is to be feared getting on the wrong side of? The Coalocracy on any given sitting day in APH can have it’s minions walk uninvited into any marginal lower house seat backbenchers office, demand and get a meeting with the MP no matter what’s in her diary that day and casually threaten to spend a million dollars supporting her direct political opponent in her electorate. Tends to focus the mind.

            Ministers and their policy advisors, ditto. Office of PM and Cabinet, probably yes, them too.

            Tell me how good solar has it again? Solar has stopped growing at an exponential rate (the globally rate) and has plateaued to linear growth nationally since 2011, each state has seen a surge and decline pattern at some point in the last five years in discrete installations, the size of systems is growing which is what provides the illusion of real growth. Number of individuals employed in the sector as designers and installers: falling.

            Until one party or coalition of parties fights the inevitable battle-royale with coal exporters and their supporters in the energy generation business, Australian banking industry and finance industries over legislation which must eventually delegitimise there operations by law (way beyond the quotidian overriding of Federal environmental and public health law that Hunt has dispatched to new depths of irrelevance) then the lie of the land very much favours coal exporters and climate destruction of most ecologies on Earth.

            Mankind will no doubt survive short of a WWIII nucelar-holocaust scenario but civilisation will be very much not as we know it if it survives.

  6. onesecond 4 years ago

    Since the Greens started the Energiewende in Germany, its economy has been thriving, especially comared to other industrialized nations. Just saying.

Comments are closed.

Get up to 3 quotes from pre-vetted solar (and battery) installers.