Net Zero: What Would Be Needed

For goodness’ sake, consider what a 2050 Net Zero target would mean.

  • Emissions and energy data is from Australia’s emissions projections 2019 and Australian Energy Update 2019
  • Steady, linear trend for the sake of simplicity
  • PV and wind do most of the heavy lifting, or at least that seems to be what we’re encouraged to expect, and therefore will be used to illustrate scales. Distributed PV is not considered
  • Lifespans are ignored
  • Energy conversions are granted the most optimistic values
  • Energy amounts are at the annual timescale. Energy storage works perfectly and is ignored. Transmission is ignored (thanks Kevin S Krause)
  • 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) = 3.6 petajoules (PJ, a trillion megajoules)
  • Overall energy consumption doesn’t change (except buildings)
  • No international offsets
  • Equity issues on impacted communities and segments of the economy are neglected

Electricity

Australia’s emissions projections 2019 put national electricity generation at just over 242 billion kWh in 2020. 73% of this is still fossil fuels. We’ll replace it all with the equivalent solar or wind, specifically multiples of defined plants. For solar we’ll use one of Queensland’s newest installations, the 100 MW(ac) Clare Solar Farm, which produces 0.26 billion kWh per year. For wind, Queensland’s largest wind farm at Coopers Gap makes 1.51 billion kWh each year from 453 megawatts. That 73% equates to 176.6 billion kWh now served by 679 additional solar farms or 117 additional wind farms.

“Now”?

Transport

The primary energy consumed by road transport was 1,239.4 PJ for FY2018 according to Australian Energy Update 2019. For our purpose we’ll assume the same for 2020. Then, assuming the efficiency of conventional engines as 30%, and the efficiency of battery electric vehicles as much higher at 77%, we can reduce this consumption to 428 PJ, without traveling less, by trading in all vehicles over the next three decades. Since 428 PJ ≈ 134 billion kWh, we need another 516 solar farms or 89 wind farms.

Industrial processes

Industrial processes are dominated by mineral, metal and chemical industries. There’s no annual PJ consumption figure for the mineral industry component in Australian Energy Update 2019, so we’ll infer it from the million tonnes CO₂-equivalent value, MtCO₂-e (Australia’s emissions projections 2019 Figure 17) which is roughly similar to that of the chemical industry. The total is 863.1 PJ, about 240 billion kWh after achieving complete electrification, which is admittedly rough since this is covering a multitude of industrial processes. But it would need to be supplied by another 922 solar farms or another 159 wind farms.

Direct combustion

We’ll swap out today’s fossil fuels with green hydrogen in this component.

Source: PV Magazine

Final tally

Under this simplified estimate of what would be needed in 2050, we need to add a total of about 1,660 billion kWh per year extra, generated from solar or wind, to Australia’s supply. The implied construction rate is equivalent to almost 213 Clare Solar Farms, or over 36 Coopers Gap Wind Farms, every year for three decades.

“Net Zero” Australia by 2050
Source: Arena
Source: TerraPower

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Oscar Archer

Eco-modernism, clean energy abundance and enhanced opportunity for future generations.