After a bumpy start, the Victorian government’s Solar Homes Program is now in full swing, lead by strong uptake in Melbourne’s suburbs and the state’s rural north. Meanwhile, demand for batteries linked to rooftop solar has skyrocketed over the last month, spurred by the energy crisis and an especially cold winter.
The Victorian government’s $1.3 billion Solar Homes Program (program) may have had bumpy beginnings but it’s certainly up and running now, not only boosting solar uptake but also virtual power plants (VPPs) and residential batteries.
Melbourne’s outer suburbs are leading household solar boom. Since the rebate began back in 2018, five metropolitan suburbs have accessed more solar rebates than any others. Indeed, Tarneit, Cragieburn, Point Cook, Clyde North and Truganina make up a full 10% of all Solar Homes installations across the state.
Rural access to the Solar Homes program was a point of criticism for Nationals’ Victoria Murray Plains MP Peter Walsh in 2020, who alleged Melbourne-centrism in the program when his electorate was overlooked by the program’s scheme for energy storage devices.
However, northern Victoria is leading the uptake among rural areas of the state, notably the regional cities of Mildura, Shepparton, Wodonga, Wangaratta and Wallan.
The Victorian government claims the program has already helped more than 200,000 Victorians install solar, saving households an average of $1,073 on their annual electrical bill. Moreover, a Solar Victoria customer survey revealed that 71% of respondents would not have installed solar if it hadn’t been for the program.
“Our Solar Homes Program is driving down the cost of living for Victorian households and reducing emissions,” says minister for Solar Homes Lily D’Ambrosio.
“Solar Homes customers are well-positioned to absorb energy bill rises in energy costs, by time-setting appliances to run during the day when solar systems are operating at their peak.”
The program is still open, and Victorian homeowners and rental providers are able to apply for rebates of $1,400 for the installation of solar panels, with an optional interest free $1,400 loan, and a further $1,000 rebate for the installation of solar hot water.
“Household solar puts the power back into the hands of Victorian households,” continued D’Ambrosio, “while helping meet our target of halving emissions by 2030 and supporting 5,500 clean energy jobs.”
The last month has seen especially cold temperatures which, in combination with the energy crisis, has seen the demand for solar battery energy storage systems skyrocket. Solar Victoria chief executive, Stan Krpan, told The Guardian that inquiries into battery rebates in Victoria have spiked in the last two weeks.
Rates for residential battery energy storage systems are also available to households that have not previously claimed a Solar Homes rebate. The Andrews government expanded the scheme in March, and it now offers up to $3,500 for households to install a solar battery.
Krpan reported that 5,842 battery rebate applications have been approved this financial year, more than double the number received last year with three weeks still to go. “In the past two weeks, phone inquiries to our contact centre have been 50% higher than the yearly average,” said Krpan. “We’re expecting this to lead to growth in installations over the winter months.”
The Victorian government-backed is also now supporting six different two-year VPP pilots as part of its Solar Homes program. The program is capped at 2000 rebates with the state government saying households that sign up to the pilot prior to June 30, 2022 and install a battery will receive a rebate of $4,174.
It has approved five battery brands to participate in the six distinct VPPs which it says will give participants “guaranteed financial benefits and additional consumer protections not widely available in the general market.”
The program’s five approved battery providers include Tesla, Mondo, Reposit, Sonnen and Arcstream.
Gas and coal generators’ role in exacerbating the unfolding energy crisis in Australia has been harshly criticised, but Dufty points out companies are simply following the logic of profit within a framework that makes such practices possible.Image: Bluescope
Australia’s energy crisis affords it an intricate, if painful, look at exactly where and how our current electricity regulations no longer fit their purpose. According to analyst Gavin Dufty, now is the time to retrain our eyes on the prize: designing a new framework suitable for the future decentralised system. “But everybody needs to put their guns back in their holsters,” Dufty tells pv magazine Australia.
With Australia’s National Electricity Market spot market now suspended, an extraordinary move from the market operator yesterday to cool a fiery situation, the emphasis now needs to be on what can be learned from the meltdown, says Gavin Dufty, an energy analyst with St Vincent de Paul.
“Here’s an opportunity,” he tells pv magazine Australia. “It’s about recasting regulatory framework so it’s fit for purpose.”
“The world is watching us,” he adds. “We actually get to be leaders.”
“It’s not just one tweak. Everything needs to move together in concert to create the new orchestra or architecture for the future energy market because this one is not going to work, and it’s not working.”
