There have been three major studies undertaken into the feasibility of a 100% renewable electricity future for Australia. All three confirm it is possible, but political willpower is still lacking as the fossil fuel industry lobby maintains a grip on government policy. The three studies were undertaken by a combination of universities and private industry that show a clear pathway for Australia to place itself at the forefront of global change.
- Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan: University of Melbourne – Melbourne Energy Institute (previously Energy Research Institute) and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) – Zero Carbon Australia Project.
- Simulation modeling of 100% renewable energy: University of New South Wales – Centre for Energy and Environment Markets (CEEM) and Institute of Environmental Studies (IES)
- 100 percent renewables study: Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)
The AEMO study shows we could make the transition in 17 years, given significant attention and national focus. The other studies propose faster and slower progression rates and demonstrate that the cost to consumers would not change greatly from current costs – thus escaping the external price rises on fossil fuels. Even if not complete after 17 years, getting past the 90% mark should be enough to escape the energy trap. This means we would need to replace existing generating capacity at a rate of about 3 GWh per annum on average. Spreading this load across solar thermal, photovoltaic, wind energy, tidal and geothermal plants, this change is more likely to happen in bursts as new plants come online. Even if the whole load were placed on solar thermal, this amounts to eleven plants per year. Whilst this would represent a significant engineering investment, it would be less than the current forecast of electricity generation plant projects in Australia.
Number and nominal value of electricity generation projects at the Committed Stage 
These projects have been adding an average of between 2 and 3 GW of electricity generation per year. Hence, the change to construction of renewable, instead of fossil fuel, power stations would not represent any significant change in the level of activity.
It would, however, signal a change in the engineering skills required to execute the process. These skills would need to be imported at first; then developed extensively through universities both training engineers and researching improvements to electricity generation and storage methods. This would also mean huge employment opportunities for decades as Australia rebuilds its core infrastructure to meet the needs of the changing world. With 1500 construction jobs per Solar Thermal plant and 85 permanent jobs created afterwards, this could also significantly benefit regional Australia in the long term. It would mean almost 16,000 permanent jobs spread around the country to support the 186 plants. That number would change with a greater diversity of power generation plants, but would still represent a significant workforce.
Why Australia Should Be a World Solar Energy Leader
It is important to note that in 2013, Germany almost met Australia’s entire demand with solar power alone for a day in May when they set a global record of 22.68GWh of solar power generation to a national grid. This beats they record they set in 2012 by generating 22.2GWh. This is in a country that receives about one third of the raw solar energy that Australia does.
In 2012 in total, Germany generated 92TWh or electricity from renewable sources, almost 20% of that figure was hydro power running 24 hours a day. So to put that into context, Germany is already generating almost half of Australia’s current annual consumption from renewable sources and has been doing this for two year already. Australia has no excuse to not be the world leader in the production of renewable energy.
Multiple studies have shown Australia could be approaching 100% renewable energy by 2030 if this was set as the direction in the country. The only thing lacking is government will to make the necessary change as soon as possible. The fundamental idea in all these proposals is that we will move from a highly centralized power generation model to use multiple means of generation as well as distributed means, such as rooftop solar panels.
Installed Capacity by Technology, AEMO report Scenario 1 (Faster change and Technology improvement)
Actual Energy Generation by Technology, AEMO Report Scenario 1 (Faster change and Technology improvement)
Total Renewable Electricity Generation Capacity in Australia by Energy Source