Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel is driving the development of a roadmap of technologies which could help us reach net zero emissions by 2050. Engineering expertise and integration with efforts to upgrade the national grid will be key to its success, according to an Engineers Australia submission.
Submissions on the Technology Investment Roadmap discussion paper will be used to develop Australia’s first Low Emissions Technology Statement later this year, which will feed into the Federal Government’s Long Term Emissions Reduction Strategy. The strategy will be released in time for the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, which has been delayed until November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Engineers Australia submission supports the roadmap’s overarching technology goals, including accelerating the rate of decarbonisation of Australia’s energy sector.
But Senior Policy Analyst Steve Rodgers told create that the roadmap discussion paper was framed as a strategy for shaping capital.
“It is trying to unlock private investment in new technologies in order to catalyse economic renewal without direct government intervention,” he explained, adding there needed to be a broader focus.
“If you want to integrate new technology into the grid, you won’t have the capability if you substitute economists for engineers.”
Rodgers pointed out that one risk was that investors would put their money into renewable generation technologies identified in the roadmap, but not be able to safely and securely connect to the grid without access to engineering expertise.
Involving engineers in the process could also prevent implementation issues from cropping up in the first place.
“You need engineers to create solutions to emerging problems, well before we hit a crunch point and are forced onto the back foot,” Rodgers explained.
As well as the integration of new technologies into the grid, the submission flags that a clear and early understanding of engineering issues will eliminate the need to fund multiple projects to solve the same problem.
“It would be smart to coordinate the underlying engineering challenges in the grouping of projects considered commercially viable,” Rodgers said.
To address these concerns, the submission identified two initiatives to be added into the roadmap: establishing a power and energy technical authority to provide expert engineering advice on technology investment and integration, and developing policies to actively build the nation’s technical capability.
Rodgers said these initiatives would give taxpayers the best value for their money and increase Australia’s capability and engineering knowledge.
“You can get a whole bunch of efficiencies by having engineers involved,” he explained, adding that clarification was needed on how the power and technical authority would fit in with the technical review process included in the current roadmap process.
The submission’s final recommendation was to clarify the goals that would be used to measure the success of the investment. For example, whether the technologies identified in the roadmap would improve efficiency, safety and resilience of the grid.
“If you just measure how many dollars came in and out, it doesn’t tell you the quality of the impact,” Rodgers said.
Putting the pieces together
In the next five years, the national grid could securely operate with up to 75 per cent instantaneous input of wind and solar generation. In April, the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Renewable Integration Study (RIS) identified engineering challenges and recommended solutions, including the role of existing and emerging technologies.
If these challenges are addressed, the study states that there are no insurmountable reasons why the national grid cannot operate securely at even higher levels of renewable penetration in the longer term — given the high rate of global technological advancement.
According to power engineering consultant Mark Lendich, it is important for the Technology Investment Roadmap, and the government’s investment strategy which follows, to fit around existing work such as the RIS and AEMO’s Integrated System Plan.
This is acknowledged in the discussion paper, which states the roadmap will complement the AEMO Integrated System Plan, as well as other initiatives such as the National Waste Policy and Action Plan, the National Electric Vehicle Strategy and the National Hydrogen Strategy.
“It’s a question of how all this fits together,” explained Lendich, who has 40 years’ experience in the electricity and gas industries and was a former Chair of the Engineers Australia Electrical College.
Lendich added that while electricity generation accounts for a third of national emissions, other sectors including transport, industry, construction and agriculture also need to transition to low- or zero-carbon technology.
“There’s no single silver bullet, but we need a ‘silver buckshot’ approach,” Lendich said.
“There need to be lots of different initiatives happening cohesively at the same time.”