Our current regulatory framework, built for a centralised fossil fuel system, uses a top down approach. Now, as electricity is increasingly generated on rooftops and in paddocks, the system needs to reflect this shift from a handful of mega generators to a collection of small technologies. That is, it needs to be designed for the bottom up future.
In the days days, the operator (AEMO) and ministers have come out against gas and coal generators’ role in exacerbating the situation, and therefore jeopardising an essential service, Dufty is quick to point out the companies are simply following a logic made accessible to them. “They’re doing what they’ve been told to do for a hundred years”: maximise profits.
“Maybe the villain is the framework,” he posits.
Under Australia’s current framework, he says, the cost of the crisis will eventually wash up with consumers, but this doesn’t have to be the case. “Where it falls depends on how governments intervene,” he says. “In unusual times, you probably need unusual transition methods.”
He believes the electricity system is moving from a goods market to service market, which means companies operating within it should have a duty of care. This is especially true since the market delivers an essential service.
Moreover, Dufty says there needs to be a laser focus on consumer households and delivering value to them.
“Follow the money,” he says, “in the next 10 years, if you have five million Australian households investing in electricity assets like PV, EVs [electric vehicles], batteries and the like, that’s $250 billion worth of energy assets installed behind the metre.”
“The investment in energy is going to happen and those consumers will want value for their investment.”
The role of industry and the framework which governs it is to make sure that value is realised.
St Vincent de Paul were one of the primary proponents of two-way pricing, which quickly came to be dubbed a ‘sun tax’ and fiercely criticised. Be that as it may, the vision is not without merit – especially when taking into account future technologies beyond solar. The Australian Energy Market Commission agreed, heralding in the change last year.
The changes, for Dufty, are imperative because they shine a light on the other side of the electricity grid balancing equation, the side often left out of the discussion: load flexibility.
Creating and compelling load flexibility, that is changing when electricity is used, is the other side of the generation drama. As others have pointed out before him, jamming more solar into the situation simply won’t work. The penetrations are already so high that much of the energy generated in the day is simply going to waste and causing greater imbalances in the night.
“There isn’t one magical solution,” he says, “diversity is the key here.”
Dufty is adamant what’s good for individual households and what is good for society and the larger electricity network don’t need to compete. But to ensure those two forces aren’t mutually exclusive, the regulatory framework needs to change drastically.
“This is not incremental change. We might have step by step,” he says, but in the end it must amount to a full redesign, especially in terms of consumer protections.
Likewise complementary frameworks like the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) and the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) need to be reviewed to ensure they remain fit for purpose as well, Dufty says.
MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Australia, under a new Labor government, on Thursday (June 16) raised its 2030 target for cutting carbon emissions, bringing the country more in line with other developed economies’ Paris climate accord commitments.
Australia, one of the world’s highest per capita carbon emitters, pledged to the United Nations that it would cut carbon emissions by 43 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, up from the previous conservative government’s target of between 26 per cent and 28 per cent.
“When I’ve spoken with international leaders in the last few weeks, they have all welcomed Australia’s changed position,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said after notifying the UN.
Under the former government, Australia, the world’s top exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas, had long been seen as a laggard in climate commitments, with no clear energy and climate policy to encourage renewable energy investments.
At the UN climate summit in Glasgow last year, former prime minister Scott Morrison was criticised for failing to set a more ambitious emissions-cutting target while the United States, Canada, EU, Britain and Japan all sharply stepped up their pledges.
Canada is aiming for a reduction of 40 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels, while the US has a target of up to 52 per cent.
“For years, the Australian government told the world that was all too hard,” Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen told reporters at a televised media conference in Canberra.
“We send the message to the rest of the world, to our friends and allies, that we’re partners in tackling the climate emergency. We send the message to Australians that we seek to end the climate wars, as the Prime Minister said,” Mr Bowen added.
The push to slash emissions more rapidly comes as the country is facing a major power crisis caused by planned and unplanned coal-fired generator outages, which have driven up demand for gas-fired generation just as global gas prices have skyrocketed.
Mr Bowen said the crisis highlighted the need to speed up, not slow down, work on the regulations needed to encourage more investment in renewable energy.
Transgrid, the transmission network owner in the Australian state of New South Wales, has started building its section of the AUD 2.3 billion ($1.64 billion) Project EnergyConnect. The high-voltage electricity transmission interconnector will link power grids across three states, unlocking gigawatts of planned renewables.
Transgrid has confirmed that work has begun on the New South Wales section of the 900-kilometer Project EnergyConnect, which will link the grids of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, while supporting the development of new wind, solar and energy storage projects.
