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Author: Michael Slezak and Nick Evershed
Date: 20th of April 2016

Transitioning Australia to 100% renewable energy by 2050 would cost less than continuing on the current path, according to a new report.

Building the infrastructure to supply renewable energy for all electricity, transport and industry would cost about $800bn between now and 2050, the report from the institute for sustainable futures at the University of Technology Sydney, found.

That’s about $650bn more than continuing with the status quo. But by removing the need for fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, it would save the economy up to $740bn, saving $90bn over the period to 2050, the report found.

Fuel cost savings would cover 110% of the capital investment needed to transition the economy.

The report is the first comprehensive modelling study to examine a scenario where not just electricity, but also all transport and heat used by industry, is transitioned to 100% renewable energy in Australia. It uses a model developed by the German Aerospace Agency and Greenpeace, which was relied on to help inform how Germany would implement its 80% renewable target for 2050, and by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for some of its scenario testing.

Commissioned by GetUp and Solar Citizens, it examines three scenarios for Australia’s energy system.

The first is based on a continuation of current policies and government forecasts, in which coal, gas and other fossil fuels continue to be used. The second scenario sees electricity generation is almost completely transitioned to renewable energy by 2030, but gas and oil continue to be used for heat and transport.

In the third scenario electricity generation is completely transitioned to renewable energy by 2030, and all transport and heat used in industry are transitioned by 2050. Renewable synthetic fuels replace fossil fuels in some cases where electrification is difficult, such as air travel and long distance freight.

Since many of Australia’s coal-fired power stations are ageing, the first scenario requires considerable infrastructure investment, with $150bn being spent by 2050. Almost half that would be spent on infrastructure for fossil fuel-based electricity generation.

The model suggests that both renewable scenarios become cheaper than the status quo as early as 2020.

In the modest renewable scenario, about $600bn would need to be spent to source all electricity from renewables. Most of that would need to be spent on wind and solar PV – $258.1bn and $167.9bn, respectively.

In that scenario, significant investment in solar thermal and geothermal would also be needed, since they can provide power on demand and fill any gaps when wind and solar are not producing much electricity – $97.8bn is spent on a combination of those in the scenario.

In the ambitious scenario, most transport is electrified, so that it can run on electricity from renewable sources. That increases the demand for electricity, requiring more investment in electricity generation.

But Australia currently spends more on oil for transport, than it does on all other forms of energy combined. By almost completely eliminating the need for any oil, the ambitious 100% renewable scenario emerges as the cheapest, overtaking the less ambitious renewable scenario by 2035.

By using a mix of different renewable energy sources, the scenarios all maintain an electricity network that is as reliable as the current one.

The authors consulted with the Clean Energy Council to ensure the scenarios grew the renewables industries at rates that would be feasible. It involves increasing wind installations by 2,600MW a year for 15 years, which is in line with what Germany did between 1999 and 2014. And solar PV would need to be installed at a rate of 4,500MW per year to 2030, which is about four times what was installed in Australia in some previous years.

Study author Sven Teske from the University of Technology Sydney, said work that combined energy for transport and electricity was needed, since electrifying cars would have a huge impact on the electricity network.

“This models across all sectors, which gives us a very good overview of different technologies and the interaction of those technologies,” Teske said.

The modelling work doesn’t examine what policies will be needed to achieve the scenarios, although it does assume in the renewable scenarios that current coal-fired power stations are phased out by 2035.

Miriam Lyons, a senior campaigner at GetUp, said the $800bn investment needed to transition the economy could be boon for the economy.

“If we decide to go all the way to 100% renewable energy, Australia can get an $800bn slice of the global renewable investment boom. That’s something that Australia is sorely in need of right now,” she said. “There is a great big gap that’s been left by the end of the mining investment boom.”

“It turns out we can get to 100% renewable energy quite fast, and it turns out it saves us money,” Lyons said.

Olivia Kember from the Climate Institute told Guardian Australia: “This modelling adds to the growing body of evidence that Australia is completely capable of decarbonising its electricity system. But this won’t happen without a comprehensive policy package to replace our high-carbon coal stations with clean energy.”

Mark Diesendorf from the University of New South Wales said the report was a valuable study for examining possible renewable energy futures in Australia. But he pointed out it did not model how fast Australia could transition its workforce to cope with the energy transition. “The studies to explore possible timescales of the transition are still to be done,” he said.

 

Read article at The Guardian