How Australia Could Be Carbon Neutral in 10 Years


Image via Beyond Zero Emissions

As of late, Australia's climate battles have mirrored those of the United States in some most unfortunate ways--despite having internationally respected, science-abiding, and climate action advocating leaders, neither nation can manage to pass energy reform that would limit carbon emissions. In the US, most of you know the story--a laggard Senate has been unable to even bring the clean energy bill to a vote. In Australia, the government recently failed to pass a bill that would reduce emissions a meager 5% by 2020. In response, Beyond Zero Emissions has laid out a plan showing how Australia could reduce be carbon neutral by then without any major technological advances. The Mother Nature Network reports on how this could come to pass:

According to the plan, 60 percent of the nation's power could come from CSP (concentrating solar thermal) and 40 percent from wind. The group sees no need for nuclear power in the mix, which after all still demands a continued supply of a dwindling resource -- uranium. The solar and wind would complement each other and combined with molten salt storage and combustion of renewable biomass, they could create an even flow of electricity to the nation's 21 million residents.
And all this could be done right now, the group asserts: "We have concluded that there are no technological impediments to transforming Australia's stationary energy sector to zero emissions over the next 10 years," says Executive Director Matthew Wright.

Which, unfortunately, isn't exactly the case. MMN notes that the "super-grid transmission "pipes" detailed in the report "are still in R & D and though theoretically possible would be probably be prohibitively expensive." MMN nonetheless lauds the group for its creatively pragmatic approach.

There is of course another impediment to clean energy reform besides prohibitively priced tech. And that's the snafu that spurred the study in the first place: political opposition engendered by the coal industry. Australia gets a stunning 80% of its energy from coal, and is currently wholly dependent on the stuff to support its energy infrastructure. Guess who would like to keep it that way? In the US, our addiction is nearly as severe, clocking in a 50%.

And until coal is adequately priced to reflect its externalities (the ill health effects and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning it, the contaminated environments from mining it), it will remain the energy source of choice by thrifty utilities and investors. Which is what the proposed laws would attempt to do--but as we've seen here in the US, the coal industry throws its weight behind lobbying efforts and ad campaigns to preserve the status quo.

The greatest resistance to a transition to a clean energy future comes not from inadequacies of tech, which is always improving and getting cheaper, but from the politically powerful opposition inspired by the fossil fuel industries. Until this becomes clear to the public, every roadmap we may lay out detailing a path to a clean energy economy will face a bevy of invisible but extremely powerful hurdles.

More on Carbon Neutral Nations
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