AUSTRALIA could move to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade if it spent heavily on cutting-edge solar thermal and wind technology, according to an analysis released as part of a community bid to redirect the flailing climate policy debate.
The shift would require the annual investment of up to $40 billion - roughly 3.5 per cent of national GDP - with the largest chunk going towards solar thermal power plants that used molten-salt heat storage to allow power generation to continue without sunlight.
The plan by advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions was outlined at the launch of the Transition Decade, or T10, a grassroots campaign hoping to garner support for dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Pitched as a response to the failure to introduce national and state policies to substantially reduce emissions, T10 won support yesterday from the City of Melbourne, the Australian Greens and Victorian Governor David de Kretser.
Launching the campaign, Professor de Kretser said Australia had a responsibility to act.
''If every person in the world generated greenhouse gas emissions per person equivalent to those of each Australian today, the levels would quickly exceed those predicted to cause very dangerous global warming,'' he told more than 1000 people at the Melbourne Town Hall. ''The consequences for planet Earth … would be disastrous.''
Under the Beyond Zero Emissions model, concentrated solar thermal plants at 12 sites across the country would meet 60 per cent of national energy demands. They would be supplemented by wind and photovoltaic solar panels, with existing hydroelectricity and biomass from burning crop remains as back-up.
Beyond Zero Emissions spokesman Mark Ogge said developments overseas had shown the claims that renewable energy could not provide baseload power had no basis.
Spain plans to install enough concentrated solar thermal in the next three years to power half of Victoria, with capacity six times greater than this in development.
Mr Ogge conceded the estimated investment was huge, but said it should not be seen as just a cost.
''All these power plants pay themselves off over their lifetime,'' he said. ''When you finish we've got a brand new renewable energy system that is going to last 50 years at least and have no fuel costs.''
Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the government and opposition were too invested in ''business-as-usual'' politics to support the change needed to combat climate change.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the government was continuing to negotiate with all parties in a bid to have the scheme passed. He again alluded to a possible double dissolution if the bill was defeated.
''Whenever the next election is held, and whatever form that election takes, both emissions trading and action on climate change will be front and centre,'' Mr Rudd told Network Ten'sMeet the Press.