A framework is being developed that could place Australia at the centre of the Asia Pacific’s future energy map through the use of renewables. So how might this work?
There are many different drivers for the success of renewable and zero-carbon energy projects in Australia, said Steve Rodgers, Senior Policy Adviser with Engineers Australia.
We’re leaps and bounds ahead of every other nation when it comes to rooftop solar installations, and there has also been an enormous uptake in large-scale solar farms, he said. Battery storage is beginning to catch on, particularly with Elon Musk’s very large, record breaking lithium-ion battery in South Australia. And industry and government are also beginning to take hydrogen seriously.
“These all have various causes, whether it be subsidies to households driven by the Renewable Energy Target or mass deployment in overseas markets that have driven costs down the curve,” Rodgers said.
“New technologies are coming through that make new ideas possible, or bring down the cost of production, storage or transport. Now we have found ourselves in this spot and we’re reacting to something that has a global impetus, and we can choose to ride the wave.”
Renewables provide a new pathway and set of opportunities for Australia to maintain its role as an energy superpower, Rodgers said. In other words, they provide an energy creation mechanism that could enable export substitution for coal and LNG, which will increasingly come under pressure from climate change policy.
“For engineers, this is an innovation challenge aimed at boosting Australia’s productivity. Innovation in new infrastructure leads to capital deepening – creating more value from the same investment in productive capacity. This is different from capital widening: building more of the things that we are already good at doesn’t increase overall efficiency or our competitive advantage.”
Australia at the centre
Dr Fiona Beck, a senior research fellow and ARC DECRA Fellow at ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, is the convenor of the Hydrogen Fuels Project in the Energy Change Institute’s Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific ANU Grand Challenge.
She said there are two or three good reasons that Australia could find itself at the centre of a zero-carbon energy economy.
One is to do with our geography.
“We’re at a latitude and longitude that means we are incredibly lucky with our renewable resources,” Beck said.
“We already have some of the cheapest renewable energy in the world.”
She added another reason is Australia has few space considerations, which brings the possibility to vastly expand renewable energy capacity.
“The corollary to that is we have a renewable energy industry that has made a remarkable acceleration over the last four or five years,” she said.
Finally, we are already an energy powerhouse. Australia is the third largest energy exporter in the world (“I couldn’t believe that when I heard it,” Beck said, “so I triple-checked, and it’s true.”).
This means Australian industry and government already knows how to provide the world with energy. We have built the relationships and developed the logistics and infrastructure – for fossil fuels, at least. We’re good at moving valuable commodities and making complex agreements with foreign territories.
Perhaps most importantly, we have the trust and respect of other nations, thanks to our past performance.
“That is a huge tick,” Beck said.
“Plus, our location in the world means we’re very close to a bunch of very energy-hungry nations that might not be able to provide their own electricity, renewable or not.”
As Australia’s shift to exporter of renewable energy plays out, engineers will be central to the process.
Beck, a physicist and electrical engineer, said the work won’t only be in the academic field, it will be in an environment that will have to consider economic realities, stakeholder groups, politics, local communities and much more. Engineers will be vital to its success.
“We’re not just looking for the best scientific solution,” she said.
“We’re looking for the best real-life solution, and that’s what engineers do. We are not just looking for an answer to a problem, we are looking for the best answer and the best application of the knowledge that we already have. And the best people to understand the needs of a multi-disciplinary project are engineers.”
Read our coverage of the Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific ANU Grand Challenge in the upcoming April issue of create magazine.
Hydrogen is mentioned several times… has something changed? Last I checked, it only stored energy, and with heavy losses and many practical problems.
Melbourne University Engineering Dept successfully developed an engine running on a petrol-hydrogen mixture following their research on a hydrogen powered vehicle. This was back in the early 90’s. I haven’t heard much since reading about it then.
Can anyone fill me in?
A few facts.
1. At least half of the cost of roof top solar is paid for by the tax payer and consumers of electricity.
2. The cost of electricity has risen far in excess of the CPI thanks to the intermittent injection of power in the grid; something which has driven base load generators into diseconomy.
3. The cost of energy in this country is such that it is impossible for this country to be internationally competitive in any industry which is energy intensive.
I have studied the matter of the effect of CO2 and am convinced it has no appreciable effect on the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. The fact that Engineers Australia has been fooled by this scam is an indication of the poor level of education of those in charge of this organisation.
For more detail as to why Anthropogenic Global Warming is a hoax, please go to http://www.nvtech.com.au/Climate/AGW.html
Very enlightened, timely and necessary article and I look forward to more in the April edition of Create Magazine!
The most recent bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is heartbreaking and for the sake of all coral reefs and the whole biosphere we have to act fast on global warming and climate change!
How can we stop the powers that be from going back to business as usual lurching from the coronavirus crisis back to the climate crisis and should corporations that get stimulus payment or any other government bailout be made to comply with the Paris Agreement within the UNFCCC?
1. The vast majority of rooftop solar FITs are generally less than the wholesale price of power so in effect solar exporters are subsidising other users because the retailer is paying less than the cost of generation +transmission. If the discount is 3c/kWh and the householder exports 40% of generation for 25 years that repays all the value of the SREC so other users are not subsidising solar users. To the extent that solar reduces the need to upgrade the generation, transmission and distribution and therefore lowers fixed costs rooftop solar is subsidising other users
2. Just like in Germany, the UK and the US we have crossed the threshold where power costs have fallen well below breakeven for new coal and gas plants. Have a look at AEMOs wholesale power prices or those of Texas, or Germany and the UK. It will take a while for the lower wholesale cost to feed through to lower retail prices but it will come in the next year or two. In Germany wholesale prices are the lowest they have been since 2008 and so far this year they have been running at 55% renewables
3. On the contrary, because of the unique combination of wind and solar places like Port Augusta and southern NSW Northern Queensland and the Pilbarra have some of the lowest renewable energy costs in the world because not only is the land cheap and the capacity factor of both wind and solar are high, the complimentarity of wind and solar means that less storage/backup is needed than in most parts of the world