Australia’s failure to make good use of its significant natural advantages and realise the enormous economic opportunities created through renewable energy has placed it in a perilous position to be able to deal with major challenges ahead.
APEC energy ministers meeting in Darwin last week would not be unaware of the paradox of Australia’s addiction to coal-fired energy and its population suffering under the worst drought for 100 years.
Despite the ensuing water crisis and spiralling electricity prices, there is very little mention of the most glaring natural energy resources Australia is also blessed with - sun and wind. However, the irony of pursuing a coal based energy future while struggling to cope with what will be just the tip of the iceberg as regards climate impacts, seems to be lost on Australia’s politicians in both camps.
Australia has some of the best conditions in the world for renewable energy yet lack of investment means it is missing out on a lucrative and booming global renewable energy market. So it is welcome that The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry and Resources is finally undertaking a program of public hearings for its inquiry into Australia’s renewable energy sectors, including solar, wave, tidal, geothermal, wind and hydrogen.
The inquiry is to examine the relative state of development of these sectors and their prospects for economically viable electricity generation, storage and transmission.
Consider the following (PDF 524KB): Germany has 25 times more wind energy installed than Australia, even though the very best wind sites in Germany are less windy than Australia’s worst commercial sites: Germany has 20,622MW of wind power installed compared to only 817MW in Australia - that’s six times more wind energy per person; Japan and Germany each have 24 times more solar electric (PV) panels installed than Australia, despite significantly poorer solar resources - by the end of 2005 both countries had 1400MW compared to Australia’s paltry 60MW.
Renewable energy, combined with efficiencies from the “smart use” of energy, can deliver half of the world’s energy needs by 2050, according to one of the most comprehensive plans for future sustainable energy provision.
The report: Energy [R]evolution: A sustainable world energy outlook, produced under the scientific leadership of the German Space Agency (DLR) in co-operation with the European Renewable Industry Association, the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International, provides a blueprint for how to halve global CO2 emissions within the next 43 years, while providing a secure and affordable energy supply and, critically, maintaining steady worldwide economic development.
Energy [R]evolution shows how we can cut global CO2 emissions 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 (which must happen if we are to stabilise the increase in global temperatures at +2C) while allowing for an increase in net energy consumption, especially in developing countries; providing better energy security than reliance on conventional “business as usual” technologies (the IEA’s “World Energy Outlook”); and phasing out nuclear power completely by 2030 without reliance on unproven and risky future developments in so-called “clean” coal technology
The report also finds that energy services for the two billion people globally who have no access to electricity would be improved, and that developing nations could continue to grow while reducing emissions. It demonstrates how a “business as usual” scenario, based on IEA’s World Energy Outlook projections, is not an option for environmental, economic and security of supply reasons.
Under the global energy scenario, renewable energies will represent the backbone of the world’s economy - not only in OECD countries, but also in developing countries such as China, India and Brazil. Renewable energy can deliver nearly 70 per cent of global electricity supply and 65 per cent of global heat supply by 2050.
Renewable energies are competitive, if governments phase-out subsidies for fossil and nuclear fuels and introduce a “polluter-pays” principle. A recent report (PDF 2.87MB) found that Australian federal and state governments subsidise fossil fuel industries to the tune of $10 billion every year. If politicians are serious about climate change, these subsidies must stop.
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