Zero emissions possible for Australia - at $40bn a year

The Age has an article on Beyond Zero Emissions' launch of their "T10" campaign to switch Australia to 100% renewable power in a decade, largely using solar thermal power - Zero emissions possible - at $40bn a year.

AUSTRALIA could move to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade if it spent heavily on cutting-edge solar thermal and wind technology, according to an analysis released as part of a community bid to redirect the flailing climate policy debate.

The shift would require the annual investment of up to $40 billion - roughly 3.5 per cent of national GDP - with the largest chunk going towards solar thermal power plants that used molten-salt heat storage to allow power generation to continue without sunlight.

The plan by advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions was outlined at the launch of the Transition Decade, or T10, a grassroots campaign hoping to garner support for dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Pitched as a response to the failure to introduce national and state policies to substantially reduce emissions, T10 won support yesterday from the City of Melbourne, the Australian Greens and Victorian Governor David de Kretser.

Launching the campaign, Professor de Kretser said Australia had a responsibility to act.

''If every person in the world generated greenhouse gas emissions per person equivalent to those of each Australian today, the levels would quickly exceed those predicted to cause very dangerous global warming,'' he told more than 1000 people at the Melbourne Town Hall. ''The consequences for planet Earth … would be disastrous.''

Under the Beyond Zero Emissions model, concentrated solar thermal plants at 12 sites across the country would meet 60 per cent of national energy demands. They would be supplemented by wind and photovoltaic solar panels, with existing hydroelectricity and biomass from burning crop remains as back-up.

Beyond Zero Emissions spokesman Mark Ogge said developments overseas had shown the claims that renewable energy could not provide baseload power had no basis.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

According to Google Public Data, Australia uses 11332kWH per capita, per year. Putting a 'Green Tax' on electricity, similar to the taxes places on liquid fuels to genertate funds for Public Transport, would be a simple (if politically fraught) way to generate the required funds.

As we have seen with water useage during the Drought, people can be convinced to use less/pay more for the common good. It just takes tact, persistence, and the right people. Basically, it's marketing, but using its power for good, not evil.

An additional tax on electricity of some Au17¢/kWh would provide the necessary AU$40bn/year, plus a little in change to fund the paper-shufflers to administer the scheme. Bear in mind that retail Electricity here in Australia typically costs less than 20¢/kWh for 'Domestic' uses, however.

Essecntially, this is a doubling of Retail Electricity rates, which is little different to the Big-Carbon-friendly disaster that is the Governments' proposed CPRS, but without all the loopholes, free permits, low targets, and pork-barelling that characterised the CPRS.

Everyone uses electricity, but it would not be necessary to place the entire burden onto the electricity market. Some of the cost could be added to the cost of fuel, Public Transport, Toll Roads, Vehicle Registration, or whatever. Electricity, to me, seems the simpletst, however, since the proposal focuses on emissions from Stationary Generators.

Lets get real here.
Zero emissions in 10 years at $40 billion?!?
Absolute nonsense.
For a start, in order to switch from the high EROEI fossil fuels we are currently using to low EROEI alternative sources of energy, we first have to burn huge amounts of fossil fuels to make all the wind turbines, solar cells etc etc Then we would need to rely exclusively on these one off, never to be repeated creations. Eventually the wind generators will break down and need to be repaired or replaced -? so what do we do then in 2050 when we have doubled the population. How do we double the number of alternative energy generators without burning coal? ( we will not have access to imported oil by then anyway).
One of the key concepts in understanding Peak Oil is that Oz and all other OECD countries will become progressively poorer over the next few decades as the bonanza of cheap oil wealth (which has kept us afloat for so long) dries up.
We will not have $40 billion of spare cash to spend on the conversion, even if we chose to which is highly unlikely.
We are already $110 billion behind the 8 ball as a result of the current permanent 2005-2010 oil shock. ( It's just that we don't realise it yet)
The most likely scenario is that the population will do a Tony Abbott and say "Bugger Climate Change, we dont care. Lets burn everything in sight to try and maintain our affluence."
This view is already enormously popular and might well win Tony the next federal election.
In 10 years from now Oz will be struggling to build or maintain anything except soup kitchens let alone some you-beaut fancy expensive alternative power generators.

