Australia Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2017

Blog site for the 2017 MSU study abroad program.

17-Alexis P.

I am a junior at MSU, majoring in Environmental Studies & Sustainability. I have immense passion for protecting and rehabilitating our Earth and am striving to pursue a career in doing just that! I love passing time outdoors, on my yoga mat or making art- I am very kinetic and enjoy staying productive. I am excited for our Australian trip for a number of reasons but am most eager to see the Pacific with my own eyes and to understand the methods Australian people have employed in their sustainable lifestyle, with an emphasis on environmental conservation. Simple things make me the happiest and I am anxious to get out and adventure!
A possible project topic for me will include further studying institution’s efforts in using renewable energy, implementing zero-waste methods and discovering how they are working towards environmental restoration rather than degradation. 3 possible questions I could ask include-

1. What types of renewable energy are you employing (if any), and which do you rely on most?
2. What are you doing in efforts to mitigate waste? Do you consider yourself to be in a “closed-loop” of inputs and outputs? Do you adhere to a comprehensive waste-recycling program or do you battle with excess waste?
3. How are you “giving back” in terms of sustainability? Are you nurturing the function of future systems?

3 possible project references-

CCAFS: CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2017, from https://ccafs.cgiar.org/

Hodbod, J. (2017, February 28). Sustainability Issues In Food Based Social-Ecological Systems [Scholarly project]. In D2l.msu.edu. Retrieved March 27, 2017, from https://d2l.msu.edu/d2l/le/content/404613/viewContent/4663244/View

“Sustainability In Agricultural Mechanization: Assessment Of A Combined Photovoltaic And Electric Multipurpose System For Farmers”. Sustainability 1.4 (2017): 1042-1068. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


FINAL PROJECT TOPIC BLOG UPDATE:

It has been said that the greatest challenge of the 21st century is organizing an energy transition away from non-sustainable practices towards the use of renewable and alternative energy sources. Our present day dependence on dirty, exhaustible fossil-fuels will very soon limit the way our civilizations function and grow as their sources begin to run dry. However, we have not yet been doomed, for there is hope that future societies will thrive on sustainable energy sources like renewable and alternative energy. (“Alternative Energy”, n.d.) defines alternative energy as energy such as solar, wind, or nuclear energy, that can replace or supplement traditional fossil-fuel sources, as coal, oil, and natural gas whereas renewable energy is considered any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy. My personal research project was an attempt to tackle the big question- Given that alternative energy development is critical to a sustainable energy system, what can be done to accelerate the shift in Australian energy dependency to renewable sources? Upon digging into this problem, I have found a number of barriers standing in the way between Australia and an energy system dominated by alternative energy- technological innovation, policy, current infrastructure, economics and societal conditions, among others. (“Union of Concerned Scientists”, n.d.) stresses the large initial investment to integrate and develop renewable methods within our current energy system, stating that especially during the early years there will be an increased cost of providing renewable energy to consumers. Verbruggen (2010) makes clear that disruptive transformations in all energy systems will be necessary to create a sustainable system for the future. There is no way around this barrier. If alternative energy is to have any hope in competing against mature fossil-fuel industries, overcoming underdeveloped infrastructure and technology will be imperative. As I reflect on all of research and findings, it is apparent to me that technological innovation, the economy (cost/prices), and policies have to be aligned to achieve full renewable potentials. An enormous challenge lays in the fact that according to Fridley (2010), the full supply chain for alternative energy, from raw materials to manufacturing, is still very dependent on fossil fuel energy for mining, transport and production. What a wicked and binding paradox! In order to unlock the potential of renewable energy, our dirty, depleting energy sources must be used to produce it. This input requirement creates a system reliant on the energy we are trying to distance ourselves from- constraining renewable development in either material or energy scarcity. Technological innovation will be critical in this realm of renewable energy in that we must find a way to overcome the relationship between fossil-fuel energy and renewable production. My studies have also brought me to conclude that when public governance is more directed towards developing renewable energy, the shift in energy dependency will flow with much more support and ease. (“Union of Concerned Scientists”, n.d.) explains that policy mechanisms will be needed to maximize the public benefits of alternative energy integration. These policies must be designed to gear the market towards renewable energy use by internalizing the public costs of current fossil-fuel sources; emission fees/caps on total pollution or tradable emission permits are considerable options for Australia explore. Currently, Australia Clean Energy Council (2015) is working to ensure that at least 33,000 GwH of Australian electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. This large scale target will be met by using financial incentive for larger renewable energy power stations whereas the small scale target will encourage homeowners to install residential systems such as rooftop solar, solar water heaters and hydraulic systems. This type of policy reform is a genuine example of a sustainable system. I have come to believe that there is no greater opportunity for clean energy to diffuse than when technological innovation meets public policy.  It has been said that the greatest challenge of the 21st century is organizing an energy transition away from non-sustainable practices towards the use of renewable and alternative energy sources. Our present day dependence on dirty, exhaustible fossil-fuels will very soon limit the way our civilizations function and grow as their sources begin to run dry. However, we have not yet been doomed, for there is hope that future societies will thrive on sustainable energy sources like renewable and alternative energy. (“Alternative Energy”, n.d.) defines alternative energy as energy such as solar, wind, or nuclear energy, that can replace or supplement traditional fossil-fuel sources, as coal, oil, and natural gas whereas renewable energy is considered any naturally occurring, theoretically inexhaustible source of energy. My personal research project was an attempt to tackle the big question- Given that alternative energy development is critical to a sustainable energy system, what can be done to accelerate the shift in Australian energy dependency to renewable sources? Upon digging into this problem, I have found a number of barriers standing in the way between Australia and an energy system dominated by alternative energy- technological innovation, policy, current infrastructure, economics and societal conditions, among others. (“Union of Concerned Scientists”, n.d.) stresses the large initial investment to integrate and develop renewable methods within our current energy system, stating that especially during the early years there will be an increased cost of providing renewable energy to consumers. Verbruggen (2010) makes clear that disruptive transformations in all energy systems will be necessary to create a sustainable system for the future. There is no way around this barrier. If alternative energy is to have any hope in competing against mature fossil-fuel industries, overcoming underdeveloped infrastructure and technology will be imperative. As I reflect on all of research and findings, it is apparent to me that technological innovation, the economy (cost/prices), and policies have to be aligned to achieve full renewable potentials. An enormous challenge lays in the fact that according to Fridley (2010), the full supply chain for alternative energy, from raw materials to manufacturing, is still very dependent on fossil fuel energy for mining, transport and production. What a wicked and binding paradox! In order to unlock the potential of renewable energy, our dirty, depleting energy sources must be used to produce it. This input requirement creates a system reliant on the energy we are trying to distance ourselves from- constraining renewable development in either material or energy scarcity. Technological innovation will be critical in this realm of renewable energy in that we must find a way to overcome the relationship between fossil-fuel energy and renewable production. My studies have also brought me to conclude that when public governance is more directed towards developing renewable energy, the shift in energy dependency will flow with much more support and ease. (“Union of Concerned Scientists”, n.d.) explains that policy mechanisms will be needed to maximize the public benefits of alternative energy integration. These policies must be designed to gear the market towards renewable energy use by internalizing the public costs of current fossil-fuel sources; emission fees/caps on total pollution or tradable emission permits are considerable options for Australia explore. Currently, Australia Clean Energy Council (2015) is working to ensure that at least 33,000 GwH of Australian electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. This large scale target will be met by using financial incentive for larger renewable energy power stations whereas the small scale target will encourage homeowners to install residential systems such as rooftop solar, solar water heaters and hydraulic systems. This type of policy reform is a genuine example of a sustainable system. I have come to believe that there is no greater opportunity for clean energy to diffuse than when technological innovation meets public policy.

