Renewable energy in Australia

I’ve been participating in some interesting discussions over at ActNow! (namely these threads: Nuclear power for Australia and Sustainable energy sources) and they got me thinking.

One of the primary criticisms I hear/read about renewable energy is that it won’t solve the problem by itself – that we need more than renewable energy to support our population’s energy needs.

And I generally agree with that – except it’s often used as an argument not to use renewables (e.g. that we need nuclear)! I think I’ve worked out my response to that line of argument now: “is the glass half empty or half full?”

Let’s say wind energy, in its current form, can only provide 20% of our power needs. And lets say solar can only provide the same amount. (Both of those figures are completely plucked out the air btw, I don’t know what our true capacity would be). And let’s say we agree with the scientists that we need to reduce our emissions by 60% below 1990 levels by 2050. Let’s also say that we can reach full capacity for both wind and solar in 10 years time.

That means that based on current technology (which will improve) we can in 10 years time (the earliest that the government reckons it will take for nuclear power to be a reality in Australia) reduce our CO2 emissions by 40% – over half of a 40 year target in 10 years!

And that’s not taking into consideration energy efficiency (say 10%+) and improvements in wind and solar technology (recent developments suggest that a 30%-50% improvement in efficiency is not out of the question). And in that time we might well have found the right solution to reduce the remaining 20%+ too.

There are obvious political and commercial realities that would impact this, of course. Placement of wind farms and the phasing out of existing coal power stations among them. But don’t you think this can be overcome with some political will?

Certainly it seems this is a much easier path than trying to establish a nuclear industry in Australia. What do you think?

(BTW, I just realised that this all links to what I was saying the other day in my review of Who killed the electric car. Seems to be the same tactic – promising technology, meets part of the demand, but vested interests and political maneuvering see it postponed for some “just around the corner” solution.)