A study compiled by the advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions, along with Melbourne University and Australia National University, suggests the country "down under" could go carbon neutral in just ten years.
A surprising statement, considering the recent failures of the Australian government to pass even a 5% reduction in carbon emissions. Regardless, according to Beyond Zero Emissions’ Executive DirectorMatthew Wright, "We have concluded that there are no technologicalimpediments to transforming Australia’s stationary energy sector tozero emissions over the next 10 years."
The report preview [pdf]for this Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Project (ZCA2020) promises acosted, detailed blueprint for a transition to a zero-emissions economyin ten years using proven, commercialized technology.
The Low Down:
The emphasis is on transition, obviously, as Australia still gets 80% of its electricity from coal plants.
The report calls for 40 percent of the country’s power to come from wind turbines. Meanwhile, concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, with molten salt to store energy, would form the backbone of the scheme, providing 60 percent of total electricity.
CSP uses mirrors instead of solar cells to collect sunlight inorder to generate steam and drive turbines to produce power. There arefew such utility-scale plants operating in the world today, and 30under construction — none of which are in Australia.
According to DESERTEC-Australia,a 50-square-kilometer area covered in solar mirrors could theoreticallymeet all of Australia’s electricity demand–and the country has thespace to do it.
The report claims that 20 percent of the proposed CSP systemscould be installed in four years, from 2011 to 2015. Wright said 12sites with a capacity of 3,500 megawatts each have already beenselected for the solar installations.
In Practical Terms:
As with so many press releases and studies floating around in theworld of climate change, the disparity between potential (what could be) and likely result (what governing bodies will actually do) is vast.
Until coal is adequately priced to reflect its externalities (theill health effects and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by burningit, the contaminated environments from mining it), it will remain theenergy source of choice by thrifty utilities and investors.
The importance of this kind of study is in the awareness itbrings. The potential for a green and clean Australia can be realizedin reasonably short order. But at the heart of such decisions is theinterests of public and private institutions who rarely agree on swift,successive changes motivated by costs and profit.