Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Renewables: Australia's a land of plenty

26 Oct 2012

When feisty UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres swept into Sydney this week, she mocked suggestions Australia is alone in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. "Nothing could be further from reality", Ms Figueres told the Lowy Institute. Rather than excoriate the government for holding out on signing up for the second round of the Kyoto Protocol to set emission targets, the diminutive diplomat instead stressed how the country was "blessed" with renewable energy resources the envy of much of the world.

While many nations were keen to tap such resources in order to improve health and lower carbon emissions, the real appeal, she said, was economic: "None of them is trying to save the planet. They're doing it because it's in their national interest and that's the most important motivator". But for national interest to be rightly understood--and acted upon--it helps if the population is aware of what's possible.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the body charged with running the nation's energy supply, has modelled the feasibility of switching to 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030 and 2050. This week, AEMO buried its findings in its monthly Energy Update.

The national electricity market is now about 200 TWs (or 200 million MWs), a total the AEMO modelling found within reach, and then some: "The study shows there is potential to produce around 500 times that [total] if all possible sources of renewable energy available across eastern and south eastern Australia were tapped into".

The huge multiple was derived even with conservative assumptions, such as excluding any land with a greater than 1% slope from consideration for solar power, national parks and local planning rules which have tightened restrictions on wind farms in states such as Victoria. Much of South Australia and Queensland were also omitted from the study's range.

AEMO declined to comment on the report's findings, directing queries instead to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The department "is really running the show on this one", was its response. A spokesman for Minister Greg Combet declined to give a direct response to the AEMO study other than to say: "The Labor Government has long recognised the significant and under-utilised renewable energy potential which Australia possesses".

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