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It’s perhaps a bit surprising that Australia—with its sunny self-presentation—is not only the world’s largest exporter of coal, but at 28 billion tonnes of CO2 per year creates the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. In tandem with this, the country also has immense potential for generating renewable energy; it really is quite sunny, with large areas of open land and surrounded by water. So much so, claims a report by the University of Melbourne and the collaborative Zero Carbon Australia Project, that the country could be powered by solar and wind energy alone within 10 years—if the political will existed.
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According to the report, The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, all of Australia’s energy could be sourced from commerically available renewable energy technologies. About 40 percent of the nation’s energy could be sourced from wind farms, while vast areas of the outback could be used for concentrated solar thermal plants—”vast towers containing salt water heated with sunlight directed upon them from fields of mirrors.” The super heated water would drive turbines that would be capable of generating the remaining 60 percent of Australia’s energy needs.
Back up power totally 2 percent of requirements could be created from crop-waste biomass and hydroelectricity to account for “when simultaneous lulls in solar and wind cause shortfalls in supply,” If all of these sources were to be combined into a national grid, while flattening demand peaks a reliable, 100 percent renewable energy system could be created for Australia.
The cost of this transformation, the report estimates would amount to $AU370 billion over a ten year period, roughly 3 percent of GDP. Meanwhile the increase in cost for the average Australian would be $AU8 per household, per week. Furthermore the proposed transition would see “that many more jobs are created with the construction of a 100% renewable energy grid than are lost with the phasing out of coal and gas from the stationary energy supply chain;” around 80,000 jobs would be created during implementation, and 45,000 for maintenance. Not too bad for a rapid, ground-breaking and much needed transformation that could dramatically reduce extraordinarily high emissions in a country that is extraordinarily prone to droughts and wildfires.
To make this happen? The report summarizes “What is required… is leadership through action from policymakers and society, with firm decisions made quickly that will allow this transition to occur.”