While Australia still relies heavily of fossil fuels, and in particular coal, for electricity generation, a new report has charted the rapid growth of renewable energy in the country. It also makes the case that a structural shift towards distributed electricity is an economic and environmental imperative.
The Australian Climate Commission has produced the report, entitled "The Critical Decade: Generating A Renewable Australia." It was authored by Climate Commissioners Tim Flannery and Veena Sahajwalla. The rapid growth and potential of photovoltaics in the country is charted in the report.
The vast potential for photovoltaics is characterised by the reports authors clearly: "Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any country in the world." The authors also note that Australia now has 2 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity, spread predominately across residential rooftops, numbered over 750,000 by mid 2012.
The growth of rooftop solar has been lead by the northeastern state of Queensland, however only 1% of the nations electricity generation is currently produced by solar photovoltaics.
Sahjwalla and Flannery, the latter having a high profile in Australias media, also argue in the report that a shift away from concepts of "base load" electricity and towards more distributed generation will have to occur in the future. For communities away from the major cities, the authors argue that renewable energy will be of greatest value.
The report predicts that wind and solar photovoltaics will be the lowest cost electricity sources at least by 2030 in Australia. It notes that the production costs for photovoltaics have dropped by 75% in the past four years.
"The Critical Decade" concludes with a call to action, with the emphasis being placed on the need for a transition towards renewables to happen quickly: "The challenge in front of us now is to turn the enormous potential of renewable energy into implementation at a large scale, as rapidly as we can. This is the critical decade to get on with the job."