Dim future for coal, report finds

Chain Reaction #119, Nov 2013, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/119

A new report by UNSW academics Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and Mark Diesendorf compares the likely costs of pursuing 100% renewable energy against fossil fuel options and finds that a shift to commercially available clean energy would be cost-effective and relatively low-risk.

The research assumes a price on carbon emissions of at least A$56 per tonne by 2030, as modelled by the Australian Treasury, and estimates a range of costs for capturing and storing emissions from coal- or gas-fired power plants underground.

"There's a very low probability that coal has a future in power stations for generating electricity because even if carbon capture and storage becomes available, the way things are going, renewables will be cheaper," said Mark Diesendorf, an associate professor at UNSW's Institute of Environmental Studies.

The renewable energy scenario envisaged in the paper relies on wind power for 46.4% of electricity generation, concentrated solar thermal 21.5%, solar photovoltaics 20.1%, biofuels 6.2%, conventional hydro 5.6% and pumped hydro 0.2%.

The paper, 'Comparing least cost scenarios for 100% renewable electricity with low emission fossil fuel scenarios in the Australian National Electricity Market', is posted at http://tinyurl.com/unsw-2013