Has Australia missed the renewable energy boat? The answer appears to be a resounding YES, and the irony is that much of the technology currently providing major employment opportunities worldwide was actually developed here in Australia. While renewable energy entrepreneurs have thrived overseas, successive Australia governments have remained wedded to coal, cutting support for alternative clean energy projects, and spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on carbon capture and storage technologies which, if implemented, will double the cost of coal-fired electricity.
The story of Australian expat, Danny Kennedy, is a typical example. Attracted by the progressive stance on renewable energy by California's Governor Schwarzenegger, he moved to San Francisco in 2008 to start the rooftop solar company, Sungevity. With some 1,000 employees that company is now one of America's biggest, and part of one of the USA's fastest-growing industries which employs some 55,000 people in California alone.
California has already shut down almost all its coal-fired plants and set a deadline of 2027 to stop importing coal-fired electricity. This is happening elsewhere with progressive countries like Germany and the Netherlands opting out of coal. India, the country on which Australia has seemingly pinned the future of our coal industry, has announced that solar and wind are their first commitment, and vowed to cut coal-fired electricity production.
More bad news for fossil fuel companies is that, according to CSIRO chief economist for energy Paul Graham, costs of solar panels now, 2015, are 20% cheaper than was predicted half a decade ago; and according to the Energy Networks Association, John Bradley, will continue to fall, along with the cost of storage. In fact, Mr Bradley believes the new technologies are changing so quickly that within the next 10 years electricity storage costs will fall by two-thirds, and solar costs continue to fall by another third again.
Is there any wonder therefore that, in the 10 weeks running up to the Paris climate summit, more than 100 institutions controlling $US800 billion in funds worldwide, opted to make new divestments of at least some of their fossil fuel assets.
- John Edwards
This post was initially published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 7 December, 2015.