Green19 October 20216 minute read

Australia is winning at renewables. Here’s how.

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.

Solar energy 

Right now, 1 in 4 Australian homes is powered by rooftop solar. Even further, Australia accounts for more than 10% of the solar energy generated worldwide by photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems. It’s easy to see that when it comes to solar energy, Australians are eager to get on board. 

Beyond household solar systems, government initiatives are being launched nationwide to push forth the effort. 

Victoria's state of the art Raygen Solar Power Plant

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. 

When construction is complete, this first-of-its-kind plant will provide 4 MW of dispatchable energy, which equates to around 17 hours of power, powering around 380 homes per year. The plan is described as a low-cost, large-scale, long-duration energy system, which will provide dependable energy for less than $100 per megawatt-hour, a key benchmark set by the Commonwealth Government’s Low Emissions Technology Statement

Batteries + power plants 

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. 

Solar battery cost trends - graph provided by ARENA

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."

Read more about the more than $1.77 billion worth of battery storage projects in progress now. 

Hydrogen energy 

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. 

Currently, there are 98 hydrogen projects in progress in Australia, worth more than $162 billion. Australia’s natural resources provide ample opportunity for the country to set itself apart as a leader in hydrogen energy production. In fact, the International Energy Agency and World Energy Council identified Australia as a potential “powerhouse” in hydrogen production.

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.

Learn more about the projects underway and the larger plan in the National hydrogen strategy video. You can also explore more to see how hydrogen projects work on the ARENA website, which details exciting initiatives such as the Jemena Power to Gas Demonstration in Western Sydney. 

Wind energy

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. 

While solar energy is more accessible to homeowners and those who need power on a smaller scale, wind energy is actually the leading source of renewable energy in Australia. In 2020, wind energy supplied more than 35% of Australia’s clean energy. This energy is captured and exported from 94 wind farms across Australia, which generate enough electricity to meet 7.1% of the nation’s total electricity demand. 

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)

In 2020, 10 wind farms were commissioned, amounting to the highest amount of MW of energy produced on record, with more than 20 additional farms in progress. See more about wind energy projects like the Murra Murra Wind Farm on ARENA’s wind energy page. 

Greener livestock feed

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.  

But it’s a problem that needs urgent attention: methane, the gas byproduct produced by livestock, is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. 

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. 

The finding is so significant that just a 10% global adoption rate of the seaweed method, would be the equivalent of taking 100 million cars off the world’s roads.

Australia is taking a leading stance in the industry, setting aside $23 million for the development and delivery of seaweed feed additive products.

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.

Wrapping up

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.” 


Author image for Amanda Laviana
Written byAmanda Laviana
Amanda is a copywriter and content strategist, with extensive experience in the software and technology space.
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