Nuclear power has never been part of Australia’s energy mix because there are abundant renewable sources, according to Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy.
“I’m not here to tell other countries what to do,” Chris Bowen told CNBC on the sidelines of the G20 energy ministers’ meeting in Goa, India. “Nuclear energy plays a role in the mix of different countries, but in Australia, it never does.”
“Wherever you look, there are issues from our point of view with nuclear power,” he said, explaining the problems that can come from embracing nuclear power.
Aside from being very expensive, it generates large amounts of waste and is an inflexible source of energy, he told CNBC reporter Sri Jegarajah on Saturday.
Moreover, Australia would start from “worse than zero” since it never had a nuclear industry in the first place, he said.
Liddell Power Station, one of the oldest coal-fired power stations in Australia, closed on 28 April 2023, after 52 years in operation.
Ronnie Bintang | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Australia is also on the way to reduce its reliance on coal and increase its reliance on gas instead.
“Gas plays an important role in anchoring the grid because coal-fired power leaves the grid… We have negative rates a lot during the day in Australia, and yet coal-fired power plants are fading,” he said, noting that gas-fired power plants are more flexible and can be turned on and off.
The country shut down one of its oldest coal plants in April, and will decommission another in 2025.
“They’re not going to be replaced by coal-fired power, that’s not going to happen,” Bowen said. “This is not economical, not in the future and emissions are bad.”
Renewable energy is the way to go
To keep the lights on, the Australian minister said Australia would have to “double” its investment in renewable energy, storage and transport.
“We have a lot of renewable energy sources… Vladimir Putin can’t turn off the sun or the wind, [but] Bowen said, referring to the Russian president who cut off gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed as a result of the unjustified war in Ukraine.
“For those countries that are blessed with abundant renewables, harnessing that renewable energy, increasing its share of our energy mix, and then exporting as much as possible at the right time is also vital to national security.”
Australia’s renewable energy sector has made steady improvements in the past few years.
Renewables accounted for 35.9% of the country’s total electricity generation in 2022, more than double from 2017’s 16.9%, according to a report by the country’s Clean Energy Council.
The larger push towards renewables has reduced the demand for coal. The report said that the share of coal generation declined from 59.1 percent in 2021 to 54.6 percent in 2022, but gas production increased by 1.2 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Wind turbines seen on the hills around Lake George, near the Australian capital Canberra on May 30, 2023.
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Bowen said Australia needs more investment in order to reach its net zero targets, and this can be done if sector by sector is looked at.
“Sector-by-sector plans are important for Australia because every sector is very different,” he said. “We need a … government view of how decarbonization is likely to occur, so we know where to focus our investment.”
He said there was limited what the government could do, and investment from Australian companies was badly needed.
“I have been amazed at the level of support and engagement from Australian companies – large and small, and from international investors.”
Asked what Australia aims to bring to the negotiating table at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in November, Bowen said “this COP should be a step forward in the world’s ambitions.”
“We have a lot of work to do. We will be at the negotiating table with countries of goodwill to try to get the best possible outcome,” he added.