Renewables will continue to do the heavy lifting for Australia’s decarbonisation and energy generation, but some Australian business leaders see the potential for nuclear energy to make up a small part of the long-term future power generation mix.

Nationally, about 60 per cent of Australia’s energy generation comes from coal, while the remaining portion is supplied by wind, solar, pumped hydro and gas.

Coal’s share of the energy generation mix has declined from over 80 per cent 24 years ago as Australia pushes forward with decarbonising the grid.

Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said there was no guarantee that Australians would pay less for energy if nuclear generation was added to the mix.

“Even if we started today, nuclear power would be 20 years away, 20 years before any power was generated into the system.

“Secondly, we know that nuclear power is about six times more expensive than renewable energy.

“So for both of those reasons, this is a plan for much higher power prices, than if we were just driving more renewable energy into the mix.”

Kane Thornton says adding nuclear energy into the Australia’s grid will result in more expensive electricity.(ABC News: )

The Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox welcomed the national debate over nuclear’s role in Australia’s energy mix, but also warned it has the potential to disrupt an established pipeline of renewable investments.

“We don’t want to see another outbreak of the climate wars that dogged us through the 2010s, and made investment very difficult,” Mr Willox said.

“Policy uncertainty drives away investment, it makes the private sector unsure.”

There are 44 remaining coal-fired power plants in the National Energy Market on 15 sites, and most of them will be retired before 2040.

Mr Thornton said continuing to invest in renewable energy projects is the most efficient way to meet Australia’s emissions reduction targets.

“Renewable energy is doing all of the heavy lifting at the moment on reducing emissions,” Mr Thornton said.

“But it’s much more than that, our coal-fired power stations are closing, whether people like it or not.

“These are very old power stations, they are closing down, and we need to be replacing them with alternative technology now.”

Innes Willox says it’s sensible to have a debate about nuclear energy in Australia, but is concerned it could create uncertainty for investors.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

Small steps

The chair of Great Southern Energy and Sunset Power, Trevor St Baker, wants to see Australia’s ban on nuclear energy overturned.

But he also believes renewable sources will ultimately supply the majority of Australia’s energy mix.

“Community batteries, behind the meter, in commercial premises, have the capacity to provide a major contribution towards the replacement of the 60 per cent of coal-fired generation that we’re relying on at the moment,” Mr St Baker said.

Mr St Baker’s investment fund, StB Capital Partners, backs a range of sustainable start-ups, while he is also the director of SMR Nuclear Technology, which advocates for the use of small nuclear reactors in Australia.

“We set that up not to build nuclear, not to promote nuclear, just to say that if we’re going to get rid of coal, we had to look at all the options for base load 24/7 power.

“And on every other continent, nuclear is a small but important contributor to the energy mix.”

The emerging backlash to new transmission lines associated with large-scale renewable projects means it is important to have all options on the table, according to Victorian Energy Policy Centre director Bruce Mountain.

“There is enormous untapped potential on the roofs of our businesses and warehouses and shopping centres.

“In fact, when you add it up, if it’s suitably harnessed and stored, it can be enough electricity on those roofs to meet almost the entire electricity demand of the grid.

“I think large-scale wind and solar has a role and there are many wind and solar farms that are not problematic, but I think there are many that are, and we are seeing now that the transmission implications answers are enormous.”