22 Mar 2021
WHO WILL BE THE RENEWABLE ENERGY SUPERPOWER OF THE FUTURE?
By Ariane Wilkinson and Nicky Ison, WWF-Australia
This year, what is it that Australian’s can demand of their leaders in the face of the three disasters of 2020 that reached our shores? In 2020, Australians across the nation pulled together to face the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the global recession, all while courageous communities battled to recover following the bushfire disasters, made worse by the climate crisis. With great courage, and a commitment to care for our local communities, Australian’s have weathered these disasters. In 2021, even as we face new disasters, this time in the form of flooding rains, we are now at a unique moment of significant opportunity.
Australia is the envy of the world in handling the health and economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic. With courageous and innovative leadership from all levels of government in Australia, we can be the envy of the world as the world-leading clean energy powerhouse. That means we can create enough renewable energy to power our entire country as a zero carbon economy and have enough left over to sell to the world. We can ensure a recovery from the disasters of last year that boosts our economy, creates tens of thousands of new clean energy jobs, lowers our domestic carbon pollution and helps other countries lower theirs. This is a win-win-win situation. We can have a vibrant and growing economy that, in turn, reduces the risks of future bushfire and other climate disasters. Australia can become a Renewable Superpower. Becoming a Renewable Superpower will help both Australia and our trading partners to act on climate change.
There are encouraging actions being taken by Australia’s states, territories and the federal government in the global race to become a Renewable Superpower. As the world moves to act on climate change and fulfil the promise of the Paris Climate Agreement, we have a significant competitive advantage because we have some of the best renewable resources in the world. But Australia needs to move fast to keep up with other world leaders. And we are not just in a global race with our trading partners - there is a race to capitalise on the best opportunities within Australia.
At both a national and sub-national level, the jurisdictions that move the quickest will enjoy the greatest benefits and lock in the most jobs and opportunities. While 2020 saw some exciting progress, there is so much more opportunity, ripe for the picking, by governments taking real action. With that in mind, our expert research team at WWF-Australia have devised a Renewable Superpower Scorecard, so that we can all keep track of which leaders are stepping up to lock in clean energy jobs, clean manufacturing and economic benefits for the communities they represent.
This scorecard is the first time Australia’s states and territories have been ranked for their progress and leadership in both transforming their entire energy systems to clean energy, and how quickly they are establishing new renewable export industries in their jurisdiction. These rankings show which leaders are taking economy-boosting action, and which ones are lagging behind.
WWF’s analysis shows Australia should look to produce seven times the amount of electricity we currently consume, which equates to approximately 1,100 GW of wind and solar generation and storage capacity. That’s why the goal is 700% renewables. And it’s not just possible, it’s already happening. The 2021 Renewable Superpower Scorecard sets the agenda for the next major steps that will enable us to reach 700% renewables, enabling us to:
- Clean up our electricity system - meet Australia’s current electricity demand with 100% renewables;
- Switch Australia’s current transport, industry and building needs to renewables (away from gas, coal and oil); and
- Produce renewable hydrogen fuels for export; send renewable power to Southeast Asia via sea cables, and manufacture new zero carbon products like green steel and ammonia.
Our analysis shows that if we move to 700% renewables and storage, and invest in associated upstream and downstream clean manufacturing, we can more than replace all the jobs in and most of the revenue from Australia’s current fossil fuel export industries. Becoming a Renewable Superpower with 700% renewables puts us on a path to long-term, stable jobs in sustainable industries, a strong economy, and becoming a global leader in helping the world decarbonise.
The aim of the scorecard is to celebrate success and encourage greater ambition, by producing a rigorous, fair and independent comparison of each Australian jurisdiction’s policies, actions and progress. Governments are scored against 10 categories, covering the major building blocks needed to make Australia a renewable superpower.
So how did everyone do?
The rigorous analysis is ready and the scores are in. You can check out how your state or territory went here and how state and territory leadership compares to leadership at the federal level.
In summary, Tasmania is leading the pack for achieving 100% renewables, legislating the largest renewables target in the world, and for its progress in renewable hydrogen production. South Australia follows for its 500% renewable aspiration and leadership in energy storage and grid balancing, including deploying Australia’s first utility-scale big battery. NSW and Victoria are tied in third place, while the federal government is trailing in seventh. The federal government should be the primary agents selling our renewable energy to the world, but our analysis shows the states are currently doing the heavy lifting. Despite some positive programs, the focus and scale of action at the national level currently falls short of what is needed to give Australia the best chance of becoming a renewable superpower. The scorecard has Queensland and Western Australia in equal fifth place. Both states are taking solid action, but WWF-Australia’s analysis shows neither are fully capitalising on their resources and huge potential to become globally significant renewable exporters.
There’s a lot of great action to celebrate, but importantly, a lot more opportunity to be claimed. So the race is on within Australia.
But how are we faring against the rest of the world?
Our analysis shows that unless we dramatically speed up the deployment of new renewable energy projects, Australia will be out-competed by other nations that are moving to grab market share in the global trade in renewable energy and renewable-powered commodities. More urgent action is needed. For example, we are currently being significantly outspent by the UK, Germany, France and South Korea in renewable recovery stimulus (see figure 1 below). Further, at current rates of construction, it will be over a decade before Australia reaches 100% renewable electricity and on top of this, we also need to electrify transport and industry and produce enough renewable power to export to the world.
Figure 1: The total amount spent by all Australian governments, compared to national government spending in other countries, in Australian dollars. Based on analysis by Hepburn and O’Callaghan 2020 and WWF research.
So this year, in 2021, what is it that Australian’s can demand of their leaders? We can demand courageous and innovative leadership, transforming Australia into a world-leading clean energy powerhouse. We can demand that our leaders step up their action, to put in place all of the building blocks to make sure Australia embraces the opportunity of this moment, the opportunity to become a Renewable Superpower. Transforming our energy system and establishing Australia as the world’s leading renewable energy exporter is no small task, but the rewards will be great - for our economy, for our communities and for our children’s futures.
To learn more about the methodology behind the report download our technical paper, Behind the Scorecard.