Coal will continue to serve as an important contributor to the Australia’s future energy production, according to a new report released by the University of Queensland.

The report concluded that an immediate investment in a diverse range of energy technologies is vital for meeting carbon abatement targets and building a robust system.

Prepared by the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, the report also found traditional power generation, such as existing coal-fired power stations, will continue to form a central part of the energy mix for Australia beyond 2035.

Professor Foster, co-author of the report on the study's findings, said modelling showed no single technology would see Australia achieve its carbon abatements targets in 2035 and 2050 and that, in any case, coal would continue to play a large part in fulfilling Australia's future power needs. 

“We are heavily dependent on coal and for good reason; 20 to 30 years ago it was a sensible strategy and we have enjoyed cheap power up until about five years ago. Now, the sensible strategy is to diversify our sources of generation as much as possible to improve resilience,” Professor Foster said. 

Report two of a three-part series, the Delivering a competitive Australian power system: The challenges, the scenarios, outlines five scenarios, from a business-as-usual approach built on a transition from coal to gas, to investment in large-scale renewable energy, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. 
The key insights that emerged from the study's modelling are: 

  • The resilience of Australia's power system is currently poor (better only than India and South Africa) and is not compensated by low electricity costs. 
  • Even with a high carbon price, the power system is not on-track to cut emissions by 80%, in line Australia's 2050 emissions targets*. 
  • There is no cost premium associated with shifting from ‘business-as-usual' to renewable, distributed generation and carbon capture and storage. There is, however, evidence of a cost premium for shifting away from coal. 
  • Australia will benefit from investment in large-scale renewable energy projects to operate alongside coal in the foreseeable future and eventually replace the role of coal. 
  • Consumer action must not be overlooked and will be an integral part of any successful model, however an in-depth study into the effect of distributed generation (eg household rooftop solar panels) on the distribution network is urgent and overdue. 

 “At present around 80 per cent of our power is coal and if we switch it off quickly, the lights go out. We believe the only realistic solution is to have an orderly transition from coal to other forms of generation and we think this will take several decades to do sensibly," Professor Foster said. 

“Australia faces two basic choices: either start now on a course of action that will lead to abatement, reduce pressure on electricity prices and offer increased technology choices by 2025; or alternatively, wait until technology options like carbon capture and storage and nuclear power become viable, and then implement the technologies in haste to meet climate change requirements.” 
For the summary or full report, go to