In the set of comments here-
'Gail the Actuary' correctly said that-

"Alternative energy is to me someone's plan for hoarding a little of the energy we have now, for use later. As it becomes more difficult to do, the interest will go down."

This conclusion from Gail is very important and profound.

It tells us that we are currently kidding ourselves when we produce for example, solar cells, using all of the power of the oil age and claim that we have achieved a great thing.
The sad truth is that it will not be possible to produce solar cells in the solar cell age or wind turbines in the wind turbine age.
Why? Simply because the EROEI is not there.
It is like a pensioner wins a lottery and buys a huge mansion with all the winnings. But how is this mansion to be furnished and maintained and repaired? and how are the rates to be paid?
Gradually the mansion falls into disrepair and crumbles away.
And that is precisely what will happen eventually to our attempts to create wind farms etc. We will not be able to maintain or replace them and over the years- optimistically perhaps a hundred years, they will stop working and have their metal cannabalized (like the stones of most of the great Roman engineering works)by a populace which has long since given up on the underlying idea.

Australian GDP is over one trillion dollars - so $40 billion per year is less than 4% of it.

Sounds pretty affordable to me.

Once we have completely renewable power generation and switch some of our transport to electric, we would be self-sufficient in oil anyway.

And I've noted many times we could run all our transport on gas while also using copious amounts of gas for both power generation and export and it would still last a century or more.

So your comments don't really seem to stand up to scrutiny...

Absolute nonsense.

Admittedly, it's highly unlikley, but not nonsense by any stretch of the imagination.

...we first have to burn huge amounts of fossil fuels to make all the wind turbines, solar cells etc etc

Which we are going to burn anyway.

so what do we do then in 2050 when we have doubled the population.

Hopefully some common sense will prevail and it won't come to that.

How do we double the number of alternative energy generators without burning coal? ( we will not have access to imported oil by then anyway).

Concrete and steel can be extracted, transported, refined, and made into finished product without a single gram of coal being burnt. It's just more expensive (in a BAU world. Once we're 'running low' on Oil, Renewable Power/Fuel may even be cheaper).

This conclusion from Gail is very important and profound.

Gail also thinks The Grid will collapse because the maintainence trucks are apparently impossible to propel with anything other than diesel, and that heavy off-road trucks are a technological impossability... :\

The sad truth is that it will not be possible to produce solar cells in the solar cell age or wind turbines in the wind turbine age.
Why? Simply because the EROEI is not there.

Fossil Fuels have a single-use EROEI of about 30:1 at the moment. But we use it inefficiently, so it's actually about 3:1 (for Oil) to 15:1 (for IGCC coal-fired power plants) of useful work. Wind Turbines, Solar PV, Solar Thermal et al have an EROEI of at least 5:1 over their lifetimes (lower power but regular and long-term) which is high-quality and can be used at efficiencies of up to 70% (think a BEV powered by rooftop solar). The notion that we can't use some of this power to build replacements for worn-out RP equipment (especially since much of the infrastructure is itself recyclable) is... fantastical.

In the 2007 Federal Election, both parties promised us tax cuts of Au$30bn. There's the first years installment right there (and for most people, the tax savings were worth about a Big Mac Meal Deal a week. Hardly impressive).

We have to replace our entire generation infrastructure once every 50 years anyway. We might as well replace the old, inefficient, dirty, polluting infrastructure with new, efficient, clean, non-polluting infrastructure while we can.

It would appear there have been a couple of recent developments which may in time, address the current difficulties with intermittent renewable power generation (ostensibly solar and wind types) and potentially lower the cost of achieving zero or low emission power generation.

MIT has come up with a new cheap process for converting water to its Oxygen and Hydrogen components which when combined (at a later point) using appropriate storage and recombining facilities (Hydrogen fuel cells), can produce power at times when the original source generation is unavailable (low or no wind, darkness etc).

Importantly the plan by MIT, is to list this process as Open Source. One assumes that this will enhance the chance of the process being developed to its full potential and lessen the risk of it being buried through the stategic purchase of a patent, by a vested interest.

Also recently announced is the early development of new plastics based solar cells which purportedly raise conversion efficiency from 25% to approx 90%.

These two developments over time, could see the proliferation of solar across Australia especially if there is grid availability to the areas of high solar/wind abundance (and that's another story in itself)