Project EnergyConnect, a joint venture between Transgrid and South Australian network operator ElectraNet, will link Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, to Robertstown, South Australia. It will also include an additional “spur” link in northwestern Victoria. The interconnector will provide 800 MW of nominal transfer capacity in both directions and is expected to unlock about 5.3 GW of new renewable energy projects.
The project is a critical link in the National Electricity Market (NEM), with proponents claiming it will enhance power system security. Transgrid CEO Brett Redman said the project “will help deliver the grid of the future.” He also said the project, Australia’s biggest electricity interconnector to date, will increase wholesale electricity competition and help drive down electricity prices.
ElectraNet Interim Chief Executive Rainer Korte said the project will improve energy security in all states, while accelerating the transition to a grid based around wind, solar and storage.
“EnergyConnect is a landmark project of national significance that will enable more renewable energy and improve the affordability, reliability, and security of electricity supply,” he said.
Project EnergyConnect will involve the installation of more than 9,000 kilometers of cabling, and the erection of 1,500 new transmission towers, using more than 30,000 tons of steel. Construction of the eastern portion of the project is expected to start in 2023, with the full project set for completion by 2024.
Albany’s Historic Whaling Station – the proposed microgrid site for the NERA project. Image: NERA
The southern tip of Western Australia will soon be the focus of an ocean energy project which is hoping to match end-users to ocean energy solutions and eventually build a “physical marketplace using an integrated microgrid approach” – though exactly what this involves remains somewhat vague.
A project seeking to demonstrate the potential of ocean energy in Australia was unveiled today at the Australian Ocean Energy Group’s Market Summit in Hobart.
The project is being proposed near Albany, on Western Australia’s southernmost tip, and at this stage involves a feasibility study looking into matching markets to ocean energy solutions via an online platform.
The project is being led by the Australian Ocean Energy Group cluster, which was established with support from NERA (National Energy Resources Australia). It hopes to illuminate the benefits of integrating ocean energy with other renewables, including offshore wind.
The project will unfold in two stages, if found to be feasible, the second stage of which will see the development of “a physical, visitable marketplace” which will showcase an integrated ocean energy microgrid.
“Using an integrated microgrid approach, a working, pilot-scale ocean energy system will be created as a world-first offshore energy marketplace,” the announcement says, though precisely what this means remains rather opaque. It seems the marketplace is likely a modelling exercise from real world data rather than any actual installation of ocean technology. Clarification has been sought.
There is already a project looking to create an ocean energy centre, named Marine Energy Research Australia, in Albany being led by the University of Western Australia (UWA) and backed by funding from the state government. It isn’t clear whether this NERA project will cooperate or build on this work, though again clarification is being sought.
The promise of ocean energy is neither new nor mastered, with attempts to harness its power documenting all the way back to 1799. Since then, thousands of patents have been filed and as many inventors risen and fallen.
In Australia, there are a handful of companies grappling with the technology, including Carnegie Clean Energy. Carnegie had been involved in UWA’s Marine Energy Research Australia project before the company went into voluntary administration in 2019. It has since bounced back and is again looking to further ocean energy in Australia.
Carnegie’s journey illustrates some of the challenges ocean energy expert Richard Manasseh, Swinburne Professor of Fluid Dynamics, outlined to pv magazine Australia earlier this year. He noted the scale and cost were the most problematic aspects of ocean energy projects, inhibited the technology’s takeoff more than actual technological issues.
“The machines don’t work at all unless they are gigantic,” Manasseh said. “So there’s a mismatch between the amount of capital companies tends to have and the size of what they have to build.” Wave energy machines can cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million to build, depending on the design’s sophistication and efficiency.
Stephanie Thornton, who heads up the Australian Ocean Energy Group cluster, echoed these sentiments saying the four main barriers to the adoption of ocean energy are awareness, accessibility, affordability and commercial project delivery.
While these issues have set back the technology in the past, Alex Ogg, NERA’s Ocean Energy Program Manager, says the ocean has “almost limitless potential to produce clean energy more consistently and predictably than any other source.”
“Energy from our oceans has been too often overlooked. What also sets ocean energy apart is its ability to be integrated with other renewables — from discrete blue economy applications today to multi-use offshore energy parks in our future — adding huge value, consistency and complementary energy to the renewable supply,” Ogg added.
Energy consultancy Xodus Group is supporting the development of the feasibility study for NERA’s marketplace concept, which seeks to draw data from existing wave and tidal energy projects “to mix and match end-users to proposed ocean energy system integrations and potential providers.”
