My name is Rebecca Scherr and I am a Junior majoring in Environmental Studies and Sustainability with a minor in Conservation, Recreation, and Environmental Enforcement. I am from Walled Lake, Michigan and enjoy swimming, dancing, painting, yoga, and nature. I want to visit Australia because I love to travel and I really want to learn about the culture in this country. I’m really interested in looking into the sustainability efforts in Australia and their uses of alternative energy compared to America.
I chose to research the extent of alternative energy use in Australia and how it contributes to the country’s overall sustainability.
As an entire country, Australia receives approximately 58 million PJ of solar radiation annually, however most of the radiation is concentrated on the northwest desert region of the country that is not connected to the power grid (Geoscience, 2014). Given the intensity of solar radiation in Australia, solar energy is ideally the most used form of renewable energy and with increasing efficiency has the potential to eventually power the entire country and largely contribute to sustainability as a whole. As a group, we visited the major cities in eastern Australia: Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney, as well as local farms and businesses. Most of the presentations in the cities highlighted renewable energy usage and the movement towards more sustainable cities, but many of the local farms and other areas were either running completely on solar energy, or had solar power incorporated in their buildings in some way. Just on our bus drives from site to site I noticed an immense amount of standard homes that had solar panels on the roofs, supporting my beliefs that solar power is the number one provider of alternative energy in Australia.
Figure 1. Australia’s average annual solar radiation and solar power stations installed with over 100 kilowatt capacity (Geoscience, 2014).
For renewable energy technology used on farms, Mallyons on the Murray provides ample evidence for self-sustaining solar power. Nick Builder, owner of the farm, powers his home, café, shed, and cool room entirely on solar energy with no connection to the power grid. Through technological innovations, batteries have made it possible for captured energy to be stored for later use. The battery storage system at Mallyons on the Murray has 15 kw of stand alone power to be used after the panels stop taking in energy, but these batteries are becoming progressively more efficient, as are the solar panels themselves.
In an assessment of sustainability for renewable energy technologies, compared with wind, hydro, and geothermal energy, solar power was ranked third for overall sustainability. These ratings are subject to change, however, based on geographical location where some indicators, such as availability, are more important in a country like Australia. In only 6 years the average efficiency of solar panels improved by almost 15 percent, showing that increasing efficiency of solar energy could potentially provide enough power for the entire country, bringing it that much closer to being completely sustainable.
One example of Australia’s remarkable sustainability efforts city-wise, comes from the city of Adelaide’s commitment to becoming the first carbon neutral city in the world where they are aiming to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The government is providing incentives for renewable energy such as free buses and trams in the city and up to $5,000 for any solar system, energy storage system, or charging station installed. Of course the construction of renewable energy technologies will expend an initial quantity of carbon, but once in use carbon emissions will not continue with energy usage.
The Redmud Green Energy program constructed by Yates Electrical Services utilizes vacant land that is deemed unviable for future farming uses and constructs solar farms. The energy generated from these solar farms gets exported back into the grid to be sold on the National Energy Market. This enables electricity to be traded between states and therefore circulates money throughout the economy, which supports the economic sphere of sustainability.
Based on my observations at Mallyons on the Murray farm where solar energy was used to power the entire property and Redmud Green Energy where solar power is traded between states through the national energy market, my ideas about solar power are supported. After visiting the city of Adelaide and learning about their plans to become the first carbon neutral city in the world, the concept of sustainability was clear to mean more than just carbon neutrality through the use of renewable energy.
Solar energy has significantly increased from 0.1 terawatt-hour (TWh) in 2007 to 2008 to 1.49 TWh in 2011 to 2012, indicating 0.6 percent of electricity generation in Australia (Geoscience, 2014). The increase over these five years shows that solar energy is becoming more popular as a renewable energy source in Australia. In the year 2016, solar energy accounted for 3.17 percent of Australia’s annual electricity generation, over five times greater than the solar energy generation just four years earlier, but even with this increase, only 18.3 percent of renewable energy generated came from solar photovoltaic systems (Clean, 2016).
Figure 2. The 2016 renewable energy generation shown by technology type and overall electricity generation (Clean, 2016).
These data show that solar energy is not the most widely used form of renewable energy, but it still plays a role in renewable energy usage and the overall sustainability of Australia. The principle research scientist for the CSIRO energy division, Paul Graham, said that there are no impediments to 100 percent renewable energy generation. He continues to explain that technologies need to be added to support renewables, including advanced inverters for batteries, but technical capability is not an issue (Parkinson, 2017). Renewable energy is only one aspect of sustainability, however, with other factors such as carbon neutrality, economic stability and social impacts playing a role, sustainability cannot be determined by energy use alone.
For more information on solar energy:
Clean Energy Council. (2016). Clean Energy Australia Report. Retrieved from http://cleanenergycouncil.org.au/policy-advocacy/reports/clean-energy-australia-report.html
Geoscience Australia and BREE (2014) Australian Energy Resource Assessment. 2nd Ed. Geoscience Australia, Canberra
Parkinson, Giles. (2017, February 21). CSIRO Says Australia Can Get to 100 per Cent Renewable Energy. Retrieved from http://reneweconomy.com.au/csiro-says-australia-can-get-100-per-cent-renewable-energy-86624/
Redmud Green Energy. (2016). About Redmud Green Energy. Retrieved from http://www.redmud.net.au