Thursday, 10 December 2020
Renewable technologies are creating opportunities to decentralise Australia's energy grid and cut our emissions—and we got data about that in only the past 24 hours—while also generating affordable and environmentally sustainable energy sources independent of traditional wholesale providers. The energy sector is the dominant source, of course, of Australia's carbon emissions, accounting for roughly 33 per cent in a recent analysis. It's inspiring to see Australians choosing individual responsibility for their footprint rather than solely relying on big corporates and Canberra. Over the past decade, our nation's solar capacity has grown nearly 100-fold. That includes 2.5 million households and small businesses who are now hosting rooftop solar and generating nearly 12,000 megawatts of electricity—the equivalent of six Liddell coal-fired power stations. The chair of the Clean Energy Regulator, David Parker, is expecting Australia's installed solar capacity to double again over the next four years. Solar, of course, is just one part of Australia's broader renewable energy mix, which includes wind, hydro and batteries as well as others. As outlined by energy minister Angus Taylor, Australia's renewable capacity is growing 10 times faster than the global average. We're leading.
For too long we've assumed that climate change is a complex challenge which can only be solved by Canberra bureaucrats or corporate boardrooms. While globetrotting bureaucrats have argued about emissions reduction for years, Australian small businesses and households have been developing and implementing the technologies to drive our transition to net zero. At its core, climate change is a technical challenge that demands a technological revolution. It's tech to net zero. We need to retain the high-energy generation capacity that drives modern Australian industrial life while reducing and ultimately removing our emissions profile. We know from previous technological revolutions that this change is not driven by centralised bureaucracies and their decision-making but by the need to meet new consumer expectations and demands. As many people have said, you literally did not use taxes to get people into cars and away from horses.
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries saw increased demand for material goods, which in turn fuelled the development of technologies which could underpin more expansive reduction. In the same sense, the development of renewables is being driven by demand for technologies which bypass traditional, centralised energy suppliers. The trend is clear. In October of this year South Australia became the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered entirely by solar energy, of which rooftop solar played a dominant role—but, of course, so did wind and so did other technologies, including battery storage. When businesses and households are empowered with greater choice over the source of their energy rather than being dictated to by regulators, investment in more versatile and deployable renewable energy can be incentivised.
There is, of course, a role for targeted public support and investment. The Morrison government's Technology Investment Roadmap is optimising public money for commercialisation of new low-emissions technologies to broaden choice. Furthermore, the government has invested in projects like Snowy Hydro 2.0 and the Marinus Link project, which are targeted to overcome short-term shortages in dispatchable power and, more critically, back up the baseload that Australian industry still absolutely critically needs.
But, even when operated by private industry, concentration within the energy market has led to oligopolies and the rise of gentailors. Despite harbouring some of the most abundant reserves of traditional fossil fuels in the world, Australia's electricity and gas prices for households have increased. When only a few operators control the coal and gas sources that generate 79 per cent of Australia's current energy supply, they have little incentive to lower prices, and this must be combated through decentralisation. Home battery storage is giving households the capacity to retain energy collected from their solar panels during the day for use at night, overcoming dispatchability problems that have slowed the uptake of renewables in creating closed-circuit grids. Localised power grid solutions are now creating virtual power plants, which empower whole communities to collaborate in energy generation and storage and go off-grid if they choose. This is our tech to net zero agenda.
Emotive moral statements from Canberra won't reduce a single future emission. Australia's emissions will be reduced by households and small businesses across the country who decide to invest in localised, renewable and decentralised power grids. These investments will also take much-needed competition into the energy market, breaking apart the oligopolistic grip traditional energy generators. More critically, we are building Australia's economic future. You, too, can be part of Australia's tech to net zero agenda.