Given that the project is expecting to develop its second stage, the “physical marketplace,” in Albany in 2023 – 2024, it would suggest no real life ocean energy machines will be submerged in West Australian seas.
Nonetheless, the announcement outlines the stage two microgrid “will include a combination of wind and wave energy converters, solar (onshore and/or offshore), storage and application technologies including green hydrogen production, desalination capability and EV charging.”
Another large ocean energy modelling project was announced earlier this year, involving researchers from Melbourne’s Swinburne University, Adelaide University, and the University of New South Wales working in collaboration with Victoria’s Moyne Shire Council and Western Australia’s Mid West Ports Authority. It is looking into whether ocean energy devices could be used to protect Australia’s vulnerable coastlines.
Electrifying Brisbane households could save them almost $5,000 a year.Image: The Sebel
A plan to “rewire” one of Australia’s largest cities by electrifying the region’s homes and vehicles and powering them with solar energy would save the average household almost $5,000 a year, generate more than 24,000 jobs and provide an overall annual economic benefit of approximately $3.9 billion.
Independent thinktank Rewiring Australia has released modelling which shows the solar-backed electrification of homes and vehicles in the Queensland capital of Brisbane using technology that is almost entirely off-the-shelf and available today would save the average household $4,700 a year in energy bills and vehicle costs.
Rewiring Australia, the work of Australian-American entrepreneur, scientist and energy analyst Dr Saul Griffith, has released modelling that outlines how households and communities can financially benefit from replacing fossil-fuelled devices with solar panels, batteries, heat pumps, induction stoves, electric vehicles (EVs) and household and community batteries.
The modelling, set to be publicly released by Griffith during an online webinar tonight, shows the full electrification of households across greater Brisbane by 2030 would save the average household $4,700 per year in energy and vehicle costs, totalling $3.9 billion across all households.
Rewiring Australia said in addition to the cost savings, the economic flow-on effects across the region could spark the indirect creation of up to 24,100 new jobs with an estimated $200 million to be spent upgrading homes, installing zero emission appliances, solar and EV chargers.
While acknowledging the inevitable upfront costs, Rewiring Australia founder and chief scientist Griffith said households making the jump to solar, storage and EVs would provide a massive economic boost to greater Brisbane.
“Our research shows that Australia can lead the world by electrifying our homes and vehicles and powering them with renewable energy,” he said.
“If we make the necessary investment to seize the future it will look like more jobs for tradies, more money spent in local shops, cleaner air and healthier people.
“At the moment, $3.3 billion is being drained from the greater Brisbane economy and winding up in the pocket of those who peddle fossil fuels. If we electrify and decarbonise we keep that money in the local community and make the world cleaner and safer.”
Rewiring Australia said the first step in the electrification process would be to install solar, or “supersize the existing system” while it is “vital to have a smart inverter and upgrade the switchboard to manage how the house exports and imports to the grid”.
The organisation said the biggest financial outlay would be to replace petrol and diesel cars with EVs and use the batteries as part of the household energy system. Gas-fuelled devices would also be replaced. Rewiring Australia said this would deliver immediate savings.
“An electric car costs about 6 cents per kilometre to drive if charged from the grid, compared to a petrol car which costs about 12 cents per km (when petrol is at $1.43/L). Charging an electric car with rooftop solar reduces this even further, to about 1 cent a km, over 10 times less than a petrol car,” the organisation said.
“Heating the water for a shower with a gas-fuelled water heater costs about 89 cents with standard gas prices (2019). An electric heat pump water heater costs just 21 cents to provide the same hot shower using grid electricity. Using rooftop solar, that shower costs just 5 cents, over 10 times less than a gas shower.”
Rewiring Australia said the savings modelled for electrification take into account the upfront costs of purchase and assume that they are financed over the lifetime of the asset.
Griffith said the benefits of the electrification process are amplified when entire suburbs, communities and regions electrify their homes.
“When entire communities and cities upgrade and electrify, the benefits will be amplified and shared,” he said. “Less money will be sent out of the community and offshore from Australia. Billions of dollars can be retained in local communities and thousands of additional local jobs generated.”
Griffith said the technology to decarbonise and electrify households exists today and “the more that consumers buy electric vehicles, solar, batteries and electric appliances, the cheaper and better they get”.
Rewiring Australia said the initial modelling is based on the potential uptake across the southeast Queensland federal electorates of Brisbane, Longman, and Griffith, but the program is also planning to analyse other seats across the country.
The release of the modelling comes after The Greens proposed the electrification an entire Australian town and a suburb in a major city of the party’s climate and energy policy in the lead up to the federal election later this month.
