No “winner takes all”. Renewables v coal – what you need to know

The ABC’s Hack radio show on Triple J has produced a  ‘What you need to know – Renewables v Coal’. The article examines the Australian Power Generation Technology Report by CO2CRC and provides the facts and figures around three of the main arguments you hear in the debate on renewables v coal.

  1. Coal is cheaper than renewables
  2. Coal is more reliable
  3. ‘Clean coal’ is the future

The Australian Power Generation Technology Report provides an unbiased, technology-neutral review of a broad range of generation technologies, their capabilities and their costs for 2015 and out to 2030. Rather than making predictions about which generation sources will contribute to Australian electricity grids in future, it instead provides the information needed to understand what they could look like and how much they might cost. The report uses the Levelised Cost of Electricity* to compare generation technologies.

The key findings demonstrate that there is unlikely to be a “winner takes all” technology, with no single source able to reliably and cleanly supply all of our electricity needs into Australia’s electricity grids 24 hours a day. The future mix of electricity generation will need to be diverse.

Report Chair, Tania Constable, CEO CO2CRC, said, “As Australia and the world seeks energy options that balance financial cost and environmental impact, the assessments presented in this report will help inform the mix of technologies we choose to utilise.”

In the debate on renewables v coal or gas, the argument should not be framed with one technology ‘winning’ against another. The debate should focus on how can Australia provide electricity that is safe, secure, reliable, and economic, and at the same time address the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The International Energy Agency states that a mix of carbon reduction technologies is required to reduce global emissions. Both renewables and CCS on gas and coal power generation will be required.


*The LCOE is a measure of a power source which attempts to compare different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis. The LCOE captures the average cost of producing electricity from a technology over its entire life, given assumptions about how the generator will operate. It allows the comparison of technologies with very different cost profiles, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) (high upfront cost, but very low running costs) and gas-fired generators (moderate upfront cost, but ongoing fuel and operation costs).