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Australia Can Become A Renewable Powerhouse

31/08/2015 6:08 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Can you remember what you were doing in 2005? Where did you work? Where did you live?

In 2005, if you were one of the 35 percent of Australians that had a mobile phone, it was probably a Nokia with a tiny screen and poky keypad.

You didn't have a smartphone. No one did. The first iPhone wouldn't hit the shelves for another two years.

You were probably listening to CDs or maybe you had one of the first iPods. You watched TV on the TV. YouTube had only just launched in 2005, and streaming movies and TV shows at home was still to come.

In 2005, no one predicted that Facebook would become the number one source for Australians to get their news. How could you? In 2005, the company had only just bought the domain name facebook.com and was still a year and a half away from launching public access. Twitter didn't exist.

So much has changed in a decade. Whole industries and companies have either become obsolete or have had to entirely rethink their business models: photography, phones, encyclopedias, textbooks, fax machines, the music industry, and more.

Few predicted the speed and scope of the digital communications transition and the ways in which it would transform our lives forever.

But in the last decade, another quiet revolution has been occurring, this time, in the world's energy systems.

A decade ago, just a few thousand Australian households had rooftop solar and they were people that lived in remote locations or were sustainability enthusiasts. But as electricity bills continued to skyrocket and the cost of solar PV fell more than 75 percent over five years, middle Australia has driven a suburban energy revolution. Now the sun powers over 1.4 million Australian households.

Globally, investment in renewable energy has grown five-fold since 2005 and over a million jobs were created last year. Today, there is more renewable energy capacity being added than fossil fuels. The clean energy revolution has been driven by dramatically falling costs and by governments, from Germany to the U.S. to China, creating favourable regulatory environments in response to concerns about air pollution, climate change and energy security.

Experts have been shocked at the rapid uptake of solar PV, the plummeting price of renewables and the challenge to the dominance of fossil fuels. This is only the beginning; like digital communications, the energy revolution will transform our lives very quickly.

The costs of solar panels are expected to halve in the next few years while the price of wind energy is projected to continue to fall steeply. Battery storage is likely to be another major game changer, allowing households to go off grid and increasing incentives for both households and businesses to install renewable energy.

But what is really exciting is the level of commitment from the global heavyweights. Fifteen G20 countries have committed to renewable energy targets that represent a 70 percent increase in renewable energy by 2025. These targets are enormous drivers of progress, which will probably accelerate change faster than we can anticipate.

Earlier this year, Germany produced half its electricity from renewables. When it did so the price of electricity fell to zero. India has stated it intends to become a "renewable energy superpower" while China will add more clean energy capacity in the next 15 years than its entire existing coal fire fleet.

Meanwhile Australia, the sunniest country in the world, is the only country going backwards on renewable energy with the Federal Government cutting the Renewable Energy Target. The target was designed to grow renewable energy, driving the suburban solar revolution and lead to the creation of 400 renewable power plants. Now that it has been a cut, a third less renewable energy will be built in the next five years, representing a drop of $5-6 billion in investment.

Politicians, mining and energy executives may tell us "coal is here forever", but the evidence tells a very different story. This shortsighted view does us much damage as the sunny country misses out on the investment and job growth opportunities of the global renewables boom. More than a million jobs were created in renewable energy last year and investment surged to a record $US300 billion.

Australia can become a renewable powerhouse. Our renewable resources are the envy of the world and could power Australia 500 times over. Our scientists have led the world in technological advances in renewables that are now being capitalised on in China and the U.S.

Australians have been at the forefront of the digital communications revolution, our households have been at the forefront of the solar household revolution, it's time our nation follows suit.

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