CANBERRA, AAP – The federal government is “foolish” to waste time and taxpayer money on fossil fuel technology for electricity, an inquiry has been told.

Instead, more interstate transmission lines are urgently needed to bring new solar and wind power to the cities, pioneering solar engineer Andrew Blakers said on Wednesday.

“An effective way to do this is to upgrade transmission lines from rural renewable energy zones to the cities,” Prof Blakers told an environment and energy committee inquiry.

Off-the-shelf technology can be used for battery storage and pumped hydro to support supply and demand, so no new technology is needed to get Australia to 80 per cent renewable energy, he said.

Prof Blakers recommends a National Transmission Network that would connect Perth and far north Queensland to the rest of Australia.

“It would be true nation-building,” he said.

New approval processes would meet the needs of this century.

“Transmission approval is the number one constraint on new solar and wind and is the number one constraint on addressing climate change.”

The Victoria and NSW governments’ renewable energy zones are still lagging, he said.

“The National Broadband Network was ahead of the curve, a National Transmission Network would be an attempt to get ahead of the curve.”

The parliamentary committee inquiry into energy generation and storage is looking at how coal and gas-fired power plants can be used for peak demand, alongside a surge of solar and wind development.

The Australian National University engineering professor said singling out coal and gas as a preferred option was “foolish”.

Australia has declining electricity emissions and falling electricity prices, which Prof Blakers says means deep emissions reductions in the sector will have little cost or will deliver benefits that outweigh actual costs.

“Gas is not a transition fuel,” he said.

New solar and wind power capacity is being deployed in Australia three times faster per capita than in China and the United States, and ten times faster than the global average.

Prof Blakers said “many tens of billions of dollars spread over the next 20 years” will be needed to rewire the transmission network.

The federal government’s energy technology plan for low emissions technologies will subsidise hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, soil carbon sequestration and biofuels, with solar and wind already commercialised.

Energy regulators warn the power system is running closer to its known limits more frequently, with increasingly variable and uncertain supply and demand, and declines in system strength and inertia that make blackouts more likely.