Wednesday, 3 February 2021
There was exciting news this week for those that follow the energy transition that's underway in Australia. The Clean Energy Regulator estimates that in the year 2020 a record seven gigawatts of renewable energy capacity was installed in Australia. This figure of seven gigawatts beats by 11 per cent the figure of 6.3 gigawatts for 2019, which was in itself a record. It was the solar installation boom that drove this new record, despite COVID-19 restrictions impacting upon rooftop solar installations for part of the year. One in four Australian homes now has solar, the highest uptake of household solar in the world, and over 4,000 homes in my own electorate of Wentworth have it. In 2019 Australia deployed new renewable energy capacity at least 10 times faster per person than the global average and four times faster per person than China, Europe and the United States.
In 2020 Australia invested $7.7 billion, or almost $300 per person, in renewable energy. Again, this places us ahead of countries like Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States. Australia now has the highest solar power capacity per person of anywhere in the world, with 644 watts per person, and the highest wind and solar capacity of any country outside of Europe, with 804 watts per person. Over the last quarter of 2020 the share of renewables in the National Electricity Market exceeded 30 per cent, another first. In 2020, in another record, we had 53.6 terawatt hours of electricity generated from renewables, including rooftop solar, in the National Electricity Market. That is 16 per cent higher than the previous record set in 2019.
I think the important lesson from all of this is that the progress that's underway is not linear; it's exponential. For instance, in the six years from 2007 to 2013, when the policy imperative to switch to renewables was just as high but the technology was not as cheap, not as widely available and not as commercially competitive, we managed to install 5.6 gigawatts of renewable energy in total. Last year, in just a one-year period, we installed seven gigawatts.
The story is positive elsewhere too. In the year to June 2020 Australia's emissions fell by three per cent, reaching their lowest level since 1998. Our emissions are now nearly 17 per cent below 2005 levels. If you want to compare that figure to elsewhere, the OECD average for emissions reductions across the same period is around nine per cent. In New Zealand it's one per cent. In Canada it's less than one per cent. As members would know, our Paris emissions reduction target is to be 26 to 28 per cent below our 2005 levels by 2030. The year is 2021, and we are already down 17 per cent on our 2005 levels. We are more than halfway there. It's clear to me that we will meet our Paris emissions reduction target and that we will do this without the use of Kyoto credits, which I hasten to add were legitimately earned by virtue of the fact that we beat our 2020 target by 459 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
This energy transition underway in Australia—and it is a remarkable story of transition—is not being driven by government fear, it's not being driven by taxes and it's not being driven by the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Like nearly every major economic and energy transition we have been through in our history as a species, this transition is being driven by the availability and the affordability of new technology, by commercial imperatives and by consumer appetite.
Fundamentally, I'm an optimist about our ability as a species, as humans, to overcome the challenges placed before us, be it Thomas Malthus's prediction that famine was an inevitable part of the human condition and would permanently limit the population of the earth—when Malthus wrote this in 1798 the world's population was 800 million, and today it's 6.7 billion and on average much better nourished and better fed—or the worries in the 1990s about the rapid depletion of the ozone layer. Today, the hole in the ozone layer is the smallest since it was first discovered in 1982. This is not an argument for complacency, but it is an argument against the counsels of despair that we hear too often in this debate.
Based on our ingenuity and innovation, I believe that getting the world to net zero emissions by 2050 is achievable. I'd like to see Australia do it. I'd like to see us do it sooner if possible. But, as the Prime Minister said in his Press Club address earlier in the week, we need to focus not on the what but on the how. It will be the commercial availability of technology that drives this—our success in engineering new industrial methods, our ability to create renewable liquid fuels, our vision in re-engineering our transport system, our success in creating new carbon sinks in the soil and elsewhere. These are practical challenges, but we have overcome challenges of this sort many times in our history. If we solve for these challenges, we solve for net zero, so let's focus our efforts here.