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How rapidly can we transition to 100% renewable electricity?
Mark Diesendorf 21 June 2018 94
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.
Smil also asserts that the successful transition of a few countries is irrelevant to a global transition. Presumably he thinks that the rapid ongoing transition of Denmark, with 44% of its electricity in 2017 coming from variable RElec (wind), and Germany with 26%, are special cases.
However, we can also consider the north German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (100% net, mostly wind), South Australia (45%, wind + solar PV), Scotland (44% of consumption and over 60% of generation, mostly wind) and several states of the USA (each with 25-30%).