Best option for Australia is renewable energy

Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis has re-ignited debate about Australia jumping on the nuclear power bandwagon. Nuclear proponents continue to support the technology although the full impacts of the Fukushima disaster are unknown. Opponents have used the catastrophe to reiterate the dangers of nuclear fuel.

Rather than get bogged down in a tit-for-tat debate, we should step back and ask whether Australia needs to consider nuclear power. The answer is a simple "no". Nuclear power is not necessary to solve Australia’s climate and energy challenges.

Proponents point to progress in France and China to support their case for nuclear power. China is mainly building second-generation nuclear plants that would not meet the stringent safety standards demanded in developed nations like ours.

The Chinese have halted new projects in the wake of the Fukushima accident.

A nuclear reactor in Australia would need to be one of the newer and safer third-generation plants. While there are a number of third-generation designs, construction efforts are being hampered by delays.

Despite the industry’s efforts, there is yet to be a Gen III+ reactor commissioned.

In Finland, the Olkiluoto 3 plant being built by the French nuclear power company Areva is three years behind schedule and more than 50 per cent over budget.

While the first plans were made in 2000, the plant won’t start producing electricity until at least 2013.

Globally, investment is flowing to renewables. The difficulty in delivering a nuclear plant on time and budget is perhaps the reason Areva has diversified its energy portfolio.

Areva recently bought leading German wind energy company Multibrid and Australian-US solar thermal company Ausra.

Meanwhile, the French Government will invest 10 billion in offshore wind farm plants to produce 3000 MW of wind power electricity.

German industrial giant Siemens has sold its 34 per cent stake in Areva and is unlikely to follow through a nuclear joint venture with Russian Rosatom.

The Melbourne Energy Institute and Beyond Zero Emissions have done the sums. Our Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy plan shows we can power our economy with 100 per cent renewable energy. Australia has the economic and industrial strength to make the shift in 10 years.

Concentrating solar thermal (CST) power can produce electricity from the sun whether it is shining or not.

CST power towers are equipped with molten-salt energy storage that can store over 15 hours worth of energy. This technology can provide the energy needed to reliably power Australian homes and industries all day.

THE Government has not done enough to position Australia for lucrative clean energy markets. The Prime Minister believes that carbon price alone is enough for deploying renewable energy at scale.

Around the world we see a different story. The driving force behind the leading markets in Europe are Feed-In-Tariffs — premium payments for renewable energy which reduce year-on-year as the technologies get cheaper.

For Australia to develop nuclear power would take 15 to 20 years — too long to contribute to the emissions reductions and energy security needed now.

Given Australia has the best solar radiation of any developed country, we are better suited to building commercially available base-load solar thermal and other renewable technologies, which can be completed in two to four years.

If we move now, we can develop the expertise and jobs locally. Delay further, and we’ll be buying clean technologies from overseas.

By Patrick Hearps, research fellow at the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute,