Perhaps it’s finally time for Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition colleagues to put away their ideological and indefensible attacks on wind and solar.
Even the most conservative of energy organisations, the International Energy Agency, has concluded that wind and solar will contribute will become the dominant source of energy in most major economies within two decades, and renewable energy will account for 60 per cent of all generation by 2040 if the world is to reach its 2°C climate target.
Scenarios prepared by the IEA in its annual World Energy Outlook, a 700 page document considered the reference point of the world’s pre-eminent, if conservative, energy organisation, says wind and solar (variable energy) will be the biggest single source of energy in the EU by 2030, and in China, US and India by 2035.
Compare this to the Coalition’s abject criticism of the 50 per cent renewable energy targets set by Labor states in South Australia, Queensland and Victoria (40 per cent by 2025), and the national target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 by the federal opposition.
Turnbull and co argue that these targets are reckless and unachievable, but the IEA is saying the exact opposite. Not only are they achievable, but they will be essential to meet the targets in the very treaty that Australia and more than 100 other countries have ratified.
The IEA – created in 1974 in response to the oil crisis and basically created to support fossil fuels – has long underestimated the role of renewable energy and still does, according to some critics. But it is rapidly recognising the importance of wind and solar.
This graph graph above illustrates how the IEA has lifted its forecasts for wind and solar over the past year. The light colour represents its forecasts made in the same report last year, the coloured lines are the additions since then, and the green shade is the extra that will need to be delivered for the 2°C scenario.
It means that the contribution of wind alone to the world’s electricity requirements will be more than coal, oil and nuclear combined by 2040, making a mockery of the Coalition’s renewable energy scare campaign, and on their reliance of bogus assessments by the likes of Bjorn Lomborg.
The Danish climate contrarian has made a career out of playing down the impact of climate change, and the prospects of wind and solar. Coalition MPs, including the head of their environmental committee, constantly refer to him when they want to diminish the role of wind and solar. Even BHP swallows his nonsense.
But as the IEA makes clear “renewable energy is the growth story” of their latest report. By 2040, most renewable energy generation will be competitive without any subsidies, but in the interim government policies will be key.
It cites the efforts of Germany, Italy, Japan, China and the US, whose pro-renewables policies have accelerated price falls by a decade. It urges governments to look at system integration measures to give power systems sufficient flexibility.
These include stronger grids, the availability of plants ready to dispatch power at short notice, incentives for system-friendly deployment of renewable technologies, demand-response and energy storage.
All these are recommended by a joint grouping of Australian power generators, both fossil fuel and clean energy, consumers and business lobbies. The key message is that Australia and other countries need to push the accelerator, not the brakes, on the energy transition.
The IEA also made clear that wind and solar and other renewable will play a critical role in providing heat – the biggest energy consumption in the world – and in fuelling transport, through electric vehicles, for instance. It says there is great untapped potential in these two sectors.
For instance, about 715 million EVs will be needed by 2040 for the world to meet climate targets, and it is essential that these are powered, or charged, by renewables.
No doubt, many critics – such as Lomborg – will rely on the IEA’s “main” scenario. But even this suggests that wind and solar will provide more than 37 per cent of the world’s electricity – more than coal – but as this graph shows, the main scenario leaves the world travelling in the wrong direction to meet climate targets.
The role or wind and solar will be even greater if the world is to meet the 1.5°C aspiration target in the Paris climate agreement that Australia and others have ratified.
The IEA says if that target is to be met, then the world’s electricity grid will need to be at zero emissions by 2040, with an even greater share of wind and solar. “This is unchartered territory,” it says.
And it’s importance to reinforce the declining prospects and influence of coal. In the past year alone, the IEA has slashed its global thermal coal power generation projections by 18 per cent, mostly because of the seismic shifts in India and China and the declining cost of wind and solar.
“The transition continues to gather pace and this report is a dire warning to anybody labouring under the illusion the story of thermal coal has a happy ending,” says Tim Buckley, energy analyst with the IEEFA.
“Coal is losing market share not only due to climate and energy policies cutting pollution, but also because, in an increasing number of cases, renewable energy is a cheaper alternative.
“In the unlikely event that the short-term tailwind for the coal sector in the US continues or the US sees a slowdown in renewables as a result of the new administration, the IEA analysis shows that emerging economies are now well placed to assume low-carbon leadership.
“In this scenario, we will see the rise of China and India as new clean energy superpowers, outflanking the US, dodging stranded asset risk and powering their economies from limitless sources.”