SA should harness potential renewable energy industries

South Australia is sitting on a goldmine of potential renewable energy industries, Climate Change Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery has told a CEDA audience in Adelaide.

South Australia is sitting on a goldmine of potential renewable energy industries, Climate Change Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery has told a CEDA audience in Adelaide.

SA has led the country in developing wind energy over the past decade and must take the initiative to build industries around its valuable wind and solar power resources, Professor Tim Flannery said.

"SA has played a particular role in leading the country - particularly in terms of wind energy. That's for obvious reasons: you are sitting on top of one of the world's great wind resources," he said.

"A couple of decades ago people would have said 'it's only wind'. We now know it is a very valuable asset indeed.

"The same is true for your solar resource and great industries, as we've seen, can be built on the back of such resources.

"Someone is going to grab the initiative in those industries in the future and I do sincerely hope it is Australia and SA that continues to do so."

In launching the latest Climate Change Commission report which takes stock of Australia's progress in stemming carbon emissions during this "critical decade", Professor Flannery told the forum that for the first time in years he was optimistic that the task could be achieved.

Dramatic technological changes in clean technologies ranging from solar panels to concentrator photovoltaics, which use lenses and curved mirrors to concentrate sunlight and generate energy, had changed the outlook, he said.

Greater popular support for cleaner technologies, a spike in global investment in renewables and a dramatic drop in the cost of solar panels - down 80 per cent in four years - were also significant, he said.

Professor Flannery said SA had transformed its approach to climate change over the past decade, with wind power generation increasing from around two per cent to 26 per cent of the State's energy supply.

"I think there is now reason to hope that we can turn the global emissions trajectory downwards and so make it feasible to stabilise the climate at less than two degrees above the pre-industrial average," he said.

Professor Flannery said he believed China and the US, which produce 40 per cent of the world's emissions, were on the verge of developing a joint Climate Change initiative.

"If there is a bilateral approach by China and the US, particularly if it involves targets and deepening targets, I think the shift you can say is well and truly underway," he said.

SA's Minister for the Environment Ian Hunter said the State's net greenhouse gas emissions were nine per cent lower in 2010-11 than at the 2009 baseline while gross state product rose 65 per cent.

This proved that "economic growth and productivity can still occur with significant investments in renewable energy", he said.

However, the forum heard that there were still many reasons to be concerned about progress on climate change including that:

  • The world had already spent around 400 million megawatts of the calculated 1000 billion megawatt budget available to it until 2050 and at that rate would exceed the total by 2028.
  • The number of days over 35 degrees in SA could double by 2070 if emissions were not stabilised this decade and SA's agricultural and mining industries were particularly vulnerable to climate change.
  • The fishery that exists off the coast of Tasmania had moved from Sydney waters over the past 40 years due to global warming.
  • Increasing demand for energy from the 1.3 billion people without access to electricity would put pressure on emissions.

Director of Ecological Modelling in the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide, Professor Corey Bradshaw, said Australia's seaweed stocks had moved so far south due to global warming they had nowhere further to go.

"Seaweeds are the forests of the sea - they support most of coastal life. In fact most of our fisheries are intimately tied to the underwater forests or seaweeds. We've seen hundreds of kilometres of shift southward on both the east and west coasts over the last 50 years," Professor Bradshaw said.

"So we are losing very quickly the life support system of our entire coastal eco system and with it goes our fisheries", he said.