The sun falling on Australia’s deserts in just four days could power the whole planet’s electricity needs for a year. That’s a win for the cost of energy in Australia and for the future of the planet. But how are we doing in transitioning from fossil fuels to solar?
Your electricity bills have probably gone up recently, and they’ll probably rise again soon. And on top of that it’s still almost all dirty energy from coal and gas plants, which are slowly making our climate unliveable.
As renters, our options to save energy at home are limited. We can’t insulate the ceiling or put solar panels on the roof. Even when I upgraded my old incandescent light bulbs to LEDs recently, it felt like I was doing my landlord a favour. (I wasn’t - the payback time is only six months, seriously, do it now!)
So it’d be nice to know that the government is upgrading our electricity grid to renewable energy and that sooner or later our climate will return to normal and we’ll stop breaking records for worst flood and longest heatwave every year and we will consume less energy.
Sadly, we’re not there yet. Currently, New South Wales gets a tiny 7.7 percent of its electricity from solar and wind. If you add in hydro-power, the total is 14 percent renewable energy. That still puts us at the back of the pack in Australia. Meanwhile Italy, Spain, California and Germany are all over 25 percent renewable, while Denmark, Scotland and even the ACT are rapidly approaching 100 percent renewable.
Compounding our relatively dirty energy sources is a lack of vision for where we’re headed. While Victoria, ACT, South Australia, and Queensland all have strong renewable energy targets that foster investment in new energy sources, NSW has no such plan.
But things are not all bleak. The NSW government is considering setting minimum standards for rental properties, which would make living in them more comfortable, more energy efficient, and cheaper. That’s welcome.
Also, right now there is a renewable energy boom in NSW. Eight large-scale wind and solar plants are under construction this year, and they will power hundreds of thousands of homes with clean energy, as well as bringing jobs and investment to regional NSW.
On top of these eight projects are another 59 large-scale solar and wind projects in the approval pipeline across NSW. These renewable energy sources are now the cheapest way to generate energy, and there’s no shortage of it.
That’s just as well, because Australia and over 190 countries agreed in Paris to limit temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, or 2 degrees at worst. To achieve that, we’ll need to completely phase-out coal power and replace it with renewables in just 13 years.
Not only is that aim achievable, but the benefits of transitioning to clean energy are startling. NSW could avoid $700 million per year in health costs caused by air pollution from our five coal power stations. And CSIRO recently forecast transitioning to renewable energy would save Australia $100 billion by 2050. After all, the sun shines and the wind blows for free.
With a little bit of vision, and the political courage to stand up to big polluters, we could be powering our lives on clean energy in no time. Let’s get on with it.