Party leader Adam Bandt said the pilot project, to be enabled by a $235 million fund, would seek to show that by 2025 it will be cost effective for households to be completely electric, largely powered by rooftop and community solar and batteries.
“This hasn’t been achieved anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s time to get off the gas, get batteries in our homes, and solar on the roof. We will show this works at scale, creating jobs and powering up a community.”
A study released last year by Rewiring Australia found a $12 billion investment would retrofit 11 million Australian households for full electrification by 2030 leading to national savings of more than $40 billion and removing one-third of domestic carbon emissions.
Griifith said the full electrification of Brisbane households would reduce the region’s emissions by 42.4%.
“Electrification attacks the three huge national problems – climate heating, cost of living and national security,” he said.
The Murchison Hydrogen Renewables project, under development near the Western Australian coastal town of Kalbarri, will use 5.2 GW of wind and solar to produce renewable hydrogen. That will then be converted to an estimated 2 million tons of green ammonia per annum, for domestic use and export.
The ambitious project was first proposed by Hydrogen Renewables Australia in 2019. The project is now being led by investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners via its Murchison Hydrogen Renewables (MHR) offshoot. While no specific details about the ambitious project were previously available, a referral filed this week with the state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) reveals the true scale of the project.
The submission shows that MHR plans to install about 1.5 GW of solar PV and an estimated 700 onshore wind turbines with a combined capacity of about 3.7 GW. A Power-to-X (PtX) plant will be constructed on site to convert the renewable energy into green hydrogen, which will be converted into an estimated 2 million tons of green ammonia per year.
The facility will be equipped with about 3 GW of electrolyzers while a purpose-built water treatment and desalination plant will generate about 6 giga-liters of “demineralised water” a year for use in the production process. The PtX plant will be coupled with 250 MW to 350 MW of battery storage with a two-hour duration that will be used to regulate the renewable energy prior to distribution to the electrolysers.
The proposal also includes hydrogen storage which will be used as an intermediary between electricity and ammonia. It is anticipated that up to 200 hydrogen storage vessels, each with a capacity of up to 680 tons, will be installed.
The green ammonia produced at the site is to be exported to emerging green energy markets with a pipeline to link the PtX plant and storage facility to a marine export facility. The submission also highlights the potential for local, domestic offtake as hydrogen or ammonia.
Hydrogen Renewables Australia has already secured a long-term agreement with the pastoral lessees of the Murchison House Station and announced Siemens as the proposed plant’s technology partner.
The project is expected to be developed in three stages. The first stage would comprise a demonstration phase producing hydrogen for transport fuels, to be followed by an expansion to blend with natural gas into the nearby Dampier to Bunbury pipeline. The third and final phase would include an expansion to produce hydrogen for export to Asian markets.
Hydrogen Renewables Australia has previously indicated the potential for the proposed project to scale up over a six-year period, reaching full capacity toward the end of this decade. The referral to the EPA is currently open to public comment until May 8.
Murdoch’s world-first solar glasshouse uses ClearVue’s glass.Image: Daniel Carson | dcimages.org
The results from solar glass company ClearVue’s greenhouse trials at Murdoch University have found the company’s product performed better than predicted overall, demonstrating both strong power generation and thermal value.
Western Australian solar window company ClearVue said the results from its Murdoch University greenhouse trials, running for a year now, are strong and demonstrate the readiness of the company’s product for commercial applications.
With higher than expected power generation and thermal value – effectively insulation quality – the trials which were set up to prove the viability of solar windows have done just that.
Well timed, the company is actually already installing its solar window glaze technology at a commercial greenhouse in Japan via its licensed distributor, Tomita Technologies.
The greenhouse at the Aqua Ignis Hot Springs tourism resort in Sendai City, Japan will be used to supply produce for the resort. Completion of the solar glazing there is expected over the coming weeks, ClearVue said, with overall completion of the greenhouse and its opening anticipated within the next months.
Murdoch greenhouse trials
Back to the Murdoch trials in Western Australia, the company has said Stage 1 is now complete with Stage 2 already getting underway. To that end, ClearVue said it has made “significant upgrades” to the greenhouse systems as part of the second phase and the aim now is to find the “optimum balance” between power generation, thermal efficiency, water savings and maximizing plant growth across a wide range of species through the adjustment to photosynthetically active radiation light.
The Murdoch greenhouse comprises of three ClearVue glazed rooms and one control room which acts as a baseline from which to measure the performance of the ClearVue product. Of the three ClearVue rooms, one uses the current commercially available ClearVue glazing product while the third and fourth rooms are variants of that product using different amounts of nano- and microparticles to look at optimization of power generation and impact on plant growth dynamics.
