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Government must connect to a renewable future

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has finally called the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council meeting this weekend. Let’s hope the meeting is not in vain.

While the energy debate has raged all year across prices, reliability, renewables, coal and climate change, the national council of energy ministers has not had a single discussion, despite being mandated to meet twice a year.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has finally called the Council of Australian Governments Energy Council meeting this weekend, stating it was critical to progress the reliability of the grid. He warned of significant challenges from the rapid influx of renewable energy, calling on fellow ministers to help ensure long-term energy reliability, security and lower prices.

Now is the time for energy ministers to join together to urgently deliver our nation a successful transition to a smart decentralised, actively prosumer, electricity intensified, and sustainable energy system.

The well-documented erosion of community trust in our institutions, not just in Australia but across the West, is being driven in part by a disconnect on the response to climate change and energy.

The energy policy debate is now hitting up hard against a climate crisis debate.

This division is being manifested into political impacts around the world; Yellow Vests in France ignited by fuel price increases, the huge unrest in Chile sparked by transport price increases, to millions of people protesting for the School Strike for Climate.

We now find ourselves requiring leadership from governments and support from business. The energy policy debate is now hitting up hard against a climate crisis debate.

Our energy system isn’t simplistically about going from coal to renewable generation.

It is more about evolving our whole energy system. That’s one that is becoming more electrified and more decentralised, with the roles of utilities having to drastically change as more homes and businesses become generators.

A national energy strategy would pave the way for national cooperation to assist the transition to renewables rather than delay, prevent, or discourage it. But that energy plan cannot become again mired in a sideshow of arguments about generation sources. It needs to focus on system transformation.

This strategy must support the upgrading of the grid, the development of decentralisation technologies, the expansion of energy storage, the swift expansion of microgrids across cities and regional Australia, and the evolution of rules and regulations to foster an urgent change. 

The grid is not designed for the flexibility of the renewables world with bi-directional flows as households and businesses pump their excess power back into the grid.

Renewable resources are not always in places with good grid connection, so new transmission infrastructure is required.

The challenge of intermittent generation from large and small-scale renewables requires new systems to give greater visibility and control to network operators for grid management.

These high-tech digital tools are available, but often aren’t being utilised for real end-to-end management of our power supply, and we can confidently expect more innovation to facilitate a renewables-based grid in the years to come.

As an example of new technologies addressing some of these challenges, South Australia has already automated parts of its grid to be world-leading in its self-healing capabilities (the technical term for automated supply restoration) in seconds without a truck being sent.

Australia has a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of the digital grid, with investment in new systems and automation.

Some businesses, such as Bluescope Steel – with purchasing agreements to source vast amounts of renewable power –  and the South Australian Produce Market, which is leading the way with microgrids, are reducing exposure to the volatile pricing and supply of the national grid while advancing cleantech and renewable providers.

The public is also moving to the forefront of the global switch to renewables, with rooftop solar generating power for nearly one in four Australian homes, easily the highest rate in the world.

Home owners are now accessing data services like Clipsal Solar which uses machine learning to deliver insights direct to the mobile phone and laptop, enabling consumers to use energy at the most cost effective time or sell power back into the grid

A truly national energy policy could advance and accelerate the use of these new technologies, and there are many other practical measures energy ministers could endorse this weekend, such as allowing for demand-response pricing to reward users who reduce consumption at times of peak demand, reducing pressure on the grid.

Now is a once in a lifetime chance to be visionary, brave and smart so that our economy, homes businesses and communities can quickly prepare for an energy hungry and competitive future through inbuilt resilience and sustainable advantages.

Gareth O’Reilly is Pacific Zone President of Schneider Electric, the world leader in efficient energy systems.


Spinifex is an opinion column open to all our readers. We require 700+ words on issues related to sustainability especially in the built environment and in business. For a more detailed brief please send an email to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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