Australia behind on renewable energy
Kylie Beale | Melbourne, Australia
Guy Abrahams is a former solicitor and art gallery director turned environmental activist. As well as completing his Environmental Masters at Melbourne University, Abrahams spends much of his time spruiking his climate change message to community groups around Victoria. He does this as part of the 3,000+ international cohort of volunteers, trained by Al Gore following the success of An Inconvenient Truth.
Audience members can’t help but be drawn in by Abrahams’ obvious passion. The prevailing message that lingers in the audiences’ minds is just how far behind other countries Australia really is with regards to the development of renewable energies.
At a meeting in Melbourne, Abrahams raised his concerns. “In Australia our solar resources are absolutely enormous, countries like Germany which are now far advanced in their implementation of solar power, they’re up in the fog in Northern Europe. They look down at Australia and say ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Why aren’t you doing anything?’”
Matthew Wright of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), a climate solutions think tank, agrees. “Australia has fallen far short of the world’s leading economies.”
Wright says fossil fuel industries “Can’t do” campaign is holding Australia back by “misrepresent(ing) renewable energy as not being able to run in a modern economy.”
According to BZE, Germany installed a “massive” 4000 megawatts of photovoltaic modules in 2009 and are expected to exceed this in 2010. Spain is also ahead of Australia, installing over 2500 Megawatts in 2008. Australia “should already be installing 1000 Megawatts of photovoltaic modules per annum and growing each year,” says Wright.
But Australia has fallen short of this target.
Abraham’s and Wright’s views are echoed throughout the business world, the public service and politics. One of BZE’s key objectives is to build a large network of people from the government, business and education sectors to combat the misinformation being communicated to the public by the fossil fuel industry.
“Once we have hundreds of thousands of Australians working hard for a 100 per cent doable, 100 per cent renewable economy…people power will have its way and this will involve the dirty future being cleaned up and the clean future being forced through,” says Wright.
But the clean future Wright and his team dream of comes at a cost.
Sustainability Victoria’s CEO Anita Roper admits that some technology, like solar PV systems, are not affordable for low-income households due to the upfront costs faced. Although some have the desire to reduce their carbon footprint, they don’t necessarily have the means.
Erik Zimmerman is one industry leader trying to make “going green” affordable.
Previously Head of Learning and Development for ANZ Bank, Zimmerman stumbled upon a documentary in 2006 at a film festival. After watching A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, a film about society’s addiction to oil, he was inspired. Taking a great personal risk to try and make a difference, Zimmerman took out a second mortgage on his home to fund his project, EKO Energy.
Zimmerman’s solar energy company, came to life later in 2006 when Australia’s solar installations sat at an approximate 1500 per year. Zimmerman estimates that this figure has increased by a substantial 38 times from its beginning to 2009, with an estimated 47,000 solar installations accounted for last year. EKO Energy was responsible for one in five of every solar installation in Victoria in 2009.
“My aim was to put as many [solar panels] on roofs as I could. I really, passionately believe in this idea of an eco-community,” said Zimmerman in an address to the audience at an EKO Energy Community launches.
“What we’re trying to do is bring renewable energy within reach of every home, every school, every business and every community and what I really want to see one day is systems on every roof.”
Wright points out that the cost of photovoltaic modules has “fallen by half in the last 18 months,” resulting in the expansion of the solar industry in Australia. Despite this positive expansion, Australia is considered to be far behind where it ought to be.
Member of German Parliament Hans-Josef Fell is largely responsible for the German Renewable Energy legislation and framework of the very successful solar feed-in tariffs, which have now been adopted in NSW.
In 2005, the share of renewable energy in the gross amount of electricity for Germany was 9.3 per cent. In 2009 it was 16.1 per cent. By 2020 Germany aims to source 50 per cent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, and 100 per cent by 2030 – a big step up on Australia’s pitiful comparison of 5 per cent from solar powered and 20 per cent wind powered energy by 2020.
Fell says that with global mass production, renewable energy technology will become increasingly cheaper and that national leadership is needed to see it take off.
“Renewable energies would be the most decisive contribution to Global Climate protection,” he says.
“It is also necessary to identify those solutions which are not real solutions at all and to end political support for them. These include in particular the use of nuclear power and reliance on so-called carbon-free coal power stations using CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) technology,” says Fell.
BZE is promoting an ambitious Zero Carbon Australia 2020 project, which is a “costed, detailed blueprint” of Australia’s transition to zero-emissions in the next ten years. The plan focuses on using proven and available technology to accomplish its zero-carbon goal in a bid to dissolve beliefs that renewable energy is simply not a viable option.
Wright suggests that overall, Australia needs “a shift in national imperative to a clean renewable energy future.”
According to Wright, this shift will only occur “when the public understand the facts on global, commercially available solar technology and then have the confidence to argue for what they want.”
Kylie Beale is a student currently at Monash University in Melbourne.