'Tip 4' for Direct Action: Raise the target to 20%

By Matthew Wright Originally published on Climate Spectator


*This is the fourth part in a series of 'Tips for Direct Action'. Read the first part here and the second part here and the third part here.

If we scan the world for 2020 renewable energy ambition, we find that Europe leads the way with a continent-wide target of 20 per cent, a little further behind, as can be expected, is China which is on catch-up with its own 15 per cent target. Most people in Australia feel quite reassured that we're doing our bit following the upping of the Howard government's 2 per cent 'Mandatory Renewable Energy Target' to 20 per cent under 'Kevin 07', which is the slogan behind the Mandatory 45,000 LRET and SRES renewable certificate schemes.

But how can 20 per cent be 5.5 per cent?

It's all in the accounting standards used. Australia's is using accounting standards akin to those of Enron or Lehman Brothers. We've just called our target an energy target then ignored that and gone on and implemented an electricity-only target.

Countries that have a long term shared policy vision for renewable energy, including those countries in Europe, China and even states in the US, accept that renewable energy means (according to the Oxford) "a source of energy that is not depleted by use, such as water, wind, or solar power". It's not electricity which is only one form of energy. So, respecting the lexicographers at all the major dictionary houses, Europe and China as well as some states in the US have meant 20 per cent renewables to mean just that, 20 per cent renewables.

So what does 20 per cent renewable energy mean?

It means all energy - that's electricity for running our computers, lights, air conditioners, heatpumps and induction cooktops. It means gas and oil combusted onsite for space heating, water heating and cooking as well as industrial heat for industry. All energy means liquid transportation fuels and any other fuels that make up a country's primary energy consumption.

In Australia using the term renewable energy, it's just completely misleading. A 20 per cent renewable energy target in Australia delivered as 45,000GWh in the electricity sector is the equivalent of a 5.5 per cent energy target - which is terribly unambitious and not even rating on the world stage. 

So how do we compare to Europe?

Europe's target is known as 20/20/20. It's 20 per cent carbon reductions, 20 per cent energy efficiency and 20 per cent renewable energy. You can find the definition on the EU website:

A 20 per cent reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; Raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20 per cent; A 20 per cent improvement in the EU's energy efficiency, etc...

And then there is the directive:

This Directive establishes a common framework for the promotion of energy from renewable sources. It sets mandatory national targets for the overall share of energy from renewable sources in gross final consumption of energy and for the share of energy from renewable sources in transport.

And gross final consumption is the key. That means all energy, not just electricity, as can be seen in the definitions:

...(f) gross final consumption of energy’ means the energy commodities delivered for energy purposes to industry, transport, households, services including public services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, including the consumption of electricity and heat by the energy branch for electricity and heat production and including losses of electricity and heat in distribution and transmission;

Not a lot gets past the keeper there.

And China?

And China is unequivocal basing their target on zero emissions energy technologies: "15 per cent for the use of non-fossil fuels as a percentage of total energy use."

Kevin Rudd lied to us, but so did John Howard

We've been told it is a Renewable Energy Target but it is not, we were told not once, not twice but three times (the current Liberal government is still going along with this great big porky). Our electricity-only target, the equivalent of 5.5 per cent of energy is even worse still when you consider that Europe as a whole is only expecting 10 per cent renewable energy contribution in the transport liquid fuels sector and will make up the difference in renewable electricity generation. So their 20 per cent renewable energy target is skewed towards much higher targets in the electricity sector.

Grant King be cool, do not fret

It turns out your worries about having too much renewables were just that, worries. The reality is that we haven't got enough renewable ambition and we're not investing enough to reap the dividends of a renewable powered world. At just 5.5 per cent renewable energy by 2020 we are an embarrassment and aren't even in the Arab League, with less ambition than Saudi Arabia.

A real 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target in perspective

If we were to implement a genuine renewable energy target keeping up with Europe and only achieving it in the electricity sector it would need to be 163,000GWh, or around 70 per cent.

If we were to implement a genuine renewable energy target and keep up with China's 15 per cent target and only achieve that in the electricity sector it would need to be 122,250GWh, or around 52 per cent.

Direct Action is the only thing that can save the day

Thank god for Tony Abbott, his environment minister Greg Hunt and untitled energy minister (what's with that?) Ian Macfarlane.   Here's an opportunity to legislate a 20 per cent target across the board. To throw in the 20 per cent energy efficiency target and while they're at it up the country's emissions reduction ambition from 5 per cent (another figure with a dodgy accounting history) to 20 per cent reductions on 1990 levels of CO2 emissions.

A 20 per cent renewable energy target would unleash a huge amount of energy investment combined with removing the blue/green/red tape setbacks that the state governments implemented which are effecting wind. We can basically build renewable energy ambition, build cost reductions into renewable energy sources so they ride off their own bat and bring with it energy and climate security for the Australian community and future generations to come.

Matthew Wright is the executive director of Energy Security think-tank Zero Emissions.

Note from the author: As we all know, the Liberals have been heavy on campaign rhetoric, which is all very well when you are in opposition. But being absent and underweight in deliverable policy doesn't fly when you're in government. When it comes to climate rhetoric Abbott and his protégé Hunt are in their element.  Every time Hunt fronts a camera he is mouthing direct action, but now he has to front the house with a deliverable. I know he is short, so I'm here to help in turning direct action rhetoric into deliverable action. These tips aim to provide meaningful and measurable infrastructure on the ground that will make a difference and beat Labor and the Greens at their own game.