Transitioning Queensland to Clean Energy

Our Sunshine State has a world class solar resource, and good wind, wave and biomass resources. So people often ask me, “What would it take for Queensland to transition away from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy (RE), combined with energy efficiency? Is it technically and economically possible to do this?” The answer to the last question is a resounding yes! The answer to the earlier question is explained here.

Energy Transition is happening

As International Energy Agency (IEA) reports show, such an energy transition is happening internationally, but slowly in Australia. Denmark, China, Germany and other EU countries are leading the way, with Germany on the path to cutting total primary energy use by 50 percent and generating 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2050. It is already generating 30 percent of electricity from renewables. Denmark, with 39% of electricity consumption from wind in 2014, is on track towards its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035.

Fig 1

Figure 1 – 420MW Marcarthur Wind Farm by AGL and Meridian, 290km west of Melbourne

There is huge growth occurring internationally in RE with 59 percent of all new electricity capacity coming from renewables in 2014, and investment expenditure of $270 billion. Globally, renewables are providing 23 percent of electricity generation, and 19 percent of total final energy use. There are over 7.7 million people employed directly and indirectly in RE jobs. Levelized costs of energy for electricity generation from biomass plant, hydro, wind and solar PV are now competitive with new coal and gas plant in most parts of the world.

The future is in the RE industry

In Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and ACT are the leaders, with SA providing 40 percent of its electricity demand from the wind and sun. A transition to a largely RE based electricity system in Queensland had started under the Bligh Labor Government’s Queensland RE Plan (2012). Modelling showed that this transition could have been achieved over about 20 years, as shown in figure 2, if the RE Plan’s momentum had been maintained.

Fig 2

Figure 2 – Modelling of former Labor Government RE Plan and Projected Transition to 100% RE Electricity (Source: Berrill, 2012)

Note For assumptions in this modelling, see Berrill, 2012

The Australian RE industry has grown dramatically since about 2008 according to Clean Energy Council (CEC) reports, with a peak of over 24,000 direct jobs in 2012. This dropped to 20,000 by 2014, about the same number as employed in Queensland’s coal industry, due to lack of policy support by Federal and State LNP governments. Renewables now generate about 14 percent of Australian electricity demand, with total investment since 2001 exceeding $26 billion. Some State and Local governments are getting behind the RE industry again, as they realise that future jobs and investment lie in the RE industry, not coal and gas.

Queenslanders have the dubious honour of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission in the world, more than 40 tonnes per person per year according to the State Government’s 2009 ClimateQ report. We have a lot at stake with our world heritage areas and agriculture already feeling the impacts of global warming. So we know we need to pull our weight in addressing global warming.


Figure 3 – Queensland’s CO2e Emissions Projection under Business as Usual

Note: The yellow line indicates 2000 emissions. The blue line denotes the national target of 60 percent (as of 2009) reduction below 2000 levels by 2050 applied to Queensland’s emissions.

We are trying, with over 400,000 roof-top solar PV systems and about 240,000 solar hot water systems on homes. Almost 30 percent of homes now have solar systems. That’s a great effort and shows our willingness to use solar if given the right signals. Currently we have about 2,300 Megawatts (MW) of renewables, large and small, generating an estimated 4,400 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) annually (excluded hydro pumped storage). This is enough energy for about 570,000 homes. Biomass plant (30%) and solar PV (38%) generate most of the renewable energy, with hydro (run of river) (20%) and solar water heating (11%) making large contributions.

We are doing okay, but need to do better

In total, renewables currently provide almost 10 percent of total electricity consumption. Clearly we need to do better and we need to address other sectors such as transport and agriculture if we are to shift to a largely renewable energy powered society. The role of government is essential in providing the right signals and addressing structural issues.

The State Government has stated an aspirational goal of 50 percent RE electricity generation by 2030, which is a laudable target. So just how much RE generating capacity would be required to meet projected electrical energy demand by that time, and what might be the most appropriate RE technologies to use? Clearly, it will be a mix of the most economically viable technologies. Both Bloomberg and International Energy Agency (IEA) reports show that the most competitive technologies are wind farms and solar hot water, solar photovoltaic (PV), and biomass plant (e.g. sugar mills). Solar (concentrating) thermal electric (STE) is more expensive but expected to be competitive with coal by 2020. Hot rock geothermal and wave power plant have potential but are still in the R&D phase.

To achieve the Government’s 50 percent RE target by 2030, we need about 9300MW of RE capacity made up of a portfolio of technologies such as:

  • 1,000MW of biomass plant (currently 464MW)
  • 200MW hydro plant (run of river)(currently 167MW)
  • 1,000MW hydro (pumped storage)(currently 500MW)
  • 600MW solar hot water equivalent (currently 397MW)
  • 1,500MW wind farms (currently 12MW)
  • 2,000MW STE plant (currently zero)
  • 3,000MW solar PV both small and medium-sized rooftop and on-ground power stations (currently about 1,300MW)
Fig 4

Figure 4 – Spanish Concentrating Solar Thermal Electric Power Stations by Abengoa Solar

When combined with very modest energy efficiency measures to reduce the projected growth in energy consumption, this RE portfolio would provide an estimated 50 percent of projected electrical energy consumption by 2030, or about 29,000GWh. Such a portfolio would form a distributed generation network across the State, with embedded storage at strategic locations within the network, and controlled with smart communications (known as the smart or intelligent grid). The result would be a cleaner, more resilient, reliable and efficient electrical energy system, one that could handle the more frequent extremes in weather that are already a consequence of global warming. Furthermore, this would assist regional development with farmers diversifying their income by leasing non-productive land to wind or solar farms.

