COMMENT | It’s time Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull showed the leadership Australia needs to transition to renewable energy.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull re-opened the discussion on coal power this week with some pretty bullish comments. While in Brisbane, the PM declared coal will be part of Australia’s energy mix for “many, many, many decades to come” and made the rather fretful statement that “strangling the Australian coal industry is not going to do anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions”.
Well, bless him for his faith in the dirty stuff, but the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report shows he’s picked the losing side. In fact, the IEA only this week said that the world’s capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources has now eclipsed coal for the first time.
The IEA report reveals half a million solar panels were installed every day last year around the world and China installed two turbines every hour!
The expansion of renewable capacity reflects cost reductions for onshore wind and solar panels that the report describes as impressive — reductions that would have been “unthinkable just five years ago”.
Turnbull’s comments on coal certainly conflict with the comments of the newly appointed environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, who said in July, “I accept that a transition is occurring away from coal and that is not a bad thing.”
So what’s behind Turnbull’s latest expressions of devotion to coal? We know this a PM beholden to his ultra-conservative back-bench for the top job and policy made by looking over one’s shoulder is never going to be visionary stuff.
The unfortunate reality for Turnbull and others in the coal-lovers camp is that renewable energy is already undermining the fundamental economics of coal power, and will continue to do so, as many countries swing behind regulatory policies to decarbonise their energy systems and look to cheaper alternatives to replace ageing fleets of coal power.
Over in the former oil-baron state of Texas, wind power has become a leading source of power as coal power plants reach their used-by dates.
Texas is predicted to lose 6GW of coal-fired electricity generation in coming years, but the power market is unlikely to filch with the Lone Star State set to add as much as 11GW of wind power by 2018, according to analysts. Already, record-breaking days have seen wind providing 45% of the state’s total electricity needs — or 13.9GW of electric power.
The surge in Texas’s renewable power resources illustrates how the global power generation mix is rapidly shifting as wind and solar become cheaper to build, and coal-fired plants become more costly to service.
This trend will accelerate, with wind energy cost reductions of up to 30% by 2030 and 41% by 2050 due to larger and more efficient wind turbines and lower capital and operating costs.
The ambitious renewable energy targets of many Australian states paint a similar picture; an inevitable march towards renewable-powered energy grids.
The IEA report concludes by saying that even high expectations of global renewable energy generation remain modest compared to their “huge untapped potential”.
So it’s pretty clear, PM — renewable energy is shaping up to play a commanding role in energy generation in the coming decade. It’s time to recognise the inevitable and show the leadership Australia needs to make the most of it.
Graeme Williams is communications co-ordinator at the Australian Wind Alliance.