This post is for "steel manning" the prevailing renewables-based policy approach. It is both for advocates who want to develop the best possible case, including responses to objections to it, and constructive critics who want to understand it better or even help strengthen it.
Suggestions for amendments to, or better statements than the one below, and references to credible sources to back it up, are particularly welcome.BEGINS
The mainstream political and policy position regarding Australia’s energy system, starting with the electricity grid, is that it can be wholly decarbonised with renewables (mainly wind and solar with some hydro), backed up (“firmed”) by batteries, pumped hydro and a small amount of gas. To the extent fossil fuels are necessary at all, development of carbon capture, usage and storage will offset the environmental impacts.
Numerous studies have shown that this is feasible. No studies have shown that it is not feasible. Our wealth and abundance of wind and solar resources places a special responsibility on us to prove that a variable renewables-based grid is possible, to electrify as much as possible and to replace fossil fuel exports with clean energy.
Australia does not have large industrial baseload requirements and variable renewable generation can be integrated into the grid to substitute for traditional baseload.
Grid capacity will and must be increased by a large multiple to allow for a) wind and solar intermittency, b) electrification of much transport, all cooking and heating and most industrial processes, and c) to enable production of hydrogen to replace fossil fuel exports, as well as for domestic use.
In this view, while a huge, pioneering investment will be required, energy costs will fall because Australia is abundant in wind and solar which are now cheaper than the alternatives. Costs of renewable generation equipment and batteries have declined faster than expected and will continue to decline as they are scaled up and technology evolves. Carbon capture will become increasingly economic.
Australia will enjoy further returns on investment because it is also abundant in the base metals and critical minerals the whole world needs for electrification.
Issues and risks in the mainstream approach are thought to be manageable or just unavoidable, (e.g. geopolitical security and supply chain concerns, need to increase skilled labour by multiples, funding and social licence challenges, as well as impacts on biodiversity, visual and cultural amenity and agricultural production), given the imperative to decarbonise urgently.
Proponents of this view generally hold that nuclear energy is simply unnecessary, and/or will take too long and/or is too expensive. Few in the mainstream now raise the traditional objections that it is unsafe or toxic or will lead to nuclear proliferation. The social licence for nuclear is sometimes raised.