According to the findings, the ClearVue product generated 5.3 MWh of solar energy over the year from April 19, 2021 to now
The solar windows also displayed strong insulative or thermal value, proving to be around 2˚C warmer overnight and slower to heat up in the morning. This has a double benefit by minimizing electricity usage in the greenhouse, making it more efficient – a feature ClearVue has previously pointed out will be advantageous in the high rise building market it is targeting.
“The results from the ClearVue Greenhouse at Murdoch have demonstrated the power performance of the ClearVue’s PV glazing both as a power source for the project but also as a significant contributor to energy reduction within the operation of commercial greenhousing where growers are willing to invest into a long-term capital asset that can pay itself back – both financially and from a carbon perspective – something no other greenhouse covering product on the market can offer today,” ClearVue’s Executive Chairman Victor Rosenberg said.
“The recent upgrades made to the greenhouse will offer an even greater insight into the role the ClearVue glazing can play in commercial greenhousing,” he added.
“Whilst the results show that we still have a little work to do in finding the optimum balance between power generation, minimal water use, and optimized light conditions for maximum plant growth – we are confident that we are close to finding this equilibrium point and are looking forward to working with the Murdoch team on the Stage 2 plant science trials but also with Tomita on the commercial greenhouse at Sendai in Japan to round out this work.”
“The Tomita Technologies greenhouse installation is itself progressing very well and will in addition to offering a commercial greenhouse as a reference point it will also serve as a good demonstration of larger sized ClearVue PV glazing performing in a cold-climate real-world setting. We very much look forward to the finalization of this exemplar project and its opening in the coming months.”
SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) – The sudden speed of the shift to clean power is forcing Australia, a global champion of coal and gas, to confront one of the energy industry’s biggest challenges – how to transition millions of fossil fuel workers to new roles in wind and solar.
Clean energy could create more than 38 million jobs worldwide by the end of the decade and meeting that demand without a labour shortage requires accelerating efforts to not only lure new entrants, but also to create a clearer plan to retrain the industry’s veteran workforce as traditional fuel sources decline.
That’s a task getting underway in Australia, where coal’s supremacy is finally under threat from cheap clean power, and with lawmakers who once defended fossil fuels now trading promises over green jobs in campaigning ahead of a May national election.
“The light is just going on across governments and industry” that more investment in training is needed, with a lack of skilled workers already emerging for some existing projects and challenging plans to add more clean energy to help nations meet climate commitments, said Dr Chris Briggs, research director at the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures.
In the southeastern city of Ballarat, a key 19th Century gold mining hub, companies including Vestas Wind Systems A/S – the world’s biggest turbine manufacturer – have funded the country’s first wind power training tower, where students and ex-coal workers can use a 23m-high platform to acquire the expertise needed for roles in renewables.
“At the moment, with these skills, you have to fly them in from outside, or send Australians overseas,” said Mr Duncan Bentley, a vice-chancellor at Federation University, which hosts the site.
The facility is the first local training institution that can provide a key safety qualification needed to work in the wind industry.
Renewables accounted for almost a third of the country’s electricity generation in 2021, double the share four years earlier, and utilities are bringing forward plans to retire coal-fired power stations years ahead of schedule.
About 10,000 coal jobs in Australian mines and power plants related to domestic electricity generation will be lost by 2036, according to Dr Briggs. More will surely also exit as coal exporters eventually shutter.
In the same period, around 20,000 to 25,000 new jobs will appear in the construction, maintenance and operation of renewable power, he said.
Legislators, too, are starting to adapt. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison won a 2019 election in part because his defence of fossil fuel jobs helped secure decisive support in coal communities.
Ahead of May’s election – with his government trailing the opposition Labor Party in opinion surveys – he’s still supporting coal, but also touting prospects for workers to win new roles in clean hydrogen.
There is a catch in the rush to new sectors. Most roles in solar and wind power promise only a fraction of the salaries in the minerals industry. Mining is in the blood in Australia, fostering almost every economic boom since the gold rushes of the 19th century.
“As a young fellow it made sense to go straight to the mines, trying to chase money,” said Mr Dan Carey, who spent 12 years working in the remote iron ore hub of Port Hedland as well as the oil and gas town of Karratha in Western Australia.
In January, in search of a better lifestyle, he became a service technician at a wind farm in Warradarge, a three-hour drive north of Perth. Now “it’s about enjoying the work”, Mr Carey said. “In the mining world, everyone does sort of live for the money.”
