It has recently been reported that China plans to cap coal use at 4.1 billion tonnes by 2015. This is not such good news for the anti-coal lobby as it might seem because, back in 2010, China announced plans to cap coal use at 3.8 billion tonnes by 2015. Nevertheless, it does call into question the assumption of the Australian coal industry, and the Government, that coal exports will continue to grow for decades to come.

This is not the only recent announcement that announcement that calls some of the assumptions behind the Australian Government’s planning into question.

At the recent ARPA-e conference, U.S. Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, said that the goal of getting the cost of solar power down to 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020 is no longer just aspirational, but a growing reality. This would make solar power in the United States cheaper than coal and about the same price as natural gas. China and India have both already said that they expect solar power to be cheaper than fossil fuels by the end of the decade. India, in particular, expects solar to undercut fossil fuels even sooner because of the lack of an established infrastructure for distributing coal-fired power to much of that country.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government’s 2010 "White Paper", the Australian Energy Resource Assessment, predicts that the cost of solar PV will be 34 cents per kilowatt-hour, and the cost of oil will be an equally incredible $120 a barrel, not in 2020 but in 2030!.

While the rest of the world is recognising that future energy will come largely from renewables and is planning to cut back fossil fuel consumption, Australia’s policy makers are assuming that nothing will change, our coal coal exports will go on increeasing for decades and that developing Australia’s vast renewable energy potential is therefore not a priority.