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Emissions sink for first time in years as power sector pollution falls

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Black coal-fired generation has made way for the increases in clean energy output, dropping to its lowest quarterly level in three years in the final quarter of 2019 at 25.2 terawatt-hours, Ndevr said, citing data from the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Among the states, NSW sourced a record 19 per cent of its electricity from renewables including roof-top solar in the December quarter, up three percentage points on the previous quarter.

Victoria, too, sourced a record 23 per cent of its power from renewables for the period, with both rooftop and large-scale solar generation setting new highs. Tasmania led all states with a 98 per cent share for renewables.

While welcome, the emission reduction rate was “a long way off” the pace needed to meet the Paris climate goals which Australia has signed up to, said Matt Drum, Ndevr’s managing director. On the current trajectory, the country would still overshoot its Paris targets by over a full year’s worth of carbon emissions.

Initial analysis of 2020 figures show electricity consumption has only registered a slight decrease even with the coronavirus disruption. Power usage in March was about 5 per cent below the same month a year ago, and down only 2 per cent for April.

Emissions from the burning of liquid fuels, such as for cars, ships and aircraft, will likely show a much steeper reduction – before some bounce back as economies recover. Any pollution cut, though, will probably make little impact on the longer-term climate crisis.

“We don’t need a six-month downturn in emissions,” Mr Drum said. “We need a long-term systemic downturn.”

Transport emissions in Australia likely remained near record levels at the end of 2019, although some reversal is now underway because of the COVID-19 virus's impact on the economy.

Transport emissions in Australia likely remained near record levels at the end of 2019, although some reversal is now underway because of the COVID-19 virus’s impact on the economy.Credit:Dmitry Panchenko

Angus Taylor, the federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, said the government was “taking real and meaningful action to reduce emissions”.

“We currently source around a quarter of our electricity from renewables in the National Electricity Market,” he said. “Official projections forecast this will grow by more than 40 per cent by 2025.”

Separately, analysis by RepuTex – a carbon market consultancy – estimates even current policies will see renewable energy’s share of the electricity supply reach half by 2030 and three-quarters by 2040.

The shift, underpinned by state policy such as the Victorian and Queensland renewable energy targets, will drive about 17 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity by 2030. Rooftop solar will add another 4GW. By 2040, some 18GW of thermal coal capacity will exit the market, or just over half the current level, RepuTex said.

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