Emissions, renewables and barriers to uptake [includes video]

I was recently asked to give a speech to the Maribyrnong community in Melbourne to help them with the development of a climate emergency plan. The session started with me presenting on energy-related emission trends and developing climate emergency plans, followed by a Q&A session.

In this blog post, I’ll write about energy-related emission trends, and I also recorded myself in a video. In the next article, I will go deeper into the development of climate emergency plans.

Global energy-related emission trends

In the last thirty years, energy-related carbon emissions have risen from a little over 20 Gt CO2-e to about 33 Gt CO2-e, which was mainly due to an increase in energy consumption by developing nations, as can be seen in Figure 1.

Energy-related CO2 emissions, 1990-2019

Figure 1: Energy-related CO2 emissions, 1990-2019[1]

Energy-related emissions by advanced economies is at nearly the same level today as in 1990. This is illustrated clearly when we look at emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies below in Figure 2. We can see here that while demand for electricity grew by approximately 300% over roughly 50 years, related carbon emissions have grown at a much slower rate. If fact, since the Global Financial Crisis, corresponding GHG emissions have rapidly decoupled.

Electricity generation and power sector CO2 emissions in advanced economies, 1971-2019

Figure 2: Electricity generation and power sector CO2 emissions in advanced economies, 1971-2019[2]

The decoupling of electricity and emissions in advanced economies is due in large part to the growth in renewables. In 2019, almost 70% of new global generation was from renewables compared to only 25% in 2001, as shown in Figure 3. In 2017, 20% of global power capacity was renewables, in 2019 it was one third!

 

Renewable share of annual power capacity expansion

Figure 3: Renewable share of annual power capacity expansion[3]

Emission trends in Australia

These global trends are repeated in Australia, though at a somewhat slower rate than in other leading economies. By 2040, of the 16 coal-fired plants in the National Electricity Market (NEM), nine are expected to be closed, with the remaining seven expected to close by around 2050.

Even without new policies and targets, the renewables share of electricity will grow, which means that together with increased energy efficiency, emissions from electricity generation should decrease by 2030 to almost 1990 levels, as shown in Figure 4.

Electricity emissions trend in Australia

Figure 4: Electricity emissions trend in Australia[4]

This trend is the right direction, but the rate is not fast enough to align with climate change science. So why are renewables not replacing coal sooner?

Barriers for the uptake of renewables in Australia

There are a range of barriers at the grid level as well as at consumer levels that influence the uptake of renewables.

Major barriers for renewables at a grid-level

Investment uncertainty

Due to the lack of clear federal policy and direction, there is great investment uncertainty for renewable energy project developers. If the business case for projects is uncertain, new projects stall. Some of this inaction is made up for by the positive actions by States & Territories, such as Victoria and the ACT, who have legislated higher renewables. NSW is also implementing new renewable energy zones to boost the growth of renewables and jobs in regional areas.

Connection and transmission issues

Many renewable energy projects are finding it hard to connect to the transmission or distribution network due to congestion issues. Marginal Loss Factors (MLF) also tend to negatively affect the business case of renewable energy projects, which are located further from the grid than ‘traditional’ coal-fired generators. So, for the same generation, coal-fired operators will receive more than renewable generators that are located further from the grid.

Lack of transmission infrastructure

Renewable generation areas are not the same as centralised coal-fired locations, so new transmission infrastructure is needed, which has to be financed and built.

Major barriers for renewables at a community level

Australia is the most successful country globally in terms of the proportion of households with solar, with more than 20% of homes generating their own clean energy. This is more than double the next highest penetration. However, despite this barriers remain to more widespread and rapid uptake of solar.

Information

Some people and businesses simply may not know that installing solar panels helps them to save money and so don’t evaluate the opportunity. They may also not have a trusted installer and don’t know how to go about finding a suitable supplier.

Capital cost

For many people, the capital outlay of solar panels is a significant barrier to reaping the financial benefits of free generation once the initial money has been spent.

Pricing signals

Energy pricing and metering do not yet adequately facilitate demand response at a household and small business level.

Priorities

People may know that installing solar panels is a good idea, but they may have other priorities that they attend to first.

Renters versus owners

It’s relatively simple for people and businesses that own their premises to install solar on their roofs. It is much harder for people and businesses who rent. We have developed fact sheets for North Sydney Council that help overcome this problem.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, which is going to progress in to the development of Climate Emergency Plans that councils and communities can develop to accelerate their switch to renewables.

100% Renewables are experts in developing climate emergency plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to develop your Climate Emergency Strategy, please contact Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.

[1] IEA, Global CO2 emissions in 2019 – https://www.iea.org/articles/global-co2-emissions-in-2019

[2] IEA, Electricity generation and power sector CO2 emissions in advanced economies, 1971-2019, IEA, Paris

[3] IRENA – Renewable capacity highlights 2020

[4] The Commonwealth Government – Department of Industry – Australia’s emissions projections 2019