Australia on track to meet Paris Agreement targets five years earlier than expected, research finds

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Updated

February 08, 2019 11:38:04

Australia is on track to meet its Paris climate commitments five years earlier than expected — in 2025 — according to new research from the Australian National University.

Per capita, the country is installing renewable energy faster than China, Japan, the United States, and the European Union.

“The electricity sector is on track to deliver Australia’s entire Paris emissions reduction targets five years early, in 2025, without the need for any creative accounting,” lead researcher Professor Andrew Blakers said.

“We have excellent wind, excellent sun, a very vigorous rooftop solar industry and very experienced ground-mounted solar farm and wind farm industry.”

Co-researcher Matthew Stocks said cheaper renewable energy was replacing expensive coal-fired power, meaning the cost of achieving the 2030 carbon emission targets in the Paris Agreement would be zero.

“Nearly all of the new power stations are either PV [photovoltaic solar] or wind. We anticipate that this will continue into the future,” Dr Stocks said.

Professor Blakers said high energy prices across Australia made renewable energy more preferable and available.

“It means solar and wind could build scale while the prices are fairly high in the short to medium term,” he said.

“Solar and wind are going to dominate the electricity grid in Australia and prices will come down.

“But the prices of wind and solar are also coming down and so it’s likely that wind and solar can keep ahead of the game and maintain their advantage over coal or gas.”

Better policies needed

The new research from ANU contrasts previous reports, which found Australia is not on track to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

The 2018 Emissions Gap Report from the United Nations listed Australia as a G20 country that will not meet its 2030 target.

Dr Sven Teske is a Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, at the University of Technology Sydney and said the research from ANU is a “positive take” on renewable energy in Australia at the moment.

“I would love to believe it,” he said.

“The problem is that we still have a few policy measures to implement to really keep up that pace and one of them is that we need a better regulation of how to connect new utility-scale solar and wind farm to the grid.

“Right now there is not really a standardised process in place to process all of those applications – we have applications for 40’000MW, but this does not mean that those power plants will actually be connected.”

Dr Teske said ANU’s research focussed on the energy market and not the entire sector.

“We also need to take into account our emissions and transport [and] if we want to electrify our transport system, we need to take into account that the electricity demand in Australia will roughly double,” he said.

“Even if we meet our, let’s say, 2025 or 2030 targets, we need a long term target and we don’t have long term energy policies in place right now.”

South Australia’s position

Multiple renewable energy projects are currently underway across South Australia, including 13 in Port Augusta, north of Adelaide.

But, despite having a reputation for renewable projects, mainly solar and wind, the State Government had become unlikely to approve projects that did not have backup storage attached to it.

Professor Blakers said South Australia had been an important state in “moving Australia forward”.

“In fact, the economic pressure from wind and solar caused the final demise of coal burning in South Australia,” he said.

“South Australia is now over 50 per cent wind and solar and headed to 100 per cent or even 125 per cent wind over the next five or six years.”

He said reaching 125 per cent renewables meant, over the course of one year, South Australia could export more energy than it imported.

“It could provide all of its own electricity and a quarter or half on top of that again,” he said.

Renewable powerhouse

Port Augusta mayor Brett Benbow said Port Augusta, 300 kilometres north of Adelaide, had become the renewables capital of Australia.

“I think you’ll continue to see more and more projects pop up around the place,” he said.

The town was once famous for the Northern Power Station, a 520MW plant, until it was mothballed in 2016, with final demolition in November 2018.

Mining company CU River purchased the land to build a commercial port.

Mr Benbow said the town was now leading the way in renewable energy.

“We’ve set the benchmark for the whole country,” he said.

The best place for a solar farm

EPS Energy is a renewable energy company based in Newcastle, north of Sydney.

The company has recently launched a development application to build a 280MW solar farm near Port Pirie, in the state’s mid north.

Company director Steve McCall said that part of South Australia was perfect for the Bungama Solar Farm.

“We’ve got a connection into the Australian grid network at the 270KV line level — the major backbone level of the South Australian grid,” he said.

“It’s quite a strong location in the network; it’s a good location to actually have a large-scale solar project.”

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First posted

February 08, 2019 05:40:30



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