Australia will need up to three-quarters of its electricity coming from renewables by 2030 if it is to cut emissions in the cheapest way under a clean energy target.
But a new analysis from the Australia Institute finds the same emissions cut could be achieved with fewer renewables under a carbon price or an emissions intensity scheme – two policies rejected by the Turnbull government.
The think tank’s analysis of modelling done for government agencies, released on Monday, finds the energy sector should do the heavy lifting if Australia is to meet its international emission reduction pledge in the most efficient way.
This is largely because the electricity sector can easily turn to renewables using technology already commercially available, while sectors such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing would have to either cut production or invest heavily in research.
Australia has committed under the UN-led Paris agreement to cut its emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
If electricity is to take on a comparatively higher burden of this task, Australia Institute research director Rod Campbell says it should cut emissions by 40-55 per cent by 2030.
To achieve this using a clean energy target – the policy the government is now considering – would lead to renewables making up between two-thirds and three-quarters of generation by 2030, the analysis finds.
This is substantially higher than Labor’s aim for 50 per cent renewables, which the government has ridiculed.
But if cuts were achieved using a carbon price or an emissions intensity scheme, there would be more gas generation and less renewables.
“It is ironic that government-commissioned modelling shows that the policies that would minimise renewable energy penetration, such as carbon pricing and an EIS, have already been rejected,” Mr Campbell writes.
“All that remains is the CET that would bring in the largest share of renewable generation, or the prospect of failing to meet our Paris climate targets.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure within the coalition to reshape or weaken the clean energy target to encourage the extension or further take-up of coal-fired power.
Institute executive director Ben Oquist warned the analysis showed if the government adopted a weak clean energy target, it risked making a very expensive task of reaching Australia’s Paris agreement target.
He points out the government has consistently pledged to stick to its international obligations.
“It remains to be seen if we choose to meet those Paris commitments the easy way, or the hard way,” he said.