Last weekend, Australia’s federal opposition Labor Party confirmed that its target of 50% renewable energy for national electricity supply in 2030 would be sought through an Emissions Intensity Scheme, instead of a legislated RET essentially like the one currently in place.
An EIS, at the very least, has the potential to focus efforts on the core issue: the greenhouse gas intensity of Australia’s energy. (For electricity, this is usually expressed as grams of CO₂-equivalent per kilowatt hour.) At face value, it doesn’t favour one climate-friendly technology over any other. It could be a refreshingly realistic climate policy platform from a major party – and certainly far more hopeful than its previous committment:
The Climate Change Authority has found that for Australia to achieve its bipartisan agreement to limit global warming by less than 2°C, renewable energy will need to comprise at least half of Australia’s electricity generation by 2030.
ClimateWorks Australia has modelled multiple energy scenarios for Australia staying within its carbon budget which is derived from staying within the 2°C target. In each of the modelled scenarios, a minimum of 50 per cent renewable power by 2030 is anticipated. These scenarios maintain the current structure of the Australian economy, economic growth at current levels and only use technology available today.
Through a combination of hydroelectricity and nuclear reactors, Sweden rapidly achieved an average annual emissions intensity of 23 gCO₂e/kWh decades ago (Australia’s was 920 in latest reporting). This has in no way been detrimental to Sweden, which patiently manages the non-carbon by-products in secure engineered facilities. One recent paper has suggested that a switch away from nuclear energy will raise the nation’s emissions intensity.
— World Economic Forum (@wef) April 3, 2017
There’s opposition to nuclear energy in Sweden, just as there is in Australia. Researchers from neighbouring Finland have analysed the gamble being made by these opponents by putting exclusion of nuclear before its proven track record. Oft-repeated objections were understandable once, in pre-internet times, but considering how they’re made by many of today’s most vociferous advocates for climate action, they ring increasingly hollow and ill-informed.
In the meantime, modern “100% renewable energy” literature presents itself as a tempting veneer for national energy policy, with in-built popularity but a dearth of feasibility. As observed in a recent review of this literature:
Policy makers are therefore handicapped regarding the credibility of this literature — there is no empirical basis to understand the evidence behind propositions of 100%-renewable electricity (or energy) for global-, regional- or national-scale scenarios. Consequently, there is a risk that policy formation for climate-change mitigation will be based more on considerations of publicity and popular opinion than on evidence of effectiveness, impacts, or feasibility.
A mid-2030 timeframe for an Australian coal energy exit is realistic for a modern nuclear rollout informed by a historical rollout rate. But it must begin today with a technology-neutral committment to solid policy and the bravery to look objectors dead in the eye as nuclear technology is given its place on the table.