Reference: ABC Online: Future Australia

While the Federal government has come to the party at the COP 26 (Glasgow) on net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, our 2030 targets still fall far below what’s needed to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But Australian states and some powerful—as well as many ordinary—individuals are doing a lot about tackling climate change problems head on.

Solar Panels

In Australia, 2.7 million households have solar panels on their roofs. Cheap solar, both on farms and roofs, has forced a change to the electricity market, encouraging big power generators to embrace a fully renewable future. The head of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), claims that, given the low cost of renewables, there will be certain times when 100% of Australia’s power will be supplied by renewables by 2025. (ABC Online)

South Australia

Since 2016, when a storm storm knocked out power lines across the state, causing widespread blackouts, SA now has the most reliable grid in the nation, and five years on from 2016, power prices have dropped. SA boasted 100 per cent renewables last October—with 78 per cent of that from rooftop solar—and 60 per cent of their energy for 2020 from renewables!

SA has also shown the rest of the country and the world how a fully renewable grid could work, by building Australia’s first big battery at Hornsdale in 2018. The Tesla Battery has saved South Australia $166 million in its first two years. Other states are following suit, and more than 31, 000 people installed batteries in their homes in 2020. Both battery and solar panel prices are dropping. (ABC Online)

The Federal Government & The Transition

The Australian power grid is huge, and moving from coal-fired power plants to renewables requires courage and commitment. Malcolm Turnbull was trying to set up a comprehensive national energy policy for doing just that when he was overthrown. The Federal Government makes the rules that run the grid, and the current lack of clarity is an obstacle for businesses wanting to invest in renewables and storage. It’s been left to the states, individuals, and companies acting on their own to fill the leadership gap.

The lack of emissions standards encapsulates the dynamic Australia faces this decade. All transitions are painful, but the transition from coal is underway and the federal government says it’s on board. But they’re not yet doing the things required to speed it up and make it as easy as possible to move to the next stage.

New South Wales

NSW recently announced a renewable energy zone in the New England area with capacity for 8 gigawatts of renewable power. They got offers from businesses to build plants for 34 gigawatts of wind, solar and storage.

Dubbo farmer Tom Warren has discovered that sheep can graze under solar panels. It’s happening in other parts of the world, in France, for example. In the most recent drought, while other nearby farms needed additional feed for more than 18 months, his flock only needed it for three months. More and more farmers are turning to solar panels to provide that. And the benefits go both ways: planting crops underneath and around solar panels reduces the temperature and increases moisture.

Queensland

Mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest yesterday announced that Central Queensland would soon be home to the world’s largest hydrogen manufacturing facility. It is expected to make Queensland a renewable energy superpower, with predictions the plant will double green hydrogen production across the globe. The renewable energy flooding our grid could be turned into hydrogen and stored to be used when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, or shipped overseas to other countries who don’t have the same renewable resources we do. He’s also planning to build the world’s largest solar farm in the Northern Territory to power a giant sun cable via Singapore to Asian countries.

Tasmania

The Meat and Livestock Association announced earlier this year the entire industry would become carbon neutral by 2030. Our agriculture emissions are 12 per cent of total emissions, and almost all are from livestock. Asparagopsis grows like a weed all year round in Tasmania, and the CSIRO found that it reduces methane by as much as 99 per cent when fed to cattle.  It makes the cows fatter and healthier and farmers can spend less on feed. Tasmanian startup Sea Forest is aiming to be the first in the world to produce this plant at scale. Western Australia is also stepping up with initiatives in this area. See ABC News article: Poo Eating Beetles.

Electric Cars

For Australia to be on track to do our bit in keeping warming to 1.5C above historical levels we need 76% cars to be electric by 2030. Because we don’t build cars here, we will need to go with the flow, and every major carmaker, with the exception of Toyota, has committed to ending internal combustion engines by 2035. And there’s a race on to dominate the EV market. In Australia electric car sales tripled in the past two years. EVs are on track to become as cheap as other cars, with half the operating costs some time during the decade.

Business Backing

Unlike earlier times when this country has tried to argue the need for climate change initiatives, there is now evidence business has come to the party, and is ready to invest in renewables. Within a matter of three years, the Business Council of Australia has changed from seeing emissions reduction as economy wrecking, to describing a 45-50 per cent reduction in emissions as pragmatic and a chance for ambitious investments. The BCA is now embracing a future low-carbon world, and predicting that the economy could grow by a trillion dollars over the next 50 years, as industry moves to cheap and clean electricity.

The Future

It’s currently cheaper to build new renewables supported by batteries than to build coal-fired power plants. At some point, it will be cheaper to build renewables than it is to run existing fossil fuel power plants. (ABC Online)

We are among the largest emitters per capita in the world, and exports to other resource-needy countries triple our footprint. But if Australia can supply Asia with cheap, abundant renewable energy and carbon-neutral materials, we could make a critical difference, while pumping money into our region for decades to come.

Will Australia step up in time?