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Australia’s green energy push: Nuclear rejected, renewables embraced

Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, has reaffirmed that nuclear energy will not be part of the country’s energy mix, citing the abundance of renewable energy sources as the primary reason for the decision.

During the G20 energy ministers meeting in Goa, India, Bowen emphasised that nuclear energy has never been considered a viable option in Australia.

He stated, “I’m not here to tell other countries what to do. Nuclear plays a role in various countries’ mix, but in Australia, it never has.”

The decision to steer clear of nuclear power is backed by concerns about the associated problems and costs.

Bowen pointed out that adopting nuclear energy can be prohibitively expensive, generating significant amounts of waste and offering limited flexibility as an energy source.

Additionally, Australia faces the challenge of starting from “worse than scratch” since it has never had a nuclear industry to build upon.

Instead of relying on nuclear power, the country is increasingly reducing its dependence on coal and turning towards gas as a transitional energy source.

Bowen highlighted the importance of gas-fired power stations in firming the grid as coal-fired power plants are phased out. Gas plants offer more flexibility, allowing for on and off operations, a crucial aspect in ensuring grid stability.

Australia has already taken steps towards reducing coal reliance, with one of its oldest coal-fired power plants, Liddell Power Station, shutting down in April after 52 years of operation. Another coal plant is scheduled to halt operations in 2025, reflecting the nation’s commitment to transitioning to cleaner energy sources.

To ensure a stable energy supply, Bowen stressed the need to “double down” on investments in renewable energy, energy storage, and transmission infrastructure. He expressed confidence in Australia’s abundant renewables, stating, “Vladimir Putin can’t turn off the sun or the wind, [but] he can turn off the gas pipeline,” referring to the country’s resilience to external energy disruptions.

Australia has made significant progress in increasing its share of renewable energy in the energy mix. According to the country’s Clean Energy Council, renewable energy accounted for 35.9% of total electric generation in 2022, more than double the figure in 2017. This push towards renewables has correspondingly reduced coal demand, with coal generation falling from 59.1% in 2021 to 54.6% in 2022, while gas production increased by 1.2% during the same period.

However, achieving Australia’s net-zero emissions goals will require even greater investments and sector-specific plans. Bowen stressed the importance of individualised plans for each sector, acknowledging that the government’s role is limited and that businesses’ support and engagement are crucial in advancing the country’s decarbonisation efforts.

Looking ahead, Australia aims to be an active participant in the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in November. Bowen expressed the need for collaborative efforts among countries to address climate challenges, stating, “this COP needs to be a step forward in the world’s ambitions.”

As Australia strengthens its commitment to renewables and continues to explore sustainable solutions, the nation positions itself as a leader in the global energy transition.