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Zero Carbon Australia plan sets the bar

By Bob Brown - posted Thursday, 12 August 2010

The challenge posed by the climate crisis is an enormous one. Facing up to it will require every bit of resourcefulness and ingenuity we humans can muster.

As global political leaders have slowly but surely woken up to the reality of climate change, have been dragged to it by their citizens, too often they have responded with fine words but no action. The contradiction between Kevin Rudd's "great moral challenge of our time" and his patently inadequate response played a big part in his downfall - taking him from one of Australia's most popular Prime Ministers to one of its least popular within months.

Our leaders lack imagination. They don't imagine a world where we have actually stopped polluting, stopped destroying our forests and moved onto a truly sustainable footing. Only when our leaders make that leap will it actually happen.


That's why the Zero Carbon Australia plan from Melbourne University and Beyond Zero Emissions is so important.

By demonstrating that it is technically feasible to completely replace polluting coal power in Australia with currently available renewable energy technologies in as little as ten years, they have made the climate solution imaginable.

Now the onus is on those who say it can't be done to fault this study. So far an astonishing array of technical experts has looked it over and given it their imprimatur. All we have from opponents of action are blanket statements that renewables are somehow not up to the task, statements that run contrary to the clear evidence around the world.

The ZCA study focuses primarily on the potential for baseload solar power, particularly in a country as sunny as Australia. Currently, Spain and the USA are powering ahead with this exciting technology that concentrates the sun's energy and stores it for up to 16 hours after the sun goes down - in other words, through the night. One collection of plants in the USA, known as the Solar Energy Generating System, has a combined output of 350 megawatts (MW), although without storage. Nevada Solar One is a single plant of 64MW. Andasol 1 and 2, in Spain, will soon have 100MW with storage. Gigawatts of power plants are currently in planning and construction across the globe.

I am impressed by the rigour with which this study sets out how, where and how fast this technology can be rolled out across Australia, making use of sunny areas in convenient geographical areas.

If you don't believe the ZCA study, do the modelling yourself. That is the challenge we Greens have set the government, with Christine Milne moving a motion in the Senate in June calling on the government to request a similar modelling task from the Departments of Climate Change and Resources, Energy and Tourism.


As part of her Safe Climate Bill, the Senate has legislation that would give Infrastructure Australia responsibility for studying and planning a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy in Australia and establishing how fast that can happen. The bill asks Infrastructure Australia to map renewable energy resources across the nation; it would bring all levels of government, local communities and renewable energy developers together in early consultation, and create renewable energy development zones based on the mapped areas, with streamlined approval processes. It would lead to funding of the connection of the zones to the electricity grid and to a strategic plan for reaching 60 per cent, 80 per cent or 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

The ZCA plan is one solution for stationary energy (power stations) in Australia. We may well see a range of other technologies - geothermal, wave power and more - adding to our mix and diversifying our power. But this study raises the welcome reality of a carbon pollution free future for Australia.

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About the Author

Bob Brown is Senator for Tasmania and Leader of the Australian Greens and introduced the Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999 into the Senate.

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