For example, the starting salary for an operator at AGL Energy’s Loy Yang A coal power station in Victoria is about A$164,500 (S$164,750) while a technician for wind turbine builder Suzlon would earn between A$100,000 and A$120,000, according to recent Fair Work Commission enterprise agreements.
In mining there are also a raft of perks, that could include 6 weeks paid leave, subsidised housing and utilities, free vacation air tickets and big bonuses.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to retain people that have come from that world,” Mr Carey said.
Also, while mining and coal power have provided work for generations of Australians, many new jobs in renewables are temporary.
“The challenge is that there are hundreds of jobs in construction and only a handful of jobs in operations and maintenance,” said Ms Anita Talberg, director of workplace development at the Clean Energy Council, an industry group. And some of the highest-skilled jobs in fossil fuels have no direct equivalent in renewables, she said.
Yet the sheer size of the energy transition will mean construction of large new solar and wind farms will continue for decades, steadily increasing the number of ongoing positions as the new plants come online.
Fossil fuel veterans are well positioned to prosper, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Staff on gas platforms typically have expertise suitable for offshore wind, while coal workers have been recruited into solar and oil reservoir engineers can use their knowhow for geothermal power.
Australia’s first offshore wind farm, the Star of the South, is scheduled to open in 2028 in the Bass Strait, off the country’s southern coast. At about the same time, Hong Kong-based CLP Holdings will close the ageing Yallourn coal-fired plant nearby after more than 100 years of operation.
The wind project is aiming to capitalise on the pool of potential workers, and has sought talks about retraining opportunities. “You’ve got the workers with the skill sets,” said Ms Erin Coldham, Star of the South’s chief development officer.
What can wave energy converters do that no other form of renewable energy can? Well, they can remove waves’ energy. For a country like Australia, where much of our population and wealth is concentrated on coastlines evermore frequently battered by extreme weather, this proposition is particularly attractive. Especially if the technology is able to offer both protection and green electricity without radically altering marine ecosystems and aesthetics. “No one has looked at what we’re looking at before: combining power generation with coastal protection and trying to control it,” Professor Richard Manasseh told pv magazine Australia.
The viability of protecting Australia’s coastlines using underwater electricity-generating machines working on the principle of resonance is now being examined as part of a mammoth research project incorporating stakeholders from across the continent.
In February, researchers from Melbourne’s Swinburne University, Adelaide University, and the University of New South Wales announced their collaboration with Victoria’s Moyne Shire Council and Western Australia’s Mid West Ports Authority looking into whether the centuries-old technology concept of wave energy could be recast for our new world.
Wave energy converters
The promise of wave energy is neither new nor mastered. In fact, attempts to harness the ocean’s power document all the way back to 1799. Since then, thousands of patents have been filed and as many inventors risen and fallen. Today, there are about 250 companies tenaciously grappling with the problem, according to Swinburne’s Professor of Fluid Dynamics and project lead, Richard Manasseh.
The first issue wave energy converters face is the nature of wave movements, sucking in and out. “So there’s not a simple and obvious mechanism [to capture that energy], like the turbine,” Professor Manasseh tells pv magazine Australia.
The world is full of inventors though, and many designs have solved this muddle. It is the second hurdle where they fall. “The machines don’t work at all unless they are gigantic,” Manasseh says. “So there’s a mismatch between the amount of capital companies tends to have and the size of what they have to build.”
Precisely how big wave energy converters need to be depends on the “frequency” of the wave in the targeted region. Putting aside issue of needing region-specific adjustments, Manasseh says the converters tend to follow two design patterns, though “they all look totally different, so it’s difficult for people to get their heads around.” For the simplicity’s sake, it is enough to say a single machine may be the size of an eight storey building, extending 25 to 30 metres under the sea.
It could cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million to build, depending on the design’s sophistication and efficiency.
Infrastructure isn’t built for entrepreneurs
It’s hardly surprising then that wave energy has stranded many on the shores of financial ruin. The primary reason for that is not because the designs aren’t good enough or the technology unviable. The issue, Professor Manasseh says, is that our current model for commercialising innovations sees governments take a back seat, letting inventors invent and capitalists provide capital.
This pathway doesn’t work for wave energy converters, Manasseh says, because the machines are actually forms of infrastructure, not products. They’re more comparable to highways than wind turbines. “It’s infrastructure that has to be done on a large scale.”
This doesn’t mean the projects have to be paid for by taxpayers, the professor adds, there are many different financial models which could be used – but it does mean that governments need to make the call.
