Australia needs an excellent energy review by the Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel, more so now than ever. It is an unenviable task, and in his Adelaide briefing Dr. Finkel showed he already has his head around the issues and he is ready to recommend viable technical solutions. An immediate fix framed by a long term vision – great stuff!
- Decentralised Future
The best energy system will have substantial neighbourhood / local scale generation and control. A smart, efficient network of decentralised grids was shown by Amory Lovins in the 70’s to be the most cost-effective if one looks at the system-wide economies. This is what we should be aiming for.
- Paradigm shift for ownership, control and beneficiaries
Our energy transition provides a unique opportunity to challenge the current paradigm. While the system claims to deliver value to customers and long term benefits to the Australian public, it has repeatedly failed on measures of fairness and climate change outcomes. It is clear that changes to the ownership of the system, the control of the system and the immediate beneficiaries could deliver these needs far more effectively. This is what the community energy sector is currently proving.
- Climate change demands we reach 100% renewables by 2030…
…and technology could sprint us there tomorrow. The climate change imperative is more pressing than official reports and the preliminary Finkel report states. Remember that the world has agreed to limit warming to 2°C and agrees that 1.5°C would be better. Remember also that the sum of commitments doesn’t get us there yet. Australian government projections rely on the international community to sell us surplus credits while ignoring the sun shining strongly in our own backyard. The technology could give us 100% renewable electricity in the next 5 years if we wanted and I believe we could do it affordably by 2030. We need our electricity systems to race to a target of 80% renewables because the transitions of heat and transport rely on us getting this sector moving first.
- International Insights
My international experience showed that other countries are benefiting from stable policy environments, a culture of support around community involvement in the energy system and a specialised NGO sector often with 20 years presence in their communities. Energy markets are often more innovative and experimental because the energy transition is built into the regulatory culture. Australia has done well in its 15+ year support for rooftop solar but is yet to unlock the mid-scale and local opportunities. There is no suitable structure in place for regulatory and system innovation.
- Community Energy will play a significant role
The community energy sector in Australia is emerging at pace. There are now over 90 groups around Australia, many of whom convened in Melbourne this week. There is much to be learned about why communities are mobilising in this space and the ways that support from all tiers of government can unlock community effort and benefits. This is a sector that warrants significant funding and policy attention.
- Address the barriers to local scale energy solutions
The energy corporations and individual sites are not incentivised to build local scale energy solutions. At the neighbourhood scale, a project carries the overhead of collective decision making and multiple stakeholders. Compounding this are the barriers to entry in the market for a modestly scaled project and a number of market failures which sees financial value and local benefits underpaid in the NEM.
- Resource the process of planning our energy transition
Finally, the process by which we arrive at good solutions to the current energy market crisis needs a rethink. A single report such as this one will only start the conversation. Or worse, make no progress at all in the hostile, childish buffoonery that is our political environment on this issue. Lets recognise that it is worth resourcing a deliberate process of designing, experimenting, listening and doing for at least the next three years. We need to crack open good solutions, get stronger agreement amongst stakeholders and consistently improve the financial, technical and regulatory systems in the NEM. No single entity or Government can lead this process. Creating a neutral space with an independent secretariat and shared understanding of the ability of good process to deliver good changes is the key to success in how our energy transition planning and delivery proceeds.
You can view my full submission, complete with recommendations here.