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How countries can go fossil fuel free with wind and solar superpowers

South Australia is a renewable energy champion and now plans a truly fossil fuel-free grid. How did it make such a remarkable turnaround, and can the rest of the world follow suit?

By Alice Klein

24 October 2023

Australia, Northern Territory, Hermannsburg, Solar Power Generating Station in Outback

Clever use of solar and wind energy is providing three quarters of South Australia’s power

Paul Souders, Getty Images

A DECADE ago, the main landmark in Port Augusta, a town in South Australia, was a 200-metre-tall chimney puffing fumes from a coal-fired power station. “You could see it from 40-odd kilometres out,” says Gary Rowbottom, who worked at the plant for 17 years.

Today, however, there are no hints of this history. The chimney is gone and the sky is a pristine blue. The chief landmark now is a tall tower topped by a dazzling light, where sunlight reflected from 23,000 mirrors on the ground is focused to power four giant greenhouses in which tomatoes are grown. Next door is the newly built renewable energy park, home to 50 wind turbines and 250,000 solar panels.

Port Augusta is representative of a remarkable shift that has swept South Australia. In 2007, just 1 per cent of the state’s electricity came from solar and wind. Now it is 73 per cent (see below graphic) – the highest proportion of any major grid in the world. On days that are particularly sunny and windy, it powers itself with 100 per cent renewables. That happened on 180 days in 2021 and for a 10-day consecutive stretch in December 2022. The state is now racing to ramp this up to renewable-only power year-round.

Coming from neighbouring New South Wales, where just 31 per cent of electricity is from renewables, I find this clean energy rush highly enviable. It is also highly instructive to the wider world, which needs …

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