NSW as a renewables superpower and what must be done to reach net-zero emissions [with video] - 100% Renewables

NSW as a renewables superpower and what must be done to reach net-zero emissions [with video]

Last week, I presented on ‘NSW as a Renewables Superpower and What Must Be Done To Achieve Zero Carbon Emissions’ at the 13th Energy Storage World Forum Virtual Conference.

You can watch a 15-min-video of my presentation here, which includes information about the newly released New South Wales Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap:

What is Australia’s emissions trend?

At the moment, Australia is emitting roughly 530 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually. Please see below Figure 1, which shows Australia’s historical emissions. To put this into perspective, it means that every year, each Australian resident is responsible for about 21 tonnes of emissions. This is roughly four times higher than the global average of about 5 tonnes.

Australia's historical emissions (Source: Quarterly Update of Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory | National inventory total, year to June 2000 to year to March 2020)
Figure 1: Australia’s historical emissions (Source: Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory | National inventory total, year to June 2000 to year to March 2020)

What is interesting to see in this graph is that our emissions in 2020 are about on the same level as they were in 2000. Is this good enough? Let us have a look at global emissions.

Where are we now and where do we need to be?

Despite the increased focus on climate change in the last few years and the milestone Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions have not reduced, and the emissions gap between where we should be and where we are is larger than ever. The main driver of long-term warming is the total cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over time. In the past decades, greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing.

Due to all historical and current carbon emissions, global temperatures have already risen by about 1°C from pre-industrial levels. Continuing with business as usual could result in a temperature increase of over 4°C.

If all countries achieved their Paris Agreement targets, it could limit warming to roughly 3°C. However, to limit warming to 1.5°C, current Paris pledges made by countries are not enough.

Carbon emissions need to decline at a much steeper rate in the near future and reach net-zero by mid-century to have a chance of keeping warming to below 1.5°C. Please see Figure 2 below.

Global warming projections
Figure 2: Global warming projections

Australia has committed to a 26-28% GHG emission reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels. This is not ambitious enough for a 1.5-degree pathway. Also, as a country, we have not committed to net-zero emissions by mid-century, which is where we need to be. However, all states and territories have committed to this target, which effectively means that Australia has a net-zero target.

With most of Australia’s major trading partners having now committed to a net-zero emissions target by around mid-century, and with a new US President-elect who seems likely to increase America’s climate ambitions, perhaps the Australian Government will eventually follow suit. We’ve heard in recent days that the Government may abandon plans to use Kyoto carryover credits to meet its targets, which is a good start if true.

Australia's commitments, 100% Renewables
Figure 3: Australia’s commitments, 100% Renewables

We will see what happens with our national emissions targets in time.

Let’s have a look at Australia’s emissions projection. Under 2019 projections, we will end up with 500m tonnes of carbon emissions in 2030, some 30m lower than our current levels. Under our Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement, we need to reach a 26-28% reduction by 2030. This is not anywhere near where we need to be to keep temperature increase to safe levels.

Australia's emissions projection (Source: Australia's emissions projections 2019, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)
Figure 4: Australia’s emissions projection (Source: Australia’s emissions projections 2019, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)

However, the good news is that even without policies and targets, the renewables share of electricity will grow, because we have reached the point where renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels.

For many years, we have not done enough. Now, we need to catch up on the years in which we have procrastinated. And rapidly.

NSW as the new renewables superpower

In March this year, the NSW Government released the Net Zero Plan Stage 1 and the Electricity Strategy. NSW officially committed to a 35% reduction in emissions by 2030 and to reaching net-zero by 2050. The focus of the plan is on emissions reduction across key sectors, such as energy, transport, waste, agriculture, mining and carbon finance. The net-zero plan and the electricity strategy will create thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new generation and transmission investment in NSW, mostly in regional areas.

A few days ago, the NSW Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap was released, which will establish NSW as a renewable superpower through a coordinated approach to transmission, generation and storage of renewable energy in the State in the coming decades.

NSW's plan to achieve net-zero by 2050
Figure 5: NSW’s plan to achieve net-zero by 2050

Over the next 15 years, four of the five NSW coal power stations are expected to close. These four power stations account for three-quarters of NSW’s electricity supply! As you can see in Figure 6, the closed power plants will leave a gap in electricity generation.

The exciting news is that this gap will be filled by renewable energy generation. NSW will develop several Renewable Energy Zones, enabled by a Transmission Development Scheme, which will have a combination of solar, wind and pumped hydro generation. The infrastructure needed to replace power stations has long lead times, and the Central-West Orana is the first pilot REZ that is currently being developed. Central-West Orana, New England and the South West Renewable Energy Zones will contribute 12 Gigawatts of generating capacity and 3 Gigawatts of firm capacity by 2030, and even more over the long term.

Scheduled coal plant closures and Renewable Energy Zones (Source: AEMO, 2020 Integrated System Plan, July 2020)
Figure 6: Scheduled coal plant closures and Renewable Energy Zones (Source: AEMO, 2020 Integrated System Plan, July 2020)

These renewable energy zones will contribute greatly to grid decarbonisation, which means that over time, the electricity we consume will increasingly come from renewables rather than fossil fuels.

However, this transition will take time. And we can’t rely on governments doing all the work. Everyone needs to act, countries, companies and communities. So, what can you do in your organisation and as an individual to track towards zero emissions?