While conducting research in Australia, I was pleased to bear witness to countless small scale solar farms; rooftop solar in residential areas; locks & weirs for municipal and residential hydraulic energy; advanced irrigation on farms such as overhead irrigation or drip methods; energy conservation technology; anaerobic digestion and compost heat energy. Having the opportunity to see all of these methods of alternative energy in action was as inspiring and exciting as it was confusing. My confusion lays in knowing all of these clean, efficient and sustainable methods of energy production exist, yet dirty fossil-fuels still dominate the industry. Combining my readings with my inspiring field findings has allowed me to overcome this confusion by understanding that energy systems are enormously complex and costly, and that transformation must be slow and steady to be successful. Our trip to the Western Water Treatment Plant near Melbourne, Victoria, Australia detailed the process of covering and capturing the methane gas released by the municipal waste stored at their facility. The electricity produced by this process is able to power 95% of the plant’s needs while also producing enough excess energy for sale. This clever and resourceful way of turning waste into abundant energy is saving the Western Water Treatment Plant an estimated 10 million dollars annually in electricity expenses. This alternative method of energy production is a quality example of a zero-waste system. Further, our visit to a small scale organic farm near the city of Adelaide known as Mallyons on the Murray gave great insight into the process of on-site electricity generation. Nick, the owner of this facility, showed us his solar storage operation, detailing that it is completely self-sufficient, requires no maintenance and provides an 8 year pay-back on investment. Using advanced technology, this system can store solar energy until the batteries are full, then converting it into electricity when needed. As if this system wasn’t exciting enough, the City of Adelaide (“Sustainable Adelaide”, n.d.) has a Sustainability Incentive Scheme in place that provides reimbursements for the installation of water and energy devices. This operation is a prime example of the great things that can happen when technological efficiency meets proactive policy. In addition, our visit to Redmud Green Energy in South Australia was an exceptionally insightful piece of my primary research. This company is striving to bring renewable energy directly to the local consumer. Redmud re-purposes abandoned farm lands with the construction and implementation of solar farms. The energy that is harvested by these community-owned operations can either be sold back to the National Electricity Market or used for direct supply. Despite other experiences in places of Australia that claim renewable energy is too expensive to implement on their scale, or that they are waiting for new and improved technology, my trip to Redmud has overpowered that ideology. Redmud is a first class example of what it means to use every resource you have to its maximum potential sustainably.

