Australians embrace the renewable future

Something exciting has taken place across Australia. Despite the swirling misinformation and complex jargon, Australians see a clear path forward for our energy system. 

In a recent poll the Climate Council asked what Australians think about energy – old and new, clean and dirty, expensive and affordable.  We found that most of us are across the facts and understand a modern 21st-century energy grid will be powered by new, smart, clean technologies.

There was a time when most of us rarely thought about energy, except at key moments - like moving into a new house, getting a high bill, or experiencing a blackout. But rising gas prices, plus the lack of policy certainty on energy has  taken its toll on the consumer, making those wincing moments of opening high bills more and more frequent. Our polling found that 79% of us will have to make some kind of adjustment to our household budget to cover further energy price hikes.  

Resulting energy anxiety has led many of us to get smarter about our electricity, with 1.7 million Australians installing solar power to control bills. At a national level two thirds of us think coal-fired power stations should be replaced with renewables. This is smart economics given that new renewables are now far cheaper than new coal.   

To provide affordable, reliable, clean power as the old coal clunkers are retired, Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel has given a clear, independent recommendation to government – that we must incentivise new types of energy – via a Clean Energy Target. 

While the internal ideological machinations of the government continue, three quarters of Australians recognise the importance of a Clean Energy Target. This policy would increase  investor confidence which has been badly bruised from the prevaricating in Canberra. The enthusiasm for a solution crosses the political divide with 61% of Liberal voters saying it is important to implement a Clean Energy Target.

The good news is that with so much community support for renewable energy – change is coming despite federal inaction.  It’s inevitable as the costs of renewables and storage plummets world-wide and the next wave of energy technology is ushered in.  

The challenge, in the meantime, is the vulnerability of our ageing energy system to worsening extreme weather.  The core security issue isn’t scapegoated renewable energy, it is that our existing old coal and gas generators struggle in the heat, and our grid infrastructure is not adapted for worsening storms. 

Energy experts, including the Australian Energy Market Operator, have been crystal clear: heatwaves are a major threat to energy security in the summer months.  

Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, is supercharging extreme weather events, such as heatwaves in Australia.  Which leads us full circle to what is obvious to most Australians.  We must invest in new clean technology, solar, wind and batteries, to replace ageing technology, to foster investment in the energy sector, to tackle climate change, to promote a more secure grid and to control electricity prices into the future. 

Australians are practical people. As one of the sunniest countries in the world and one of the windiest, most people know that we’re sitting on an energy powerhouse.

The Climate Council conducted its polls on energy between August and September 2017.  Further details can be found here: 

Amanda McKenzie is CEO of The Climate Council