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Australia could produce 200% of energy needs from renewables by 2050, researchers say

Australia could run entirely on renewable electricity and produce double what it needs to create a massive green export industry by 2050, leading experts say.

A report from scientists working under the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub has examined the economic opportunities of decarbonisation over the coming decades.

It finds that with the right policy support, Australia could become a global leader “both in climate mitigation and the export of zero-carbon energy” in the form of green hydrogen, green steel and other products such as aluminium produced from green electricity.

The researchers examined six scenarios for the Australian economy ranging from the status quo – which considered only Australia’s existing climate and energy policies – to a “leadership + export” scenario, which assumed deep decarbonisation across sectors including electricity, transport and industry.

Under the latter, renewables would produce 200% of Australia’s domestic electricity demand and supply a large export market. There would also be widespread electrification of transport, buildings, heat and industrial processes.

But the researchers note that achieving this would require the world to move to a zero-carbon energy system.

“A fundamental driver is the world essentially deciding to do something about climate change,” said Dylan McConnell, a researcher with the University of Melbourne and one of the report’s authors.

“The demand for hydrogen is essentially predicated on deep decarbonisation around the world and in Australia.”

But he said the research showed Australia could maintain its position as an energy “superpower” in a carbon-constrained world.

“We’ve still got an energy competitive advantage, but instead of coal and gas, it’s wind and solar and lots of space,” McConnell said.

Across the different models, the researchers found that the average system cost and electricity prices of a renewable-based system would be similar to or lower than those of today’s system.

McConnell said they also found a renewable energy export industry would allow for greater scale of renewable energy projects and thereby lower average costs.

Germany has said it expects to be importing green hydrogen as it moves to a net zero economy. It may also be a supplier of some of the technology required for producing those fuels, such as electrolysers for hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuel-intensive hydrogen and will require scaling up for that to change.

But Falko Ueckerdt from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, another of the report’s authors, said this was possible.

“If countries coordinate and agree that they want this and scale it up simultaneously, they can really create an industry around that that’s also competitive,” he said.

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