ANU Research: Australia Could Run on 100% Renewable Energy by 2032

Research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Australia is installing renewable power per person each year faster than any other country, helping it to meet its entire Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets five years early...

Australia is experiencing a remarkable renewable energy transition. According to The Australian National University research, the pipeline for new wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity systems is about 6.3 Gigawatts (GW) per year. This equates to 250 Watts per person per year compared with about 50 Watts per person per year for the European Union, Japan, China and the USA. This renewable energy pipeline is sustainable and is fast enough to reach 50% renewable electricity in 2024-25.

Australia could reach the equivalent of 100 percent renewables by 2032, if the current rates of installation of wind and solar continued.

“The installation of renewables in Australia last year really ramped up compared to these other major economies, and we expect that trend to continue this year and beyond,” said Professor Blakers from the ANU Research School of Electrical, Energy and Materials Engineering (RSEEME).  “The electricity sector is on track to deliver Australia’s entire Paris emissions reduction targets five years early, in 2025 –without the need for any creative accounting. “Australia is on track to reach 50 per cent renewable electricity in 2024 and 100 percent by 2032. The Australian renewable energy experience offers real hope for rapid global emissions reductions to preserve a living planet.”

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The ANU research led by Professor Blakers and Dr Stock, says the technology and infrastructure needed to support that amount of wind and solar can also be put in place within that time frame. The most important thing the government of the day can do is to get out of the way, although it will need some considerable facilitation and coordination to get everything built and in place in time.

To this the co-researcher Dr Matthew Stocks added that the net cost of achieving the 2030 carbon emission targets set in the Paris Agreement would become zero because expensive fossil fuels were being replaced by cheaper renewables. “The price of electricity from large-scale solar PV and wind farms in Australia is currently about $50 per Megawatt-hour (MWh), and steadily falling,” he further adds, “This is below the cost of electricity from existing gas-fired power stations and is also below the cost of new-build gas and coal power stations. Nearly all of the new power stations are either PV or wind. We anticipate that this will continue into the future, provided that energy policy is not actively hindering development.”

The new research from ANU contrasts previous reports, which found Australia is not on track to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. The 2018 Emissions Gap Report from the United Nations listed Australia as a G20 country that will not meet its 2030 target.

Read: A Grid that is almost 100% Renewable Energy Powered? It’s Happening

Skeptical point of view

Australia’s national emissions, as per the government’s most recent projections document, were 534 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2018, and 605 Mt in 2005. A 27% reduction relative to 2005 means 442 Mt, that is 92 Mt lower than now. However, this does not take into account the emissions the country exports to the rest of the world, in the form of its massive coal exports, something the government is simply not willing to consider for reduction at this stage.

Blakers et al assume a reduction in emissions of 2 Mt per year for every additional GW of renewables capacity. So if there is an addition 6 GW per year, that’s 12 Mt per year saved, and assuming then (as Blakers et al do) that emissions in all other sectors rise only slowly, that would hit the target in the mid-2020s. But Australia’s current total electricity sector emissions are 182 Mt per year. So, this would equate to cutting power sector emissions by more than half, or roughly halving coal-fired power output.

Half of the existing coal-fired power fleet shut by 2025, or all of it running at half the output? It probably won’t happen by 2025 without a host of support policies, large network investments, and measures to deal with the social and political pain of coal plant closures.

2030 is a much more realistic timeframe for such changes. By then it will also be possible to significantly reduce emissions from the other parts of the economy (the two-thirds of emissions). That includes electrification in transport, industry, and housing, replacing gas, petrol, diesel and coal with renewable electricity. And it includes greater energy efficiency, and better processes in mining, chemical industries, and agriculture.

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