The world’s smallest continent Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians for at least 40,000 years before European settlement began in the late 18th century. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades and reached 21.5million in 2010. As a fully developed country, Australia is the world’s thirteen largest economy and has the ninth highest per capita GDP ; the emphasis of its economy lies in exporting commodities rather than manufactures. The continent is recognized as a mega-diverse country , compromising deserts, alpine heaths to tropical rainforests and a unique wildlife.
Australia is very energy-intensive even though the Kyoto protocol was ratified by the government in 2007. The national RE target (RET) for 2020 is to produce 20% of electricity from renewable sources. How many people do not have reliable access to electricity in Australia is not clear, but generally access is high even in the remotest parts through established mini-grids.
A staggering 75.5% of electricity is produced by the locally available black coal; which is also exported to other countries. About 8,5% of electricity is produced by renewable energy technologies. As coal is so readily available, electricity prices are amongst the lowest in the world, but relying on coal for power generating is contributing 35% of the country’ s net CO2 emissions Out of all renewable energy sources, hydropower contributes most; about 60% of all renewable electricity. Second comes wind energy, and Photovoltaics so far only contribute 2% to the 8,5% of electricity is produced by renewable energy.
The Clean Energy Council estimates that on top of 8,000 existing jobs in RE industry another 55,000 jobs will be created by 2020 in the clean energy sector. A mechanism of tradable RE certificates (REC) is in place to contribute towards reaching the RE target. Recently, the enhanced RE target (eRET) scheme is in place to avoid oversupply of RE certificates.
Another project is the world’s first solar thermal power collector system for coal-fired power augmentation; the Liddell power station is sought to save 4,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
The Renewable Remote Power Generation Programme (RRPGP) is saving 420,000 litres of diesel and 1,550 tonnes of GHG emissions annually, mainly by substituting traditional methods of power generation with solar panels.
The commercial-scale Perth wave energy project will supply sufficient power for around 3,500 households, and the Geothermal Drilling Programme is maintaining a strong and internationally competitive geothermal industry.
The Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) is developing the Solar City Programme across seven separate townships around Australia.
Even though these measures sound promising, Australia still has a long way to go in order to switch to sustainable ways of power consumption. Barriers include connection to the grid and the ability to invest in and deploy new technologies, regulatory barriers and also the cheap and readily available option of black coal. Complementary measures are needed to be taken jointly by the federal, state and territory governments to accelerate the journey towards a low-carbon society.