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Renewable energy crucial to securing Australia’s energy future - study

Australia must immediately invest in alternative energy technologies in order to pull off its emissions reduction targets and provide a sustainable energy system for the country by 2035, suggestes a new study by the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland.

Apart from coal-fired power plants, a combination of large-scale renewable energy facilities, including solar and wind, is needed to secure Australia’s energy future, said Professor John Foster, researcher and study co-author.

“We are heavily dependent on coal and for good reason; 20 to 30 years ago it was a sensible strategy and we have enjoyed cheap power up until about five years ago. Now, the sensible strategy is to diversify our sources of generation as much as possible to improve resilience,” said Professor Foster.

While coal is an integral part in meeting Australia’s energy demand, the report highlighted that the nation will significantly benefit from investment in renewable energy, which could help strengthen its resilience and phase out coal in the long run.

In modeling Australia’s power system, the report applied five key scenarios drawn on business-as-usual approach of coal transition to gas, investment in large-scale renewable energy projects, and use of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.

From these, findings revealed that resilience of the nation’s power structure by far is poor, just ahead of India and South Africa, and is not offset by low electricity costs.

Meanwhile, despite the high carbon tax implemented by the Federal government, this is not enough for the country’s power structure to achieve the emissions reduction goal of 80 percent by 2050.

The report also showed that shifting from ‘business-as-usual' to renewable energy, distributed generation and carbon capture storage does not entail cost premium. Most likely, there is cost premium for moving away from coal.

Professor Foster said results of the report are based on reality and thus reflects that Australia’s power system needs an overhaul in a “slowly but surely” manner.

“At present around 80 per cent of our power is coal and if we switch it off quickly, the lights go out. We believe the only realistic solution is to have an orderly transition from coal to other forms of generation and we think this will take several decades to do sensibly.”

The report presented two basic choices for Australia; it’s either to start right away in taking concrete steps that will lead to reduced emissions, reduced pressure on electricity prices, and an increase in technology choices by 2025; or wait until technology options such as carbon capture and storage and nuclear power become viable, and subsequently implement the technologies in a hurry to keep up with changing climate.

This report is the second of the three-part series, “Delivering a competitive Australian power system: The challenges, the scenarios”. The first report, which analyzed Australia’s global position in the energy sector, was released last March 2012. The third and final report will be out within this year and is expected to provide recommendations for policy directions that could help the country’s power system globally competitive. – C. Dominguez

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