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Politics are the barrier to a Renewable Clean Energy Future

In April 2010, the Rudd Government abandoned the severely flawed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the centrepiece of its national climate policy agenda.

After two defeats in the Senate, and unwilling to risk a double dissolution election on the issue, Labor backflipped and deferred its plan to establish a domestic emissions-trading scheme to 2013. At a time when decisive action is needed to avoid dangerous climate change our national climate policy has been at a standstill.

Australia desperately needs a new approach. We need a policy agenda that acknowledges the urgency of the situation and accepts the requirement of evidence-based emissions cuts identified by climate science. We need a circuit breaker to reinvigorate the debate and spur action.

Beyond Zero Emissions has outlined such an approach with the launch the Zero Carbon Australia - Stationary Energy report—a detailed blueprint for transitioning Australia's stationary energy sector to 100 per cent renewable sources by 2020. The report, published in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Energy Institute, has sparked a healthy debate about Australia's energy present and future, and more broadly, what constitutes credible climate policy.

The Zero Carbon Australia report is the culmination of 12 months of pro bono work by engineers, scientists and postgraduate university students, performing the research that no Australian government has been prepared to undertake. The result is a truly innovative collaboration the likes of which has never been seen before in Australia. It is a true failure of leadership that our elected representatives have not developed a comprehensive transition plan for the energy sector even though it is at the heart of climate change mitigation efforts. Instead it has been left to a group of concerned citizens to pick up the slack.

Is it possible for Australia to power its homes, office buildings, and factories without adversely affecting our climate? The answer is yes.

The Zero Carbon Australia plan presents a carefully considered analysis of the energy technologies, industrial capacity, and investment required to repower Australia. The report shows that Australia can replace fossil-fuel baseload electricity using commercially available renewable energy technology, with the additional investment required equal to about one cup of coffee per person per day over the ten year transition. Australian researchers have found that a 60/40 mix of concentrated solar thermal power and large-scale wind developments combined with an upgraded grid and comprehensive energy efficiency measures can reliably supply Australia's electricity needs.

Concentrated solar thermal power is the crucial renewable energy technology that will help Australia transition. Power stations are really glorified kettles. They require an energy source to boil water, to produce enough steam to turn a turbine. Coal-fired power stations do this by burning coal. Nuclear power stations use nuclear fission. Solar thermal power stations concentrate the sun's rays and store this energy as heat, to be used for boiling water day or night. Torresol Energy's Gemasolar plant under construction in Spain will deliver power 24 hours a day with the same baseload production characteristics as a conventional coal plant.

Next time you hear someone say that the sun doesn't shine at night, tell them it doesn't matter!

Australia is a sun soaked continent, yet the great potential to power our economy from solar sources is unrealised. It should shock Australians that there is currently no operating baseload solar power anywhere in our wide brown land. Even though Australia has the best solar resources of any developed country, it is Spain who has 800 Megawatts equivalent of operating solar thermal plants and $20 billion worth of projects in the pipeline to 2013. In the 1980s Australia was at the forefront of solar technology. With intelligent climate and energy policy we can regain our leadership position, create a strong innovative industry, create jobs and reduce our contributions to climate change.

The Zero Carbon Australia plan represents a radical shift from previous policy efforts that focus on pricing carbon 'pollution.' In contrast, the Zero Carbon Australia plan emphasises the rapid deployment of renewable energy technologies and the development of a 21st Century grid infrastructure. The litmus test for credible climate policy will be whether or not it encourages the rapid deployment of renewable energy in Australia, not simply impose a price on carbon and hope for the best. Unlike emissions-trading schemes with offset provisions that delay action on renewable energy, the Zero Carbon Australia plan shows that we can start work today. The faster we build renewable energy capacity in Australian the faster the prices will fall, helping to make clean energy competitive with coal.

It's time for the Australian parliament to implement policies to repower our economy with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020. The findings of the Zero Carbon Australia plan show that there are no technical or economic barriers to a repowered Australia. The major barriers are now political. The Australian public needs to get behind this vision and Australian governments at all levels must shake off the vested interests in the fossil fuel lobby and make this a priority.

Origin Energy, Australia’s largest electricity utility, says the energy industry has underestimated the onset of disruptive technologies such as solar PV systems and battery storage. In comments...
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