Aussie Climate Authority Member Demands Net Zero by 2040 – Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

A surprisingly timid target from a member of Tim Flannery’s climate council.

Australia should reach net zero by 2040, new Climate Change Authority member says

Exclusive: Prof Lesley Hughes, a climate specialist appointed this week, says the current target is not good enough

Graham Readfearn @readfearn Sat 17 Sep 2022 06.00 AEST

A new scientific member of the government’s revamped Climate Change Authority has said Australia should be aiming to reach net zero at least a decade earlier than 2050.

Prof Lesley Hughes, a biologist and climate change specialist, said Australia’s current climate target for 2030 was “not good enough” but said the new government was showing a willingness to listen to the science.

Hughes is one of three new female appointments announced by energy minister Chris Bowen earlier this week to address concerns the authority’s board was weighed too heavily towards business and fossil fuels.

The Albanian government has legislated a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, based on 2005 levels – an increase on the Morrison government’s 26% cut.

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My question, why not aim for 2035? Or 2030?

Peak Australian electricity use is 32GW. World Nuclear gives the cost of a new plant at $2500 / KWh in China. So $2500 x 1000,000 x 32 = $80 billion to eliminate Aussie electricity CO2 emissions.

I’m using Chinese figures, because I’m assuming an element of mass production efficiency, like France achieved in the 1970s, or China is achieving today.

How long does it take to build a nuclear plant? Around 5 years according to world nuclear. But you don’t have to build them one at a time – all of them could be built in parallel.

There are currently 55 nuclear plants under construction – so there are plenty of nuclear engineers available to assist an Aussie mass buildup of nuclear power capacity. Retired senior nuclear engineers would come out of the woodwork to support a project like that.

Starting today, Australia could achieve electricity net zero by 2027. Or if we add a few years for the politicians to get their act together, including 12-24 months for a few locals to be trained as nuclear plant operators, so lets say 2030.

Of course we wouldn’t need 32GW of energy all the time, that’s the peak power demand. Most of the time demand is much lower. So building 32GW of nuclear power would provide vast amounts of cheap surplus zero carbon electricity for industry, like Aluminum smelters, so Australia could climb the value chain by selling a higher proportion of processed minerals. Some of that energy could also be used for cheap overnight recharges for EVs. Renewables struggle to provide decent output at night – even wind tends to drop after sunset.

If you think these numbers are ridiculously optimistic, we have proof it is possible. France converted their electricity from fossil fuel to nuclear in the 1970s, most of their electricity still comes from nuclear reactors. The French motivation was energy security rather than climate change, but if climate change really is such an emergency, the French provided a roadmap others could follow. Some of the engineers who converted France to zero carbon nuclear in two decades are still alive, and could share their lessons.

My point is, there is no need for Climate Counselor Professor Lesley Hughes to be so timid. Especially since the Climate Council maintains wind and solar are cheaper than coal, and battery storage is doable, so no doubt her numbers for converting Australia to renewables are even more optimistic than mine.

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