September 13, 2010
No other country-continent on earth enjoys such an abundance of renewable resources as Australia. It could easily supply its 22 million people with non-fossil, non-nuclear energy, provided governments muster the political will and give the necessary push for a long-term energy and climate strategy based on renewables and energy efficiency.
Australia has more than plenty of wind power along its 33.000 km coast line and could build any number of solar thermal and PV power stations across its huge desert areas. In addition, it could even continue to exploit its huge coal deposits provided it imposed carbon capture and storage on its power plants.
There will, of course, be difficulties to overcome. The two biggest ones are the need to build long-distance high-voltage direct current transmission lines connecting the widely spread generation sites with the consumption centres along the coast and financing the huge investments required to put in place such a revolutionary energy supply system. Financing would be facilitated if the government abolished the diesel subsidies in favour of the mining industry which cost the budget close to $ 5 billion annually.
It is doable only if the private sector and citizens will be fully on board and accept temporarily higher energy prices, which Australia can afford more easily than Europe considering its export structure geared to raw materials and agricultural products.
So far Australian citizens have not been very climate-conscious. Due to their lifestyle Australian citizens emit around 20 tons of C02 annually, twice the average EU emission level. It is therefore not surprising that it has taken the country until 2009 to accede to the Kyoto Convention.
Politically the country is split on energy and climate issues. Only the small Green Party defends an outspoken climate agenda. The Conservatives are too close to business and mining interests to support radical climate measures.
And the Labour Party, which will run a minority government with the support from four independent MPs, can ill afford to take any revolutionary energy measures.
The dream of a zero-emission Australia will therefore hardly come true in the next 20 years, though it would be feasible by building 12 huge thermal solar power plants with 24hour molten salt storage capacity and 23 large scale wind power plants with 6.500 turbines, according to the “Zero-Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan” published in August by Melbourne University and an engineering company.
Still, the country should be expected to pursue an active green policy reaching out for a 20 percent share of renewables in its energy mix by 2020, thanks also to its renewable energy legislation passed last June.
And considering its extraordinary solar and wind potential Australia will no doubt become a leading player in renewable technology and future climate negotiations. Rendez-vous at Cancun in December!
Brussels 08.09. 2010 Eberhard RheinAuthor : Eberhard Rhein