In 2018/19 alone Australia is hoping to install a total extra capacity of 10,400 Megawatts in renewable energy.
Australia is a country blessed in more ways than one. The continent-size nation has abundant natural resources and much of it is drenched in sunshine and caressed by winds.
Its inexhaustible supplies of sunrays and winds make Australia ideally suited for energy generation from renewables, which the country is now making great progress in embracing. Within two years, this year and the next, according to plans, Australia will have installed an extra 10,400 Megawatts in renewable energy with solar power accounting for some 70% (or 7,200 MW) of it and wind power for the rest (3,200 MW).
“The Australian renewable energy industry is convincingly demonstrating its capacity to install large amounts of wind and PV systems,” write the authors of a recent report on the country’s embrace of renewable energy. If the current rate of wind and solar installations is kept up until 2020, the experts add, Australia will not only exceed its ambitious Renewable Energy Target (LRET) of 33,000 GWh by that date but will also be able to supply as much as 29% of domestic electricity from renewables in 2020.
At the current deployment rate, that portion could balloon to 50% by 2025 and double to 100% by the early 2030s. In the process, the country could achieve an estimated 26% reduction in emissions in its electricity sector by 2020/21 and meet another 26% in Paris emission reduction targets for the whole economy in 2024/25.
An increasing share of renewables has been causing energy prices to keep on falling, which is welcome news to consumers in a nation with some of the world’s priciest energy. “Australia has a target of 33 TWh in new renewable electricity by 2020. That target kick-started large-scale PV and wind construction which led to large falls in cost and risk perception,” explains Andrew Blakers, a professor at Australian National University, whose areas of expertise include renewable energy and was an author of the report.
“PV and wind are now bankable,” Blakers adds in an interview with Sustainability Times. “Australia has now surpassed the target and installations continue at a high rate for economic reasons. The current installation rate is 3.4 GW per year, half each from ground mounted PV and wind. Additionally, Australia has had continuous support for rooftop PV. Rooftop PV costs are now very low, and nearly 8 GW of rooftop PV has been installed on domestic and commercial rooftops. The current rooftop installation rate is about 1.6 GW per year.”
Thanks to its rapid transition to low-carbon energy in the form of large solar and wind farms, as well as small home-based installations, Australia is widely seen as an example that other industrialized nations would do well to emulate. “Australia is a pathfinder country, demonstrating what is possible,” Blakers notes.
Currently some 80% of the country’s CO2 emissions are generated by the burning of fossil fuels, with agricultural production accounting for the rest of greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, weaning itself off coal, oil and gas in favor of electricity generated by sunrays and winds, Australia can go a long way towards reducing its carbon footprint to help meet global emission reduction targets among industrialized nations.
Better yet, Blakers argues, because winds and sunshine are freely available pretty much everywhere across the planet, increased reliance on them for energy generation will likely lead to a reduction in the kinds of armed conflicts over precious natural resources that have marred humanity’s need for an endless supply of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. “It is very hard to imagine humanity going to war over sunlight,” he notes poignantly.
Yet despite its blessings with the bounty of its natural resources, Australia isn’t unique in its access plentiful sunshine and winds, Blakers stresses. “Actually, Australian sunshine in the southeast (where most people live) is similar to that enjoyed by 6 billion of the world’s population,” he says.
“A large majority of the world’s population lives in the sunbelt (+/- 35 degrees of latitude). However, loud voices in Europe, northern Asia and north America dominate public discussion of renewable energy,” the expert elucidates. “Unlike most of the world’s population, these people have severe winters because of their latitude. For the rest of the world, solar PV (with supplementation from wind) is straightforward.”
When combined judiciously, Blakers argues, wind and solar can complement each other well to produce a steady supply of electricity throughout the year. Although replacing all fossil fuel-powered plants with solar and wind farms will require plenty of surface area, it will amount to less than 1% of land area on the planet. Placing solar panels and wind turbines in remote and arid regions can spare wildlife habitats and agricultural lands alike with minimal interference.
“PV is growing fast enough to eliminate all fossil fuels by 2045, leading to 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, [which is] most of the balance is land use factors,” Blakers says. “The trick is to keep PV growing at the rate of the previous few decades. PV is now so cheap that there are good prospects for this.”