Wave energy real life case study
Since its inception, there have been numerous trials connecting wave energy converters to grids across the world. Many of these have successfully generated electricity, but none have stood the test of time.
That is, all but one important exception: where the technology was used for coastal protection. In the northern Basque region of Spain, the Mutriku harbour was regularly damaged during storms before it built its wave energy infrastructure. The Mutriku project looks like a modified sea wall and Professor Manasseh is quick to point out that is not the design the Australian research project will examine.a975aaf60720&theme=light&widgetsVersion=2582c61%3A1645036219416&width=500px
Why he thinks it’s important though is firstly because the trial uses the technology in a two-fold way, for protection and electricity generation, and because it is an example of a wave energy project being realised through government backing.
A far cry from the blunt technology of a wall, the Australian researchers are looking into using a physics principle called resonance to quell the force of storm waves.
Before we plunge into that concept, build a mental image of a beach in which some 20 or so floating shapes from submerged machines are evenly spaced parallel to the shore. They are not connected, there is no wall or net running between them.
Now we can come back to rather poetic notion of resonance to explain how individual things bobbing in the ocean could be capable of stopping waves.
Oceans have their own frequency; like a pendulum or swing, it rocks to and fro at a unique pace. Most of the world’s wave energy converter designs tap into this. Engineers can tune wave energy converters like giant musical instruments to have roughly the same natural pace or frequency as the ocean swell, Professor Manasseh says.
“When these frequencies are similar, the machine’s movement becomes very large. It is like pushing a child on a swing: we instinctively push only when the swing reaches at the end of its travel,” he adds. “The arc through which this resonating swing then moves can become very large, and certainly larger than the distance you extend your arms.”
“Likewise, the resonating wave-energy converter moves much more than the water around it, representing wave energy extracted from an area of ocean much larger than the physical size of the machine.”
Using resonance, converters maximise the energy they draw from the wave. The other side of this is that by dropping the machines slightly out of resonance, it would be possible to deflect waves by breaking their rhythm.
“Spaced the correct distance apart, [the machines] can effectively function as a wall without touching.”
The key word is control
“Integral to what we are doing is the word: control,” Professor Manasseh says. That is, controlling one fleet of machines well enough for them to be used for two radically different purposes.
“When there’s a storm with potential for a disaster, you probably don’t care at all about generating electricity during that time, so you could potentially operate these machines in a completely different way where you’re not actually extracting power from waves at all, but you are deflecting the waves.”
“If the primary imperative is protecting the coast, it’s not how efficient your electricity generation is, it’s how well you can control the machines.”
Australian research project
Given this, it’s clear wave energy could be as much the domain of governments and stakeholders as of entrepreneurs. Which is why Victoria’s Moyne Shire Council and Western Australia’s Mid West Ports Authority are supporting the Australian research project with both funding and with personnel.
“With wave energy having significant impact on the operations at Mid West Ports, we are eager to work with Swinburne on this research project to identify options that could potentially have dual benefit to our coastline and the operating environment at the port,” Mid West Ports Authority Acting CEO Damian Tully says.
The $2 million project is also being supported by a $436,000 grant from the federal government through the Australian Research Council. While the granularity of the study and the scope of its partnerships are unique, its findings will remain on paper for now.
During its three year evolution, Swinburne researchers will undertake a mathematical modelling exercise to find how well different machine types couple together. Sometime towards the end of this year, they will give those numbers to their control engineering collaborators at Adelaide University.
In Adelaide, the team will start to derive modes of operation, looking at the machine’s electricity generation mode versus its wave blocking modes and tuning their individual settings.
The coastal engineering team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will then build lab models, essentially dioramas, to simulate how it works while also looking at the movement of sediment. The results of these lab models will then be compared to the predictions generated at Swinburne and Adelaide universities.
At the end, the team is hoping to have a sound understanding of how much such dual purpose project would cost, how much it could save governments and corporations by protecting coastal assets, and how the machines’ modes could be balanced.
The question of how well the machines survive in gnarly ocean conditions remains further down the road. Plus, the 250 odd companies playing in the space are already moving to find answers there.
“There’s been a lot of tech push from the entrepreneurial community over the past 40 plus years, and there’s been fundamental studies similar to ours, but no one has looked at what we’re looking at before: combining power generation with coastal protection and trying to control it,” Manasseh says.
More than $226 billion of Australian assets are exposed to coastal erosion and flooding, with the cost to protect these assets expected to increase. While the question of whether wave sizes will increase with climate change is a complicated one and depends on the hemisphere, it is agreed extremes will become more common, meaning coasts will need all the protection they can get.