With an election imminent, it’s now or never for our political leaders to be braver and bolder on climate change through both coherent policy and immediate action, writes Engineers Australia’s CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans AM HonFIEAust CPEng.
Rapidly transforming the electricity sector is vital. Not only is the current electricity grid our biggest emitter, but much of our economy — from transport to heating and heavy industry — will need to switch to electric energy to reduce emissions. That shift will only succeed with a larger, zero emissions power network.
Right now the energy transition is moving fast and on a hopeful trajectory. Key technologies such as smart inverters and batteries are enabling fundamental shifts across the grid.
Engineering is at the heart of this rapid deployment of existing technologies. Engineers are also at the forefront of developing innovative and affordable technologies and systems to create climate solutions such as green hydrogen, low emissions steel, energy storage, and carbon capture utilisation.
In 2022 we know a modern electricity grid, powered by diverse renewable energy and storage, can provide reliable, clean and affordable power. Operating the grid within technical parameters ensures the system remains stable. Adding storage such as grid scale batteries and pumped hydro, and increasing interconnection between states, will enhance the security, stability and reliability of the power supply.
CSIRO, AEMO and the Finkel Review have all said there are no technical barriers to Australia achieving secure, reliable power using a high proportion of renewables.
We have the technology. Over the next few years we must link these technologies with the right operational architecture and market reforms to demonstrate that they can be delivered at scale.
But there will still be challenges. The NEM Engineering Framework has identified issues such as the significant increase in the number of electric vehicles and energy efficient buildings in the future.
The complexity of the task is exacerbated by the fact that for a period we must maintain the capabilities of the current system while at the same time design and implement the future system. Different stages of the transition will throw up challenges that require choices to ensure we can balance supply and demand.
The supply of necessary skills, particularly engineering skills, is critical. Our leaders must put an energy workforce plan in place that enables the energy transition to continue quickly and at scale.
The stakes are high — climate change is an urgent challenge and requires the biggest engineering transition Australia has faced
A decade ago, the idea of an electricity grid based on wind and solar backed up by storage did not seem real. The Australian Energy Market Operator expects the share of renewables to be around 80 per cent by 2030. Labor’s emissions targets assume an 82 per cent share of renewables in the grid by 2030, and the federal Coalition is forecasting 69 per cent.
Both sides can do better.
Come election day this will be front and centre of many voters’ minds.