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The report, released on Monday by The Australia Institute says that in 2014, 4,300 solar PV businesses employed 13,300 people in Australia – a vast increase on 2008 numbers, when the industry only employed 1,800 people. And Australia’s biggest existing coal-fired power generators, such as Macquarie Generation and Stanwell, employed only 642 and 800 FTE workers respectively, said the TAI. Australia’s solar PV industry, meanwhile, had seen rapid expansion in recent years, as the report illustrates in the graph reproduced below.
As a side note, the report also notes that a recent examination of the productivity of solar panel installation found that Australian workers were superior to their US counterparts. So I guess the other 93 Mt of coal were used for steel production, 3.5 times as much as for electricity? Thermal power stations produce electric energy equivalent to 25%-60% of the thermal energy they use, depending on they type of fuel and the technology used. A kilogram of black thermal coal might yield 7 kWh of heat energy, but only 3 kWh of electrical energy. Consumption of coal for electric power generation in Australia must be up around 80-90 megatonnes. Thanks Jonathan, you’re right, so dividing by an average coal plant efficiency of, say, 40% gives about 6,000 jobs to mine and transport coal for generating electricity in Australia.
The RAA report cited as source in the footnote details direct + indirect employment for the solar PV market (23,500 in 2012, with 5,800 jobs lost in 2013).
Coal powered power stations have also been mothballed in South Australia and replaced by wind energy. In South Australia, renewables have come from nowhere to 30% and soon 40% of total electricity generation in that state. The thing about wind and solar is that they are rapidly implementable (as they need to be if we are to cap emissions in time to prevent more than 2C warming.
The new PM in India has plans to have 300 million people without any electricity provided with basic electricity using solar power by 2019 … that seems ambitious, but a village implementation of simple lights, mobile phone chargers and cookers seems quite doable.
It is really important to look not at what is installed now, but the rate of implementation of solar and wind. Your views about coal might have seemed reasonable a decade ago, but I would argue that they are increasingly outdated as the revolution gets implemented. Hi Keith, I have in front of me a global graph showing renewables ramping up 90% between now and 2050.
In 2012, fossil fuels provided about 87% of the world’s energy, with renewables about 8%. I already have PV and plan to install battery storage in the near future and go off grid, and bugger Hazelwood power station.

Until the mining of fossil fuels negatively impact GDP, the increasing of which is the holy grail of government and our economic leaders, the development of renewable energy will increase slowly. China is the key as they are getting their act together and they don’t have the fossil fuel legacy issues that we have. Given their current trajectory, they’ll get to 500GW wind by 2030 and 1000GW well before 2050. Solar has come from a lower base, but the amazing innovation and scale-up means that most experts believe that solar will soon overtake wind, in which case China will have 1000GW solar maybe before wind gets there (ie well before 2050. With 2000GW solar + wind, plus hydro and storage (solar thermal) and they won’t need any fossil fuels for electricity, nor for transport as EVs take over. The penny is starting to drop in the US where it is appreciated that this is an enormous and game changing development. India is on a different trajectory as they won’t go the massive infrastructure route that China is undertaking. Personally, I think China need to raise the price of power to trigger an even bigger switch – currently the power is cheap and wastage is unbelievable. Re coal still increasing, while it is hard to get clear indications, there is an intention to cap coal use by 2015. 3kW residential solar panel installation for Donn and Christine McPhee at Pacific Hwy Ulmarra. And it is estimated that an additional 8,000 jobs will be created in the four years from 2014 to 2018.
As discussed above, the sooner such an accommodation is made the smoother the transition will be and, in turn, the lower the cost to industry and households. Putting aside issues with indirect employment, the TAI report doesn’t indciate whether it is using direct or direct + indirect electricity generation employment in its comparison. The only reason similar things aren’t happening in Victoria and NSW is determined rearguard action by the fossil fuel industry in cahoots with Govt. The latest projections for wind in China by 2020 are 230GW, with plans for 1000GW by 2050 (I bet they get there much earlier). The problem is that as China and India standard of living rises so does energy use, and CO2 emissions. Modi is interesting in addressing things differently, getting everyone with basic electricity.
The brown coal briquette plant in the Latrobe Valley that supplies Hazelwood and Loy Yang has been mothballed after using up the Federal grant of 50 million dollars. Obviously there is huge pushback from the coal industry, but if not 2015, the cap will come soon after and then they will accelerate retirement of coal plants.

Today they have 11,000 km (more?) of high speed rail and by 2015 it is projected to grow to 18,000km. I hope we elect politician that have the gumption to look to the long term needs of not just Australia but the world, and not their short term political aspirations. Given that there is always around 10% spinning reserve (i.e running but generating little more than enough power to run itself) and the fact that most of the time generators are running at part load, in practice the average in Australia is around 50-55% utilization, then efficiency is significantly reduced.
For this reason, it is probably not that accurate to compare employment in the different industries in Australia. So whilst Australia might be 100% renewables in the short term, coal will still be used extensively in these developing countries.
Remember China’s coal power is a bit over 800GW so wind and solar combined will have eaten into nearly half of that by 2020 (note that coal is still increasing in China) that said, it makes for very compelling reading if what you say is true. You can forget Australian coal exports expanding pretty much from now on, so Galilee Basin is a fairy tale even as the Govt tries to make it happen. I predict China will build the Melbourne to Brisbane rail link for a fraction of what our planners are dreaming of…. We need to make the polluters pay, they are typically large business that make huge profits off the back of fowling our environment!
The turbine output average efficiency across all stations over the year would be less than 30% probably more like 27-28% dragged down by Victorian brown coal. One needs to compare on a global basis, and the truth is that today coal and other fossil fuels provide over 80% of power needs with renewables about 8%. This example of negative GDP has prompted the operators of Hazelwood and Loy Yang to boast that they will import black coal from NSW.
It makes sense to invest in renewables and move towards A FUTURE CLEANER ENERGY FUTURE rather than sticking with an 18th century energy source which has had its day BECAUSE WE NOW KNOW MORE ABOUT THE NEGATIVE IMPACTS IT HAS!
Coal will be with us for the next 100 years or so, and its use will only slowly decline as renewables start to surge in the next 30-40 years..
There is a lot of rhetoric about the cost effectiveness of renewables that the report disputes and there is also a lot of the rhetoric about the cost inequities between coal and renewable which the report disputes. Depending on the feeding and cooling technology a power station uses between 3 and 7% of its output just to run its own fans pumps cooling towers etc. IRENA reports that renewable industries have the potential to be bigger employers than coal.

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