Bahareh Sara Howard - Modelling the Carbon Budget of the Australian Electricity Sector’s Transition to Renewable Energy

Event type: 
6 September 2017
2.00 - 3.00pm

Climate Change Research Centre, Seminar Room, Mathews Building 4th floor, UNSW, Sydney

Bahareh Sara Howard
School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, UNSW
Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW, Australia

Due to a heavy reliance on coal power and weak federal government policies for renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency, Australia is one of the highest per-capita CO2 emitters in the world, and yet ironically has substantial renewable energy resources. Mitigation solutions such as whole-sector transition to carbon neutral renewable and sustainable technologies have been under developments and expansion globally but to this day, these technologies rely mainly on existing carbon emitting technologies such as coal-fired power plants in their genesis. A discrete numerical computational approach for quantification of carbon footprint from whole-sector transition of existing legacy electricity production technologies based on fossil fuels, to new alternatives based on renewable energy will be presented. This approach addresses the dynamic nature of any given pathway, where the degree of transition has an ongoing, beneficial and compounding effect on future technological deployments as well as overall temporal resolution of scenario development exercise. In other words, as the energy system evolves, renewable energy technologies are made increasingly with renewable energy, thus becoming RE ’breeders’. Using the model, an assessment of the carbon footprint in 22 scenario pathways for the transition of the Australian electricity sector from reliance on fossil fuels to predominantly renewable energy is performed. Results show that every scenario under investigation fails to achieve Australia's national carbon budget for an ambitious 1.5oC global warming limit and around one-third fail the more lenient 2oC target by 2050. In most of the scenarios considered, the reduction in annual life-cycle CO2eq emissions in the year 2050, from taking into account the effect of RE breeding, was substantial, in some cases reducing annual emissions by more than 90%. However, the reduction in cumulative CO2eq emissions resulting from RE breeding only became significant post-2040. Unless a very rapid wide-scale transition is made (to approximately 80% RE in Australia by 2030 with up to 35% efficiency gains) any positive 'breeding' effect from RE feeding RE is simply dwarfed by mainly coal- derived emissions prior to and during the actual transition period. Therefore, early, decisive and wide-scale deployment of a suitable mix from within the pool of available renewable energy technologies will be needed to substantially reduce cumulative CO2eq emissions.


Brief Biography:

Bahareh Sara Howard is a PhD Researcher at the Sustainability Assessment Program at the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UNSW. She workson the development of scenarios to determine carbon dioxide emissions involved in the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy sector in Australia and the world. Sara moved to Australia from Silicon Valley, CA, USA where she completed a BSc in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Molecular Biology at Santa Clara University. After her BSc she completed a MSc with High Distinction in Environmental Management from the University of San Francisco. Her MSc research focused on sustainable development of second generation biofuels with emphasis on Energy Return on Investment. After working in the Biotech industry for several years, in 2008 she joined two veteran entrepreneurs to co-found a CO2 capture and conversion company called Oakbio in Sunnyvale, CA. Sara's passion is in social and environmental entrepreneurship, which has the potential of a broader, multidisciplinary positive impact on the global level.