To answer this question, we first need to take a look at where our emissions are coming from.

Where do our emissions come from?

The biggest part of our emissions is electricity generation, which at the moment comes mostly from fossil fuel power plants. The next most significant contribution is stationary energy consumption, such as burning natural gas. The next highest contributor is transport, which is driving cars, moving goods in trucks, and flying, for example.

Emissions contribution by sector (Source: Quarterly Update of Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory | Figures and Tables for the March Quarter 2020 )
Figure 7: Emissions contribution by sector (Source: Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory | Figures and Tables for the March Quarter 2020 )

Fugitive emissions are mostly methane emissions lost to the atmosphere during coal and gas mining activities and transporting gas. Industrial processes and product use emissions come from industrial activities which are not related to energy, such as cement & lime, metal and chemicals production, as well as from hydrofluorocarbons used as refrigerant gases and other synthetic gases.

Agriculture emissions come from fertiliser usage and growing animals such as sheep and cows. Bill Gates has said that if cattle were a country, they would sit behind China and the US in greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste emissions come mainly from the decomposition of waste in landfill, whereas LULUCF emissions are land-use and land-use change and forestry. In Australia, these emissions are negative, as they are a carbon sink.

What can we do to reduce our emissions to net-zero?

The emissions reduction task is a combination of a small number of significant measures that are happening to reduce the emissions of primary inputs to goods and services, and the actions that individual businesses and consumers can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

There is some heavy lifting that happens independent of consumers.

Heavy lifting that happens independent of consumers
Figure 8: Heavy lifting that happens independent of consumers

Grid decarbonisation

The most prominent example is grid decarbonisation or the ‘greening of the grid’. Coal-fired power plants are being replaced with renewable energy in all Australian states. Just this week, Victoria announced $540million in the budget to develop six renewable energy zones, and Tasmania wants to be 200% renewable by 2040.

Green hydrogen

There is also a big push for green hydrogen in nearly every State, which could potentially replace natural gas over time. The NSW Net Zero Plan is aiming for hydrogen to supply up to 10% of current natural gas demand by 2030.


Biomethane is gas being produced from renewable sources, rather than extracting natural gas.


Reforestation means planting more trees, which reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Green steel

Green steel is made by using hydrogen, rather than coal, to strip the oxygen out of iron ore. The by-product is water rather than carbon dioxide. At this time, ThyssenKrupp plans to build a 1.2 million tonne per annum green steel plant in Germany by 2025.

Methane reduction

Cows produce a lot of methane, which can potentially be reduced by up to 80% by introducing seaweed into their feed, based on research being led by CSIRO.

Waste management

One of the ways we can deal with the waste problem is to treat the waste as a resource in waste-to-energy plants.

Sequestration of fugitive emissions

Sequestration of emissions resulting from the extraction and production of LNG is a significant challenge but one which will hopefully improve in coming years.

Most businesses and consumers will benefit from these upstream and downstream changes in terms of their carbon footprint. But rather than rely solely on these changes, some of which may take decades, business and individuals can act themselves to reduce their carbon footprint faster.

What emission sources can you influence?

Every day, you are consuming electricity, and most of you probably use natural gas as well, whether for industrial process heating, air conditioning or cooking. Everyone needs to get from point A to B. Sometimes, we use our cars, sometimes we fly. And we transport our goods using trucks, ships and trains. Everyone consumes goods and services daily, and our consumer choices influence emissions. And we all produce waste.

So how can we reduce our emissions to net-zero?

Achieving zero carbon emissions from a consumer’s perspective

  • Be more energy efficient – we can we more energy efficient, for instance by turning off equipment when it’s not needed, or by replacing old, inefficient equipment, with new, energy-efficient ones.
  • Install solar – where we can, we should install solar. It reduces our emissions immediately, and it is cost-effective. And in future, battery storage will be more cost-effective as well, which will allow us to scale up our solar ambition and take more control over our energy supply and risk.
  • Buy renewable energy – we can choose where the electricity we are buying comes from. We can consciously choose to purchase renewable energy. Bigger organisations can do that via Power Purchase Agreements; smaller consumers can elect to procure GreenPower®.
  • Sustainable transport – we can buy efficient, low- and zero-emissions vehicles and implement EV infrastructure such as charging points. Even bigger trucks can be electrified, which you can see in these pictures here. Using video conferencing also helps to reduce emissions.
  • Less waste – we can reduce our emissions from waste simply by consuming less, by recycling more and by fostering a circular economy, in which the waste of one organisation can be a resource for another business.
  • Sustainable procurement – we can make more sustainable buying decisions and purchase carbon-neutral products, or products that were made from renewable sources, that can be recycled, or composted.
  • Go carbon neutral – on our journey to net-zero, we can invest in carbon offsets to finance projects that support emissions reduction or sequestration.
  • Leadership and governance – and perhaps most importantly, we can show leadership. We can implement all the solutions I’ve talked about earlier and then share our stories with others so that they can learn from our experience. Don’t’ be a follower, be a leader or at least a fast follower.

A challenge for you

I’d like to challenge you today to rethink your carbon footprint. Both your own and the one of the organisation you work for.

Here is my challenge to you:

  1. Switch your electricity supply to 100% renewable energy if you can
  2. Walk and cycle more. It will be good for your health!
  3. Consider a more sustainable diet


100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to develop your Climate Action 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.

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