A comprehensive new report by researchers across the globe has broken down in detail exactly what Australia needs to do to get to net zero annual greenhouse emissions by 2050.
The report raises the controversial prospect of the need for a fleet of gas-fired peaking plants. They also suggest subsidies for low-income earners to transition to efficient appliances, and benefit sharing agreements for farmers and Indigenous people.
“It’s not useful to debate whether we will or won’t make it,” says Emeritus Professor Robin Batterham, the chair of the Steering Committee for Net Zero Australia.
“Our priority should be to plan well, get on with it, and adapt to the lessons we learn.
“There are too many uncertainties to map a single path to net zero. We need to keep options on the table, and stay agile.”
The project is a partnership between the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Princeton University and the international management agency, Nous Group under the name Net Zero Australia.
The report highlights that the net zero transition will be among the largest and fastest economic transformations in history, and says major new infrastructure needs to be accelerated faster than we’re currently rolling it out.
“Major investment is needed in solar, onshore wind, batteries, pumped hydro, and transmission. Offshore wind should start producing from 2030. Energy productivity should be boosted. But we’re not investing fast enough; hard as it is, we need to accelerate,” said Richard Bolt, the Principal of Nous Group who also worked on the project.
“We also need to get ready to build a large fleet of gas-fired peaking plants beginning 2030, to back up renewables and exit coal-fired power – but with minimal actual use of gas.”
The report also notes a need for better carbon capture and storage technologies – a system which has yet to be effective in Australia. They also outline ways to create better energy efficiency standards for houses, electrification of cars and homes and decarbonise industry processes like steel making.
Finally, although they have left many more fringe options open like sustainable aviation fuels, blue hydrogen and ammonia for international and domestic shipping fuel, they have categorically ruled out nuclear.
“Nuclear power should not be in our plans, because it’s too expensive and slow. Only a dramatic fall in costs and prolonged renewable constraints would prompt a rethink,” said Bolt.
Although the transition needs to happen fast, governments and stakeholders also need to ensure it’s just, so those who are most effected aren’t disproportionately affected.
“Developments on Indigenous Estate should involve First Nations as true partners and provide jobs, infrastructure and services. Equity should be on the table,” says Professor Michael Brear, the Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute at the University of Melbourne.
“Similarly, farmers and communities will experience diverse impacts. Benefit-sharing agreements should be negotiated early, to build buy-in and partnerships.
“Lower-income households and renters face higher up-front costs and weak incentives to purchase new and efficient appliances. They will need extra support to navigate the transition.” You can read the 70+ page report here.