by Eileen Whitehead

The Smart Energy Conference & Exhibition (Smart Energy 2021) is Australia’s premier event for solar, storage and energy management hosted by the Smart Energy Council. It was held in May 2021 and the content of some of the speakers have been noted by me, as follows.

This year’s Smart Energy and Exhibition highlighted the rapid rate of renewables entering the energy mix – a pace few could have predicted. However, Australia has yet to reach its potential and must respond to the shifting goalposts to avoid missing its greatest ever opportunity. A robust roadmap, tangible targets and portfolio of plans must be developed.

Kobad Bhavnagri, a BloombergNEF analyst was the first presenter, commenting that 2021 actually marked a point where energy transition had gathered pace with half of the global greenhouse gas emitters aiming at some form of net zero target.

This was an improvement on the 34% commitment the previous year. He commented that, although investment in renewable energy “had flat-lined since 2015” the continual decline in the actual cost of wind and solar meant that the amount of capacity obtained for each dollar, still continued to grow.

For the first time market expansion passed the $500 billion mark in investment in electric vehicles and heat electrification, which is an important goal for decarbonisation. He added that “companies and corporations around the world are also making very credible and science-based commitments to limiting emissions.” They realise that new wind and solar will become even cheaper than operating the existing depreciated coal or gas plants and also recognised there would be “a tipping point just three or four short years away in many major markets, like China and the United States.”

He pointed out that battery storage economics:

“…..continue to improve thanks to the decline in capital costs of lithium ion battery packs. These days, four hours of battery storage is the cheapest form of dispatchable power generation capacity in many major markets around the world, outcompeting open cycle gas turbines or peaker gas in the very cheapest of markets.

The economics of both batteries and renewables means that we are heading towards a global power system which is, of course, dominated by renewables.”

He predicted that about 69% of total electricity generating capacity by the year 2050 could come from solar power. Global coal is declining: it has already peaked and will not rebound. However, he cautioned that although progress was being made, it is essential for a rapid decarbonisation in order to meet the 1.5 degree goal, and to do this emissions must be reduced at the same rate as occurred during the COVID19 economic shutdown in 2019.

An additional $11.6 trillion must be expended on additional wind and solar capacity in order to produce hydrogen from green sources. $2.7 trillion needs to be spent “to store that hydrogen mostly in underground cabins”, then a transmission and distribution infrastructure would cost a further 28 trillion. These vital strategies will need policies, and governments need to step up. We still “need carbon prices in order to be economically viable against the cheapest fossil fuels currently in use in all of these sectors from steelmaking to space and water heating.”

He admitted that the economics are challenging, but a hydrogen economy needs to be built. Better use must be made of “green hydrogen onshore as a fuel for power generation for pig iron or steel, and ammonia for fertilisers.”

The next speaker was Kerry Schott of the Energy Security Board (ESB), who basically stated that coal generators would rapidly be phased out for commercial reasons.

“Generators dispatch on the basis of what’s the cheapest and leading by a long shot is wind and solar.”

She added that the generation system is changing rapidly, thanks to the States, who all have targets, rather than the Federal Government, which doesn’t.

She stressed the importance of battery storage as two and a half million homes have rooftop solar which is “lacking battery storage and more sophisticated energy management systems of any kind.” 

This produces distribution problems where perhaps in the middle of the day there’s no demand for grid power, and ESB are grappling with the transition to seeing more batteries deployed to households. She emphasised that “improved integration of rooftop solar and demand response and pumping billions of dollars into transmission, are integral to the energy security: in turn managing congestion.”

Australia Energy Market Commission chief executive, Benn Barr, agreed that there is a pressing need for congestion solutions to facilitate the new energy mix, saying there’s a need between 2021 and 2040 for around 26-50GW of new variable renewable energy to replace retiring coal plants.

Solar uptake continues to outpace expectations and by 2030 is expected to rise to almost 50% of homes, which will need delivery networks; two-way pricing rewarding exports when the grid needs it; and networks offering flexible pricing solutions and future planning with the technology to manage grid congestion.

John Grimes, Chief Executive of the Smart Energy Council stated that an Australian solar panel generates more than double the energy as the same panel in Germany, which gives Australia enormous national competitive advantage

“We are very well placed to pick up this economic opportunity, we’re on the cusp of the threshold of abundant carbon free energy at near zero marginal cost.” Australia is the cheapest place to invest and make energy, which could underpin Australian manufacturing, using green hydrogen to produce green steel and aluminium, ammonia and cement. “It could re-industrialise our nation and the opportunities are enormous.” The entire transportation fleet could be electrified. 

He negated the government’s mantra that a strong economy cannot run parallel to a safe climate, saying this was “absurd at this critical juncture in history where we face catastrophic consequences of failing to address global warming caused by continued digging up and burning of fossil fuels.”

He went on to laud Britain’s bipartisan ambition for a 68% emissions reduction target by 2030, followed by a legislated 78% by 2035. This led to further discussion of the UK’s plans for renewables, which is outside the scope of this report.

However, it is encouraging to hear that the Smart Energy Council is promoting a renewable-energy led economy in Australia. Please SHARE this information on social media and with as many people as you can.

You can visit the Smart Energy Council’s website at the page below.