The not-for-profit Beyond Zero Emissions project has set out to define the way Australia can replace its existing energy systems with off the shelf renewable energy (see beyondzeroemissions.org).
The “Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan” (published July 2010) sets out the methods, systems, timetable and costs of building a renewable energy system to replace our fossil fuel power stations within 10 years.
This is achieved at a cost of $370 billion over 10 years using the existing technology of solar concentrating power stations (producing 60% of the energy) and wind farms (40%).
The plan takes account of the variability in wind and sun light over Australia. It allows for an additional 42% increase in electricity demand to cover projected increases and a major shift to electric public transport and electric vehicles.
The Plan proves that so called ”base-load” electricity can be provided by a combination of wind and concentrating solar (with molten salt heat storage) with minor support from hydro and biomass burning. It sets out the required capacity to satisfy the entire electricity market.
There is no need to wait for further research into renewable energy because power stations to achieve this are already built and operating throughout the world. In 2010, one quarter of the new power capacity installed in China was of renewable energy. This represents more than the current total Australian capacity.
One thing the Zero Carbon Plan establishes is that it is both economically possible and practically feasible to replace our fossil fuel system today with renewable sources. The cost represents 3% of GDP ($1200 Billion/yr). It is $22 billion/yr above the projected business as usual investment but this is off-set by the savings of not having to pay for coal, oil and gas over the longer term. With a minimum projected life time of 30 years for the assets, the time to pay back the embodied energy (used to construct the plant) is around 6 months for solar concentrator and less for wind.
A quarter of the total investment is to be put into constructing a truly national transmission grid. This would link together a dozen major solar sites across the width of Australia from Carnarvon to Tasmania to Northern Queensland. Each site would produce around 3,500 MW (to give 20,000 GWh/yr) using 19 towers surrounded by mirrors in a field varying in diameter up to approximately 4200m.
Jobs would include the 30,000 strong operations and maintenance work force (rising to 70,000) plus the 90,000 workers needed for construction. This is considerably more than the 20,000 employed in running our fossil fuel power stations and mining the coal burned in them and at the end we would be free of the pollution from our use of coal and petrol.
Australia emits currently around 200 Mt CO2e per year. This places us roughly on a par with the highest emissions per person in the world. This plan shows we can change this for the better. We echo the words of David Suzuki,
“Why isn’t Australia taking advantage of this incredible resource?”