• CSIRO’s executive director – Environment, Energy and Resources Dr Peter Mayfield
    CSIRO’s executive director – Environment, Energy and Resources Dr Peter Mayfield

A new CSIRO report shows existing technologies will enable Australia to halve emissions by 2030 from 2020 levels, under a rapid decarbonisation scenario led by a renewable electricity sector. 

The report, Pathways to Net Zero Emissions – An Australian Perspective on Rapid Decarbonisation, emphasises that an accelerated transition is needed across the economy to meet the goal of net zero before 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5°C. 

CSIRO’s Rapid Decarbonisation scenario projects key milestones in 10-year timesteps that would set Australia on a path to net zero by 2050.

Using existing technologies, Australia can reduce emissions by 52 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030. Beyond that, however, technologies currently in early development would need to be in widespread commercial use into the 2030s and 2040s, particularly to address hard-to-abate sectors.

The investment costs will be substantial, and the role of the finance sector will be critical. 

CSIRO’s executive director – Environment, Energy and Resources Dr Peter Mayfield said there were immense opportunities for Australia to grow new and existing industries and provide essential innovation to decarbonise the world.

He said pressure is mounting for business to speed up its efforts towards net zero.

“This work will help business find a rapid and achievable pathway to net zero appropriate to their sector – guiding investment to mitigate climate change, reinventing industries of old, and creating new jobs in emerging industries,” Mayfield said.

CSIRO researchers applied to an Australian context the International Energy Agency’s global analysis of the technology, energy and investment needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

It’s the first time that IEA’s detailed international modelling has been coupled with CSIRO’s detailed knowledge of Australian industry to inform decarbonisation projections of the economy in this way.

Modelling focused on the high emissions sectors of the economy to develop transition pathways across energy, transport, building and heavy industry, including steel, cement and aluminium; alongside agriculture, the largest energy emitters in the economy.

The report’s Rapid Decarbonisation scenario projects the national effort will be led by a renewable electricity sector:

  •          Renewable sources would need to triple by 2030 to reach 90 per cent of the electricity generation mix. To achieve this, almost all new capacity installed in the next decade would need to come from wind, solar and hydropower supported by increased storage capacity.
  •          Rapid electricity sector decarbonisation is projected to drive down emissions from energy use in housing and commercial buildings, followed by electrification in mining, and later in transport. This highlights the need for more renewable electricity sooner.
  •          By 2040, 73 per cent of cars and light commercial vehicles on the road are electric powered. Decarbonisation of long distance and heavy transport accelerates through 2030-2040.

Funded by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, there are sector by sector report findings which cover the building sector, electricity, heavy industry and transport.

The building report blames inefficient standards for excessive energy use.

“We tend to use excessive energy because commercial and residential buildings in Australia are generally poorly built for local conditions,” the report said.

“Building codes may need to be strengthened to mandate uptake, and failure to do so could limit the pace of decarbonisation.

“The share of electricity in the energy use of buildings will rise from 58% of energy consumption by buildings in 2020 to more than 85% by 2050 and that will be from renewable electricity.”

Almost all new buildings from now to 2050 will need to meet a seven-star rating under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS).

Under the CSIRO’s Rapid Decarbonisation scenario rooftop solar will need to increase 47 per cent by 2030.

This equates to almost 3000 additional homes fitted with rooftop solar per week.

The report said shifts in in the construction and design of new buildings is required to improve thermal (space heating and cooling).

For example, energy efficiency will need to increase by 15 per cent on average by 2050.

“Many of the retrofit opportunities – heat pumps, solar water heating, and electric or induction stoves – are already commercially available,” the report said.