Imagine if we could get to zero carbon emissions in ten years. We can, argues the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, and the people who put it together. "What, ten years?" you cry disbelievingly, "that's rot...why, that would mean there would be some government accountability!"
You can download the plan here and it will give you a lot more information on the science and percentages of energy resources which will be used in the Plan.

I had the misfortune to arrive a little late to the launch of the Plan, half way through Matthew Wright's speech explaining Solar Thermal energy, which employ molten salt towers and mirror fields to produce and store solar energy (lucky for us Wright's slides are available on the Beyond Zero Emissions site as a downloadable pdf too!)
molten salt tower pic from
I was fascinated to learn (as I became glued to my seat) that these molten salt towers are not a new science, but have been around for 30-40 years. The first was built in 1978  by the French in the Pyrenees, and they have also been used in the Soviet empire. Presently the most molten salt thermal energy plants are in Spain, but Queensland has the perfect kind of light for this kind of renewable energy. Premier Anna Bligh pointed out in her speech that Queensland has a solar capacity much the same as Spain - she said the government had been working with the Clinton Foundation to provide mapping of the best regions for the kind of light needed for solar energy -  especially in the areas west of Townsville. However, Bligh's speech also pointed out that QLD is still running on 80% coal, and that therefore the strains of this plan (presumably financial) fall in different ways in different places. Bligh spoke about the need to manage change carefully, pointing to the insulation installation disaster as an example. She voiced concern about bringing the community with the government, that the government could not streak ahead of public opinion in implementing plans such as the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan - the whole room went silent for a second, and then everybody just stopped listening. It was incredible to be in that room and hear the attention of the audience suddenly divert to their neighbours, and a lot of angry grumbling went on. Wasn't it clear from the standing room only packed room that the community was way ahead of the government on this?

The Zero Carbon Australia Plan projects that 60% of future power would come from solar thermal storage towers, and 40% from wind turbines. Though this would require a substantial grid upgrade, Matthew Wright and his team have tried to work in as many 'off the shelf' products as possible so that current available technologies for grids, turbines etc are being used in the plan. Bligh and Greens senator Larissa Waters both commented on the marked increases in solar power being used in residences and businesses, at the cost of those residents and business owners, and both were interested in seeing more of this technology being used.

Economist John Daly pointed out that this project is an expensive one, but not inordinately so, considering that energy prices are going up anyway (the price of electricity is projected to double in the next 6 years). He thought it would be affected by the usual diseconomies of big projects, but that because solar thermal energy plants are more of a modular design and quite small they are much easier and less likely to blow out a budget than a nuclear plant. He made a very good point that the message of the plan was that we can shift to a zero carbon supply for a not ridiculous amount of money, and probably create a competitive international industry in the process. "It's not like we're fighting a World War," he said.  He was impressed by the breadth of the plan, and said it created a real benchmark for other options, and is a very viable option.  For it to work, he said, it would require serious carbon prices, government support and social changes to make energy usage more efficient, and that it would need to be mostly implemented by the private sector.

Larissa Waters had been disappointed to hear Bligh say that people might not come along with the government because of cost. She pointed out the massive increase in residential solar energy use, and the fact that, according to economists, if we do act now it will be cheaper in the long run. The key thing, she said, was getting a carbon price, getting a National Gross Feeding Tariff in which those feeding excess solar energy back into the grid are paid a standard price for it, and aiming for higher renewable energy targets.
She asked, "Can we buy another planet for 37 million dollars? I don't think so. Why are the QLD government thinking it's ahead of people to act on climate change? If we can bail out the banks, then surely we can bail out the planet!"

What do you all think on this? Too much focus on economics and the free market? Do you have solar energy at your home? Personally I'm a renter, and I have no say in whether I have solar panels on my roof or not. Are you ahead of the government on this issue? Have your say, leave a comment!