Report: Australia can be zero carbon by 2050
Cameron Jewell | 23 September 2014
Residential and commercial building energy use would halve and rooftop PV increase 10-fold if an ambitious plan to decarbonise Australia by 2050 is realised.
The report by ClimateWorks and the Australian National University, Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation in 2050: How Australia can prosper in a low carbon world, which is to be presented to the UN Climate Leaders’ Summit in New York today (Tuesday), finds that deep decarbonisation could happen with existing technologies, and without major structural changes to the economy.
“There are many pathways for Australia to substantially reduce emissions but all include greatly improved energy efficiency across the economy, a nearly carbon free power system and switching to low carbon energy sources in transport, buildings and industry,” ClimateWorks Australia executive director Anna Skarbek said.
“Taking the carbon out of our electricity system provides the largest reduction in emissions. Then we can use the carbon-free electricity to replace petrol in cars, and gas in buildings and some industrial processes.”
However, the report found that Australia’s energy mix would have to be comprise at least 50 per cent renewables by 2030 for the country to stay within its carbon budget.
In the buildings sector, the report found energy efficiency measures could reduce residential energy use by over 50 per cent, with energy use in the commercial sector reducing by just under 50 per cent per square metre.
“This substantial improvement in comparison to recent trends does not require a substantial technological leap as it can be achieved through ensuring that new buildings are as efficient as possible, and by replacing equipment by best practice models at the end of its useful life,” the report says.
“For example, LEDs can reduce energy use by almost 80 per cent compared to halogen globes, and can even provide 25 per cent savings compared to efficient compact fluorescent lamps. Similarly, 8 star new builds have demonstrated that 80 per cent less energy use for heating and cooling compared with current homes is possible across much of Australia’s climate zones. In most cases, the cost of energy saved over time will more than offset the additional upfront costs at standard rates of return.”
Rooftop solar PV would increase by 10-15-fold across each of three scenarios modelled by the researchers. Gas, meanwhile, would be switched off across the built sector, with a mass electrification of buildings to use low carbon energy from a majority renewable grid.
“A switch from natural gas to a decarbonised electricity supply results in near elimination of emissions from buildings by 2050,” the report says. “This involves a move from gas to electricity for all heating, hot water and cooking equipment.”
ClimateWorks Australia head of research Amandine Denis said the study was able to identify greater emissions reductions than previous work by the Garnaut Review and Treasury due to recent changes including large cost reductions in renewables, technological advancements and better understanding of opportunities in carbon forestry and industrial production.
Frank Jotzo, director of ANU Crawford School’s Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, said Australia could cut emissions while maintaining a strong economy.
“In a decarbonising world, where other countries also act to reduce their emissions in line with what is needed to avoid global warming of more than two degrees, Australia can play its part while sustaining rapid economic growth,” Mr Jotzo said.
“While decarbonisation is a significant transition for Australia, it is achievable. And our economy has proven time and time again that it is flexible, adaptable and resilient.”
The report is part of the UN Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project that involves modelling teams from 15 major emitters.