Often at the frontline of extreme weather, Australia has long been a proponent of renewable energies and continues to play a strong international role on issues of climate change. Where does coal fit into future plans?

In 2015, Canberra signed the Paris COP21 Agreement pledging to reduce its carbon emissions. The government concurrently set its own voluntary target aiming to secure 23% of its energy from renewable sources. But a string of recent blackouts might have prompted Canberra to change tack.

Following a massive storm last autumn, South Australia was plunged into darkness after high voltage power lines were severed by a series of tornadoes. A subsequent December blackout wreaked havoc on a major industrial plant, which suffered damages that required a multi-million dollar government bailout. Investigating the catastrophic failure of backup systems to kick in, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) concluded that South Australia’s reliance on renewables played a significant part in producing the outage, as wind farms shut down for security reasons.

As a result, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister has claimed that the country’s renewables target could be reduced as coal plants with high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technology could provide a solution to Australia’s energy security. His comments faced significant backlash from opposition MPs and from an independent government-commissioned study stating that Australia would be unable to meet its emission targets if the current policy remains unchanged.

Australia, therefore, faces a conundrum: while heavily investing in renewable energy could eventually lead it to meet its emission targets, the blackouts in South Australia are emblematic of the debate over the state government’s over-reliance on renewable energy grids. In Australia where targets for renewable energy technology are set at the state level, this has led to political bickering where parties have attempted to “show off” that their targets work better than the opposition’s policies. Essentially, it’s not so much about protecting the environment as it is about beating your…

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