To summarize, I have learned an immense amount of both inspiring and frustrating things in relation to alternative energy use. When it comes down to it, a fundamental change in our lifestyles and interests will be key to a global energy system transformation. Action is needed on all dimensions of sustainable development, including governance and policy, improved economic conditions, and environmental awareness. I have learned that our energy system has intrinsic and binding ties to monetary value- this is our greatest barrier to change. From resource extraction, to manufacturing, transporting, infrastructure change, technology installment and use, alternative energy is a large investment. It is my hope that as we distance ourselves further from adequate amounts of fossil-fuel reserves, we will have no option but raise awareness, set the stage with supplemental policy, and be on our way to using alternative options of energy production on a large scale. So the big question is, given that alternative energy development is critical to a sustainable energy system, what can be done to accelerate the shift in Australian energy dependency to renewable sources? First and foremost, the potential benefits of clean energy must be made common knowledge to all members of society. The societal repercussions of a shift in energy dependency, including increased employment, fuel diversity, price stability and other indirect economic benefits, must be advertised and celebrated as our ticket to a sustainable future. Australia will find great success in the deployment of renewable energy if they use policy mechanisms to shape the market around energy. Also, providing incentive, reimbursement, and tax breaks for home and business owners who make effort to shift their energy dependency will not only boost social morale but also stimulate the economy. The Australian government may even consider a slow implementation of punishments such as fees or energy limits to entities who do not adopt alternative methods of energy. In sum, a radical change in Australia’s energy system will depend upon increased social awareness, improved infrastructure capacity, and government action via clean energy policy.

In comparison to the U.S., Australia is not far behind. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (2017), about 15% of total electricity generation comes from renewable sources. Oddly enough, when drawing upon my personal observations, I feel I witnessed much more use of alternative energy such as solar and hydro when in Australia than when home in the states. Despite differences in population size, distances from energy generation centers, potential renewable resources and public interest, the solutions for both countries remain the same. My recommended plan of action is to put the people first. Fueling a movement begins in empowering the citizen body through knowledge, evidence and incentive. By making known the disastrous pitfalls tied to our fossil-fuel dependency, while simultaneously sparking a need for clean energy options, Australia, and many other countries will be steps closer to cleaning up their energy grid. Citizen support coupled with government initiative will be the greatest leap the renewable energy movement will take. As policy shapes the market to make an energy system transformation more economically feasible, the barriers to a sustainable future will be dissolved. In sum, the future of our energy system must be built upon a sustainable foundation- encompassing social aspects, economic prosperity and environmental health.

External Links:

https://arena.gov.au/

https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/policy-advocacy.html

http://www.cityofadelaide.com.au/city-living/sustainable-adelaide/

https://www.melbournewater.com.au/whatwedo/treatsewage/wtp/pages/western-treatment-plant.aspx

http://www.redmud.net.au/

References used for research: 

Alternative Energy. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/alternative-energyAlternative Energy. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/alternative-energy

Australian Government. (2014). Australian Energy Resource Assessment.

Australian Government. (n.d.). Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from https://arena.gov.au/

Block, B. (2016). U.S. Renewable Energy Growth Accelerates. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5855

Clean Energy Council. (2015). Clean Energy Australia Report 2015.

Fridley, D. (2010). Chapter 18 Nine challenges of alternative energy. In R. Heinberg & D. Lerch (Eds.), The post carbon reader: managing the 21st century’s sustainability crises (pp. 229–246). Healdsburg, Calif.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Berkeley, Calif.: Watershed Media; Post Carbon Institute; Distributed by the University of California Pres

Ives, M. & Ives, M. (2016). The-Great-21st-Century-Energy-Challenge.

Painuly, J. (2001). Barriers to renewable energy penetration; a framework for analysis. Renewable Energy, 24(1), 73-89. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/

Sustainable Adelaide – City of Adelaide. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.cityofadelaide.com.au/

Union of Concerned Scientists. (n.d.). Barriers to Renewable Energy Technologies. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/smart-energy- solutions/increase-renewables/barriers-to-renewable-energy.html#.WVEZS2jys2x

U.S. Department of Energy. (2017, May 10). U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. Retrieved June 29, 2017, from https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=92&t=4

Verbruggen, A. (2010). Renewable energy costs, potentials, barriers: Conceptual issues. Energy Policy, 38(2), 850-861. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s