Australia's highly anticipated Net Zero Australia study has been released (April 2023), detailing the exciting pathways for the country to achieve net zero emissions. The study, conducted by prestigious institutions such as the University of Melbourne and Princeton University, offers a scenario-based approach and evidence-driven modelling methods to analyze the net zero pathways for both domestic and export emissions.
The Net Zero Australia study uses a linear emissions reduction approach for both domestic and export emissions, with several scenarios based on the best available inputs and assumptions. The scenarios reflect the boundaries of the Australian debate, including the rate of electrification, renewable build rates, limits on fossil fuels, and carbon storage. The modeling approach involves least-cost optimization and a downscaled resolution to simulate changes accurately.
It has developed six core scenarios to achieve 'net zero' emissions, including the Reference Scenario, which projects historical trends. The scenarios aim to reduce both domestic and exported emissions by following a clear path towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050 (domestically) and 2060 (for exports) starting from current levels. It's important to note that these scenarios are not forecasts but rather a set of goals to work towards.
SIX CORE SCENARIOS
Reference Scenario - is based on historical trends and does not consider the costs of fossil fuel supply constraints. It does not impose any new greenhouse gas emission restrictions on domestic or export activities, and policy settings are frozen from 2020 onwards.
Rapid Electrification scenario - envisions a nearly complete transition to electric-powered transportation and buildings by 2050. It allows for almost unlimited growth in renewable energy production and sets a lower limit on underground carbon storage.
Slower Electrification scenario - includes a slower electrification rate of transport and buildings compared to Rapid Electrification. However, it still maintains an almost unconstrained renewable rollout rate, with a lower cap on the underground carbon storage rate.
Full Renewables Rollout scenario - aims to have no fossil fuel use by 2050, with an almost unconstrained renewable rollout rate and a lower cap on underground carbon storage rate, which is only used for non-fossil fuel sources after 2050 (e.g. cement production).
Constrained Renewables Rollout scenario - has a renewable rollout rate limited to several times historical levels to examine supply chain and social license constraints. There is also a much higher cap on underground carbon storage to make net zero achievable.
Onshoring scenario - involves producing iron and aluminium domestically using clean energy, which will replace the exports of iron ore, bauxite, alumina, and fossil fuels progressively.
The study aims to model different pathways to achieve net zero emissions, highlighting the scale, complexity, and cost of each scenario, as well as the potential implications of key choices on society, the economy, and the environment. However, the study does not make any predictions, consider fossil fuel supply constraints, analyze the costs of inaction on climate change, or model the demand for clean energy exports.
WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO ACHIEVE NET ZERO: NET ZERO PATHWAYS
The net-zero pathways are connected to the six modelling scenarios because they provide a roadmap for Australia to achieve its goal of net-zero emissions. Each of the scenarios explores different options and strategies for reducing emissions, such as electrification, renewable energy, and carbon capture and storage. It's a multifaceted plan that aims to make the most of Australia's resources while prioritizing environmental sustainability.
By exploring different scenarios and modelling their potential impacts, the study provides decision-makers with valuable insights into the costs, complexities, and implications of achieving net zero emissions. It allows them to assess the feasibility of various strategies and make informed decisions about the future of Australia's energy and climate policies.
1. The main domestic and export energy source would be renewable energy with higher deployment rates than historical rates. Natural gas and oil products play a significant role in all scenarios except if not permitted.
2. A large fleet of batteries, pumped hydro, and gas-fired firming would be established for time-shifting solar generation. Medium long-duration ion storage is required, and the expanded gas fleet would be used sparingly in the near term and rarely in the long term.
3. Energy efficiency would be increased progressively by adopting more energy-efficient technology, upgrading technologies, and electrification. The residential and commercial sectors are nearly fully electrified by 2050.
4. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) are needed for non-energy uses and producing negative emissions. CCUS is required in all scenarios except for 100% renewable power (E+RE+) and a net-negative land sector (Land+).
5. Energy transmission and distribution networks would be greatly expanded.
6. Attracting and investing $7-9 trillion of capital to 2060 would be required, which is much higher in the net-zero transition than continuing to use fossil fuels. Domestic total energy costs are similar to their share of GDP today. The cost of abatement is calculated in all net zero cases relative to the REF Scenario.
7. Nuclear has no role unless costs fall sharply and renewables are constrained.
8. Australia has the resources to build a new clean export industry by producing clean energy carriers and 'onshoring' the processing of minerals using clean energy.
9. The new export industries would be located in the north, possibly also in the south.
10. A skilled workforce of about 700,000-850,000 workers with technical skills would be needed by 2060. Most new workers will be in regional and remote Australia, with significant implications for First Nations peoples, national security, and immigration.
11. The land sector would be moved towards net-zero and potentially net-negative by reducing livestock emissions and expanding revegetation.
12. Major land use changes, including the Indigenous Estate, ecosystems, and agriculture, would be carefully managed.
WHAT AUSTRALIA MUST DO
To achieve net zero emissions, Australia needs to undertake an unprecedented energy transformation, revamp its exports, and invest in its people and land. This requires crucial decision-making on the roles of governments, businesses, and households, prioritizing key net-zero options, distributing investment and jobs across the nation, mitigating the impact of land and sea use changes, and fairly distributing the costs and benefits of decarbonization. Australia must also determine its role in global decarbonization efforts.
ABOUT THE NET ZERO AUSTRALIA STUDY
The study is a comprehensive and impartial exploration of the potential pathways to achieve a net-zero future. It is grounded in rigorous analysis, with an evidence-based approach and a technology-neutral perspective. The study has been made possible through generous gifts and grants and has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders. While the study consulted extensively with project sponsors, advisory group members, and stakeholders, it remains independent of them, and its methodologies and results do not represent their positions. The study provides valuable insights into achieving a sustainable future for Australia.
The study provides Australia with a comprehensive roadmap and the necessary steps to take towards a sustainable future.
I encourage you to read the full report, together, we can work towards a sustainable and prosperous future for all.