Investment and jobs will flow

So what level of investment and jobs could result from this scenario? Using CEC and IEA reports, I estimate that such a RE portfolio would involve up to about $19 billion of direct investment, depending on final installed costs due to falling STE, PV and storage costs. Using data from an extensive study of RE job creation in the USA, I calculate over 18,000 direct and indirect full-time equivalent job years (FTE – a standard unit of employment measurement) by 2030, increasing from about 4,000 FTEs in 2014. This is a very conservative estimate as it allows for job losses in other parts of the economy, as workers transfer across to renewables, which may or may not occur. Most industry estimates are higher.

The keys to achieving the 50 percent renewable energy target by 2030 will be strong, long term policy that drives the industry forward, and the removal and redirecting of subsidies from the fossil fuel industries to support renewables and energy efficiency. You can view suitable policy measures and details of subsidies to fossil fuels in my recent energy policy paper, “Sustainable Queensland – Transitioning to a Clean and Efficient Energy System”. The paper can be downloaded at

  1. Other relevant reports by the author are available at his website

Trevor Berrill – 2 October 2015

 About the Author

Trevor Berrill

Trevor Berrill of

Trevor Berrill is an award winning, private consultant in sustainable energy (SE). He has worked in both renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) for almost 40 years, including in RE system design and installation, energy efficient building design and energy auditing, research at UQ, QUT and GU, product development, RE education and training and policy.

He is the author of “Solar Electricity Consumer Guide” and author/co-author to a range of RE technical training resources books. Trevor was branch president of the Australian Solar Energy Society and a founding member in Queensland of the Alternative Technology and Wind Energy Associations.

Trevor is trained in mechanical engineering and energy auditing at QUT and has a Masters of Environmental Education degree from Griffith University. He lives in a fully solar powered, energy efficient home which includes the first grid connected solar PV system in the Redlands. He windsurfs regularly at Wellington Point, just to test the power of the wind.



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4 thoughts on “Transitioning Queensland to Clean Energy

  1. There are no simple answers to Jackie’s questions. There are pros and cons to leaving the grid and we need to workshop what constitutes a sustainable future for Straddie and the other Bay islands. I would start by mapping the energy use of the islands, and the renewable energy sources available.

    • Electricity generation accounts for one third of emissions produced in Australia.
      Even a partial transition to renewable energy makes good sense, economically and environmentally.
      I am watching developments at Tyalgum in northern NSW, a small town of 300 at the end of the grid – like Point Lookout. Tyalgum plans to be the first town in Australia to go completely off grid.
      ‘It could save the community about $580,000 each year in energy costs, according to a feasibility study on the concept – a significant drop on the current cost of between $700,000 and $750,000 per annum … The three-year project is still in the early stages and needs a significant amount of funding to come to fruition – anywhere between $4 million and $7 million.’ (The New Daily, 13 October 2015)
      As Trevor says, a first step is to map the island energy use and the capacity of available renewable energy sources.
      This requires long-term thinking. Stradbroke miner Sibelco is the largest user of electricity in SEQ, and we should be getting ready for a more sustainable renewable energy future on the island when mining ends in 2019.

  2. Trevor, it is wonderful to have it confirmed that as local citizens we really can make a difference by choosing to instal renewable energy systems. (And doesn’t it make a difference to have a PM who can make a reasoned assessment about wind turbines?)
    At a household level, many homes on Minjerribah/Stradbroke (and elsewhere) have rooftop solar arrays. I wonder what additional measures would be required if our three island townships wanted to pool their rooftop renewable energy outputs and go off-grid? Other towns in Australia have already successfully done this. Do you think it is a feasible aspiration for the island? Would we need additional solar farms?
    I understand the mining company, Sibelco, is the single largest user of grid electricity in SEQ. Sibelco holds this over islanders as an implicit threat: ‘if/when we pull out of mining on the island, your electricity prices will rise’ (which is nonsense: energy prices are equal everywhere). But it makes me wonder why Sibelco never thought of switching to renewable energy instead of using diesel: Enterprise mine is the third biggest emitter of the toxic PM2.5 in SEQ.
    Rio Tinto has made the change to fully renewable energy at Weipa, so we can infer it’s a sound proposition for a diesel-guzzling mining operation.
    If the island were energy self-sufficient, not only would residents benefit from ‘free’ and clean electricity but energy self-sufficiency would also be a decisive attraction to discerning tourism markets.

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