step as380 elevator inverter Science tells us that, to avoid devastating climate change, we must rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero. How fast is possible?
This article focuses on the transition of the electricity industry to 100% renewable electricity together with energy efficiency, for the following reasons:
energy generation is the major contributor to emissions;
energy efficiency together with renewable energy form the cheapest, safest and cleanest combination of energy technologies; and
a renewable energy future is likely to be based mostly on renewable electricity, because electricity is the least difficult form of energy to transition.
So far two extreme viewpoints have characterised the debate. On one hand, the ground-breaking Zero Carbon Stationary Energy Plan set a decadal transition as its aspirational target.
However, the argument that this is possible appears to be based on two general points – Australia’s huge renewable energy and raw material resources, which no-one would deny, and the belief that Australia’s manufacturing industry has the capacity.
While the report was strong and detailed on technological hardware, there was no analysis of the time needed to train the workforce, which is already overstretched by the growth of renewable energy.
It would take at least a decade to train just the first cohort of engineers and give them essential experience. Amateurs cannot design a manufacturing process or connect a wind or solar form to the grid.
Furthermore, the report didn’t address the challenge of rebuilding our declining manufacturing industry, or the long time it takes to build transmission lines, or the impact on energy prices of a rapid transition. So a decadal transition is unproven and unlikely.
At the other extreme, Vaclav Smil, an expert on historical energy transitions, argues in his book that ‘the process of restructuring the modern high-energy industrial and postindustrial civilization on the basis of nonfossil, that is, overwhelmingly renewable, energy flows will be much more challenging that [sic] was replacing wood by coal and then coal by hydrocarbons.’
To question Smil’s conclusions it’s sufficient to refute the assumptions underlying his key arguments.