This was a bit surprising to me too. All new power plants constructed in Australia from now through 2020 are expected to be renewable, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). This might be due to the carbon tax that was instated in 2012. The purpose of a carbon tax is to bill the owners of CO2-emitting equipment, such as fossil-fueled power plants to discourage them from using those plants, and hopefully use emissions-free and low-emissions generators such as solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass-fueled generators.
Most of the new renewable generation capacity expected is wind power, while solar is in a distant second place at 13%, and 3% should be biomass.
As the IEEE Spectrum website said:
‘The bulk of the new power will be wind, with large-scale scale solar photovoltaics comprising about about 13 percent and biomass making up the rest at 3 percent. There are nearly 15 800 megawatts of proposed wind generation projects, according to the AEMO. More than 780 MW of the wind power is expected to come online in 2014-2015.’
The IEEE said that even without the carbon tax, coal power plants will still be retired as more renewable power generators come online and render them unnecessary. If a generator which consumes no fuel generates enough electricity, there is no point in leaving coal power plants on to burn coal. However, if they really become totally unnecessary, they will decommissioned, which is what the IEEE was referring to.
The biomass holds its rightful place, as it can provide backup for solar and wind farms, plus biomass-fueled generators consume the potent greenhouse gas methane, which would have otherwise been released by the biomass into the atmosphere by the biomass’ natural decay anyway, and that would contribute to global warming. It may as well be put to use.
To put that into perspective, methane is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2. Putting it to use would actually reduce methane emissions by diverting it to generators instead, which would produce the more benign CO2.