Australia, it seems, is inching inexorably towards a net zero target for 2050. The onboarding of the country’s biggest business lobby, and even the Murdoch media, means that the Nationals and the naysayers are running out of excuses and platforms to oppose it, with the inglorious exception of Sky After Dark.
Of course, a net zero emissions target is the very minimum that should be expected of Australia, given its wealth and its fantastic resources and opportunities in what even Scott Morrison is now observing as the “new energy economy.”
Australia should really be ramping up its near-term emissions targets for 2030 at the very least to the 46 per cent to 50 per cent reduction range suggested by the Business Council of Australia, or significantly more.
This is not about bowing to the demands of the UN, or climate activists, it’s about seizing on the immense economic opportunities, the sort outlined repeatedly by billionaires such as Andrew Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes, and now rapidly dawning on the rest of Australia’s industry.
The reality is that Australia, and most other developed countries, are going to have to bring forward their net zero targets closer to 2040 if the world is to have a good chance of capping average global warming below 1.5°C.
But there is now widespread acknowledgement that – even to reach net zero by 2050 – electricity grids have to decarbonise first, and must do so quickly because it sets the path to cut emissions in transport, industries and buildings.
A report by Ember earlier this year suggested that western economies – the UK, the US and the EU, accept that a zero carbon grid is necessary by 2035 . The UK and the US have now said so out loud, and the EU target is implicit in its “fit for 55” package.
And as ambitious as it sounds, Australia can get there too. The Australian Energy Market Operator has already delivered one 20-year blueprint, known as the Integrated System Plan, that models a share of around 94 per cent renewables by 2040.
It has already flagged that the next edition, a draft of which is to be released this December, will include a new “hydrogen superpower” scenario that is in line with a 1.5°C target, and which assumes the national grid will be zero carbon by 2035.
And it’s not the only one. In a new report to be released on Wednesday, transmission company Transgrid models six different scenarios, including “deep decarbonisation” which assumes renewables supply 91 per cent of the grid by 2030, and 100 per cent by 2035.
“All the evidence points to the fact that the transition from a fossil fuel to renewable energy based power system is unstoppable,” says Transgrid.
So there you have the market operator, whose job is to keep the lights on, and one of the biggest transmission companies, making clear that the switch to renewables is not just desirable, it’s imminently doable.
Even the BCA, which had described the targets Labor brought to the last federal election – 50 per cent renewables by 2030 and a 45 per cent cut in emissions – as “economy wrecking”, is now on board with the rapid transition to renewables. It says renewables won’t wreck the economy, they’ll make it thrive.
The BCA analysis (see table above) assumes a share of 85 per cent “clean energy” by 2030 in Australia’s electricity mix. It says this might include nuclear and geothermal, but that is wishful thinking.
No investor is pursuing either of those technologies in Australia because of their huge cost, and time constraints,, and the BCA admits as much in another graph which makes clear that “renewable electricity approaches 100%” in 2035, contributing to savings of $5,000 per person in the year 2050.
That’s what makes Australia particularly interesting, because the various US and the UK zero carbon scenarios, and some of the EU scenarios, assume a share of their clean energy will come from nuclear, although it should be noted that none of them predict a greater share of production, just a steady share at best.
In reality, Australia could have a “net renewables” position well beyond 100 per cent, even as early as 2030, particularly if the ambitious green hydrogen and green ammonia projects outlined in recent weeks by Forrest, and previously by CWP Global, and the likes of BP and others, are delivered.
Together, they would require more than 100GW of wind and solar to be built. Western Australia has a target of securing that much in its own state, and the reality is that as the costs come down, the switch to green industry will snowball.
The question will be how, and if, these can be connected to the main grid, and what role they will play in balancing out the storage needs of a grid rapidly dependent on wind and solar. It was interesting to note that ESB chair Kerry Schott this week said she expected all coal generators to be gone by 2035.
Alinta, which owns one of the coal fired power stations due to close a decade later, appears to agree. CEO Jeff Dimery told RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast last week that he wouldn’t be surprise if Loy Yang B closed “shortly after the end of the current decade”, rather than 2047.
The task of integrating all of this will fall to AEMO. Its CEO Daniel Westerman has already talked of the need to get the grid ready to accommodate times of 100 per cent renewables as early as 2025. It might even come sooner. This is now AEMO’s base case scenario.
“The question we face is not whether these low-cost renewable electrons should be part of the system,” he said.
“The question is, really, what do we, as an industry, need to do to integrate them into the power system, in an orderly and secure way, both technically and economically?”
This will require greater understanding of the technologies available and how they can deliver both reliability and system services, but also a change in market rules to bring them into the 21st century, including the recently introduced switch to 5 minute settlements and the approved fast frequency response services, both of which favour battery storage.
More than that, they need a clear signal and some leadership from the federal government, because that will encourage investment, reduce risk and lower costs.
“There’s an emerging consensus among climate leaders that zero-carbon power systems in the 2030s are essential for net-zero,” says nergy and climate data analyst for Ember.
“The idea that clean electricity can be a foundation for economy-wide decarbonisation is not new, but now it has entered mainstream thinking.
“Leaders committed to mid-century climate neutrality should heed the emerging consensus and join the US in targeting zero-carbon power by 2035. A high-ambition coalition could play a pivotal role in beginning to align policy and finance towards this goal.”
Also, please tune in to our latest webinar on Wednesday (October 12) titled Net Zero: What are we waiting for, featuring ex AEMO CEO and now X executive director Audrey Zibelman, ClimateWorks CE Anna Skarbek and Ark Energy’s Cathy Daniher. You can register by clicking here.