Photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind power installation in Australia is so rapid that an Australian National University study predicts the country will meet its emissions reduction pledge under the Paris Accord by 2025, five years early. Per capita, Australia is incorporating the renewable energy sources four to five times faster than the United States, the European Union, China, and Japan.
What’s more, researchers Andrew Blakers, Matt Stocks, and Bin Lu conclude, this renewable energy revolution is sustainable. “The price of electricity from large-scale PV and wind farms in Australia is currently about $50 per Megawatt-hour (MWh), and steadily falling,” they wrote. “This is below the cost of electricity from existing gas-fired power stations and is also below the cost of new-build gas and coal power stations.”
While Australia is the No. 1 coal exporter in the world, the future appears to belong to renewables. An appeals court ruling last week that prohibited the development of a new coal mine in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley on environmental grounds speaks to that. The case was also notable in that it was Australia’s first to include evidence from a climate scientist in a review of a coal mining project.
“What is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Justice Brian Preston, chief of the Land and Environment Court of NSW ruled. “In short, an open cut coal mine in this part of the Gloucester valley would be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These dire consequences should be avoided.”
The Paris Accord calls for a 26 to 28 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. The national university study estimates an emissions decrease of 10 to 11 megatonnes per year in the near future, which would see Australia reaching the target in 2025. The study goes on to say that “if Australia keeps installing PV and wind at the current rate, then all fossil fuel use could be eliminated around 2050.”
The authors think Australia can lead the way for large portions of the world to transition to renewables. Since “most of the world’s population lives in the sunbelt (+/-35° of latitude),” they argue, with mild winters and ample sunshine, access to wind-rich regions, and sites suitable for storage of pumped hydro power, “These countries are more like Australia rather than Europe or North America or North Asia. These countries can follow the Australian path and transition rapidly to renewables with consequent large avoidance of future greenhouse emissions.”
Should the country reach its Paris goals by 2025, other countries might indeed take an energy cue from Australia.