AUSTRALIA could switch completely to renewable energy within a decade by building a dozen vast, new solar power stations and about 6500 wind turbines, according to a major new study.
The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan - a collaboration between Melbourne University's Energy Research Institute, the environment group Beyond Zero Emissions and engineers Sinclair Knight Merz, puts the cost at $37 billion in private funding and public investment every year for the next decade.
The price tag may make it sound like a pipedream but the scheme earned the endorsement of the federal Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull who added his support at a forum at Sydney Town Hall last night.
''The work they have done is important,'' Mr Turnbull said. ''It provides the most comprehensive technical blueprint yet for what our engineers, our scientists, can begin to do tomorrow.''
Mr Turnbull contrasted the Coalition's ''direct action'' plan with Labor's policy, which he claimed would lead to longer delays in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
''I believe our long-term global goal is to very substantially reduce our emissions, a goal that will require almost all of our stationary energy to be produced from zero or near-zero emission sources,'' Mr Turnbull said.
''This report demonstrates we could already be technologically ready to do that.''
The plan has also been endorsed by Australia's former chief scientist Robin Batterham, and a senior official at the International Energy Agency's renewable energy division, Cedric Philibert.
However, the National Generators Forum, which represents power station owners, and the office of the federal Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, were decidedly lukewarm about the plan when asked about the findings last month. Under the plan, 60 per cent of the nation's electricity would be sourced from 12 huge solar thermal power plants, which use Australian-developed technology to store heat in molten salt, allowing them to operate for long periods when there is no sunshine.
The remaining 40 per cent of the power grid would be filled by about 6500 wind turbines at 23 large-scale wind farms dotted mainly around the coast.
The plan would generate 325 terawatt hours of electricity a year, meeting the nation's entire power demands in the year 2020, if a comprehensive energy efficiency plan is also factored in. Any shortfalls could be made up by biomass energy generation, using a portion of the stubble from the nation's wheatfields.
To properly harness all the renewable energy, the report calls for the unification of Australia's three separate electricity grids and some new transmission lines to link the new power stations to capital cities, at a total cost of $92 billion.
If the cost of completely transforming the energy sector was passed directly on to households, it would add 30 per cent to the average utility bill.
Matthew Wright, the chief executive of the Beyond Zero Emissions group, claimed the report was more realistic than Australia's continued dependence on foreign oil supplies and fluctuating fuel prices.
''The fact is, from an energy perspective, we are in big trouble,'' said Mr Wright when he briefed staff from the NSW Department of Climate Change, Environment and Water on the plan yesterday.
''If you're going to secure Australia's energy future, then you're going to do that with risk-free renewable energy that has no fuel costs.''
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald