Keeping up with California: Australia and renewables

CALIFORNIA’Sapproach to renewable energy is simple – go big or go home. As an Australian environmental engineer, I recently travelled abroad to witness first hand how the world’s sixth-largest economy is reaping the benefits of transitioning to clean power.

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It’s trueeverything in California is on a grand scale – so it was no surprise to see that the way Californians approach renewable energy is no different.

California’s optimistic, can-do attitude has seen this US state consistently setting and meeting strong renewable energy targets. Republican and Democrat leaders alike have backed these targets. California’s leadership on renewable energy and climate policy has enticed clean tech businesses to flock to the state and spawned hundreds of thousands of new jobs as a result.

In fact, California’s economy is booming, while its population grows – all while simultaneously slashing emissions.

The aptly named Golden Stateis already on track to achieving its target of 50 per centrenewable energy by 2030. But with Californians constantly having their eye trained on what’s next, a target of 100 per centby 2045 already awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown to become law. As the US federal government tries to hold back the inevitable wave of progress, California – along with the majority of US states – is embracing its renewable energy future with speed and conviction.

It’s the same story Down Under, with Australia’s federal government sitting on its hands when it comes to embracing renewables and rolling out strong climate and energy policy.

However, the good news is Australian states and territories are forging ahead regardless.

The Australian Capital Territory has demonstrated you don’t necessarily need to the size of California in order to make a mammoth difference.

Last year, the ACT’s 100 per centrenewable energy target supported more than half of the new large-scale wind and solar capacity brought online across Australia.

The territory’s reverse auctions for new wind and solar projects have provided tangible evidence that renewable energy is the cheapest form of new power generation. Remarkably for Australia, the ACT’s 100 per centrenewable energy target – like California’s – even has bipartisan political support.

When it comes to bold announcements, South Australia could well be Australia’s answer to California. World’s biggest lithium ion battery? South Australia. World’s largest solar thermal power tower with storage? South Australia. South Australia – which is approaching 50 per cent of its power supply from wind and solar – is taking the next step, demonstrating that renewable energy plus storage can provide power 24/7.

Other states and territories are also picking up the pace. Indeed, as the federal government stalls on climate and energy policy, Australian states are now racing to take the lead. In addition to South Australia and the ACT, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmaniaand New South Wales all have a renewable energy target or zero net emissions target in place. Large-scale wind and solar plants are sprouting in everywhere with more than 30 under construction around the country this year.

Australia already has so much in common with California – sun, surf, laid back lifestyle.With our states and territories charging ahead, we could soon be leaders in renewable energy too.

Petra Stock is aclimate solutions and energy analyst for theClimate Council.

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