From solar panels to wind energy, to seaweed for cattle, the renewable energy industry in Australia is thriving. Let's explore where we stand, what's in progress and what's next.
The past two years have been chock-full of uncertainty. COVID-19 has closed borders, triggered restrictions and kept families apart. Between the wildfires of 2020, political tension and protests and, well, COVID as a whole, it’s easy to look at 2020 and 2021 slap on a label designating them as downright “bad years.” However, we can’t ignore the fact that there’s a whole lot of good to be celebrated too.
One of many bright spots? Renewable energy is growing faster than most thought possible – especially in Australia. Even better, the renewable energy industry in Australia is growing in all directions. It’s not just solar energy that’s on the rise. Low-emission fuels and vehicles, wind energy, livestock feed and hydropower have all seen progress unmatched in previous years.
Let’s take a look at some of the developments in the renewable energy and sustainability sector in Australia.
Beyond household solar systems, government initiatives are being launched nationwide to push forth the effort.
One such initiative is happening at the Raygen Solar Power Plant in Carwarp, Victoria. The plant uses technology that’s different from the traditional systems used in households. Instead, Raygen uses solar thermal technology to concentrate sunlight, simultaneously using the heat created by the process to heat large volumes of water, which provide thermal energy storage.
There is also encouraging growth in the solar energy storage space, with batteries becoming more commmonplace in homes and more highly prioritised by government initiatives. Batteries play an impotant role on the path to a carbon-neutral future, as they help ensure that energy is available all the time – not just when the sun is out. However until recently, batteries came at a cost far too high for most to take advantage of – especially independent homeowners. Over the past several years, though, battery prices have dropped dramatically. (See the chart below.)
This price reduction is lessening (or even removing) the barrier to entry that prevented many from opting in. As battery prices continue to drop, more homeowners are expected to jump aboard to take advantage of a home battery’s unique ability to power a home with solar energy, day or night.
On a larger scale, multiple government initiatives have been launched to promote the innovation and development of solar battery storage. One such program is the Tesla Virtual Power Plant being developed by the South Australian Government. The program will consist of a network of up to 50,000 solar and Tesla Powerwall home battery systems, which together will create the world’s largest virtual power plant (VPP). The VPP works by combining the power of many systems, whose batteries are typically used to store small amounts of energy, to provide large amounts of energy to support the electricity grid when constraints occur. According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), “the capacity and power of a VPP can sometimes match or even exceed a traditional power station."
One of the lesser-known sources of renewable energy is something we can produce in abundance: hydrogen. With no by-products aside from water, hydrogen can be a true carbon-neutral source of energy.
Hydrogen can be produced several ways, including using renewable energy itself, or with natural gas of coal. However, renewable hydrogen (hydrogen producing more hydrogen) is the most efficient and sustainable method. It’s created by running electrical currents through water, which separate hydrogen from oxygen.
Hydrogen is extraordinarily useful and flexible. Unlike some forms of energy, it’s relatively easy and safe to transport. It can be used to replace natural gas, providing a multitude of opportunities for use in industry and at home. Vehicles and fuel cells can also be powered with hydrogen, creating another key use case.
Across the nearly 100 hydrogen projects in progress, a uniform goal was set to create an environment in which hydrogen could be priced under $2 per kilo. This is the price at which hydrogen energy becomes a viable, affordable alternative to other energy sources like coal and natural gas.
No conversation about renewable energy would be complete without acknowledging the vitality of wind power. Currently, wind is the cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy in Australia. Harnessing the wind works by creating turbines that capture wind energy and drive electrical generators, which eventually export energy.
Of course, when it comes to wind energy, we’re far from finished innovating. Today’s wind turbines are larger and more efficient than previous generations, with larger rotor diameters for more efficient wind capture. This means that in the future, we’ll need fewer wind turbines to capture more wind energy. (image source)
One of the elements of sustainability that’s less visible to the general public is something a bit unglamorous: cow belches. In other words, we’ve got a big problem with the greenhouse gasses that come from livestock. Currently, livestock emissions account for 10% of Australia’s emissions as a whole. Solutions for this issue have been notoriously hard to come by, thanks to the biological makeup of animals commonly raised in agriculture like cattle and sheep.
The most effective solution solutions rely on supplementing livestock feed with nitrates, reducing the methane they produce. But there’s a new supplement on the market that’s proving to be even more effective: seaweed.
Feeding specialised seaweed to cattle can reduce emissions by up to 80%. With such staggering success, the discovery could change the industry – and the world. The science is relatively simple: adding minimally processed red seaweed, also called Asparagopsis, helps cows process their food more easily, resulting in a significant reduction in methane production, or, in other words: fewer cow belches.
Learn more about the company that’s producing the seaweed, and see what’s in store for the future, both in Australia and beyond at FutureFeed.com.
While we’ve got plenty of room to continue progressing, there’s no denying we’re well on our way to a more sustainable future. So far, we’ve done our part by helping more than 17,000 homeowners make their homes more sustainable with solar energy systems, and we’re not slowing down any time soon.
Head of Renewable Finance at Plenti, Louis Edwards, says, “We’ve helped so many homeowners transform their homes into more sustainable places. We’re thrilled to get to play even a small part in such an important transition. Every house is one house closer to a more sustainable future.”
Written byAmanda Laviana
Amanda is a copywriter and content strategist, with extensive experience in the software and technology space.