This brilliant e-book from the BEYOND ZERO EMISSIONS group has been causing some major waves in the Australian environmental discourse recently, and it should. With a clear and concise roadmap for transferring Australia's energy generation from carbon intensive, non-renewable resources to a clean renewable energy network, these are just the kind of forward thinking, visionary ideas needed in the climate change debate, not just in Australia but globally.

Read it. Absorb it. Spread the ideas. 

"The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan shows that it is technically feasible and
affordable to replace all fossil fuel electricity with 100% renewable energy
given the willpower and commitment to do so. This is a cutting-edge science based plan that should be read by every energy decision maker and politician
in Australia."

Mark Z. Jacobson
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Professor by Courtesy of Energy Resources Engineering
Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program
Stanford University, USA




From the FOREWORD:

 Twenty-eight billion is a big number. Measured in tonnes it is a very heavy load. This figure is the amount of sediment eroded each year from all our mountains and carried by all our rivers to all our seas. And it is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we pump into the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels globally – enough to cover Australia in a blanket two metres thick. In dollars, it is just a little more than the extra annual investment needed to reconfigure Australia’s stationary energy system to have zero emissions in just 10 years time.

Each year the 28 billion tonnes of CO2 we make induces heating. The oceans are now heating at the phenomenal rate of 300 trillion watts. In frighteningly human terms that is equivalent to detonating five Hiroshima sized A-bombs every second, every day of every year. To make 28 billion tonnes of CO2 we dig 7 billion tonnes of coal and suck countless gallons of oil and gas from the ground. In total we already excavate more rock from the Earth than nature does. With peak oil rapidly approaching, if not passed, BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe attests to the huge risks entailed in maintaining production.

The rate we consume energy to emit that CO2 is 16 trillion watts. That is already about 1/3 of the energy released by plate tectonics - the process that pushes continents around the globe over geological time making mountains and earthquakes as it goes. On current growth trajectories we are set to surpass this amount of energy by 2060. Each year we are adding a bit under 1% to the atmospheri CO2 load, enhancing the greenhouse effect by a small fraction of a percent. By trapping just a tiny extra fraction of the incoming solar energy, we are heating not only the atmosphere, but also the oceans and land.

Such numbers give a very real sense that we humans are now operating as a geological change agent. But the scary thing is we have only just begun. Energy use is increasing exponentially, doubling every 34 years so that it will increase by 800% in a century. Curtailing energy growth will not be easy with 2 billion people already in energy poverty and 2 billion more added to the human number by mid century. So how will we cater for our future energy needs? One answer stares us in the face. Effectively converting about 0.06% of the solar energy that hits the land would meet the entire global energy demand.

But aren’t there problems with renewable energy? Isn’t it too expensive and unreliable? After all, the wind doesn’t blow all the time and the sun doesn’t shine at night.

Currently, advanced solar thermal power with molten salt storage, capable of producing power on demand day or night, is about four times more expensive than the cheapest coal fired power plants. But the cost of new technologies always reduces with large-scale rollout. The 2003 US based Sargent & Lundy report anticipated solar thermal electricity costs would reach parity with coal fired power once 8.7 GW of capacity was installed – just a bit under Victoria’s stationary energy capacity today. So far, there has not even been modest stimulus for solar thermal power. The Global Financial Crisis is partly to blame, but political will is the resource in shortest supply. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have changed that.

So what if we were to try to build a 100% renewable energy system to power the Australian economy in just 10 years?

How could we possibly do that, and what would it cost?

That is the challenge outlined in Australian Sustainable Energy – Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan.

Zero Carbon Australia outlines a coherent and thoroughly researched blueprint showing how 100% renewable energy is achievable using technologies that are commercially available today: wind power and concentrating solar thermal with molten salt storage. It goes through the options, costs and benefits, confirming that a 10 year transformation of the stationary energy sector is achievable and affordable. This will also add huge stimulus to the new green economy and create jobs.

Zero Carbon Australia demonstrates that both cost and variability can be readily addressed, and exposes as myth the frequent argument that we need coal, gas or nuclear to provide baseload electricity. This is achieved by first smoothing power output across the grid via geographically dispersed production, and secondly providing dispatchable “back up” power from the molten salt storage at solar thermal power plants. Our nation continent, stretching across climate and time zones, appears ready made for this. Zero Carbon Australia provides a big vision - Australia as a renewable energy powerhouse. But 28 billion tonnes of CO2 is a big load, and getting bigger. Therefore a big vision for an alternative energy system is precisely what is needed.

Zero Carbon Australia is an extraordinary and pragmatic roadmap to a new and more sustainable energy system in Australia, and ultimately our region.

I recommend it to all who are truly interested in securing Australia’s energy future.

Mike Sandiford
Professor of Geology
Director, Melbourne Energy Institute
University of Melbourne
June 2010