Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cost, Reliability and Scale: Can Renewables Deliver?

By Tom Biegler

The science of climate change is more certain than the economics of how to tackle it.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Economics, and not science, will dominate the future political debate about climate change. The reason is simple – the science is more certain than the economics.

Scientific knowledge about carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas has a long and respectable history. The 43% increase in atmospheric CO2 caused by fossil fuel combustion since the industrial revolution is undisputed. It’s prudent, at the very least, to accept that CO2 emissions affect climate.

So the question is not whether to reduce emissions but how. Economics will determine the answer.

Take, for example, the 10-year roadmap Zero Carbon Australia, which was published in 2010 for an all-electric economy 100% powered by zero-emission renewables. As with many similar plans, implementation would be cheap and painless. We need only summon enough political will, support renewable technologies and correct wasteful energy habits.

Yet by 2014 solar and wind power comprised less than 1% of Australia’s energy.

Prominent political journalist Greg Sheridan had a different view. Treasury models predicting a cost to the GDP of only 0.1% per annum for cutting emissions were “based on insane assumptions about the economic worth of technologies which had not yet been invented”. There was “a widespread pattern of a disinclination by Western political leaders to tell their electorates (that) a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.