Six ways to boost renewable energy use

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Australia is lagging behind other nations in its commitment to renewable energy. Deakin University’s Associate Head of the School of Engineering, Professor Aman Than Oo, shares six ways we can get better at planning for a future powered by renewable energy.

Set ambitious renewable energy targets
Every nation is trying to reduce carbon dioxide, but some countries are doing much better than others. In June 2015, the Australian Senate passed a Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 23.5 per cent for 2020. While aiming to derive 23.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity sources from renewables is good, it is not as impressive as Denmark, where there’s a 50 per cent renewable target for 2020 and China, which is working towards a target of 30 per cent. We need to look beyond 2020 to 2030 and come up with longer-term strategies. States can also set their own targets, instead of relying on Federal Government targets. Victoria could follow the lead of California in the US, where Governor Jerry Brown set a green energy goal of 50 per cent for 2030. In August 2015 the Andrews government announced a Victorian target of 20 per cent by 2020, but we could work towards a higher target. There is huge potential in Victoria.

Improve wind turbine quality
Wind turbines are not as efficient as they should be. Because of the noise they generate, they’re not in residential areas. We’re working on improving the performance of wind turbines at Deakin. Most wind turbines have three blades, but we’re developing one that has 32 blades. This means even at the minimum wind speed you will be able to produce more energy. We are also working on a noise-free turbine that not only improves efficiency but is also quieter. In March, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced changes to the wind farm planning laws, reducing the household veto for a proposed wind turbine development from two kilometres to one kilometre from a dwelling, so sound and efficiency measures are becoming increasingly important. More and more small-scale wind turbines will be seen in residential areas, which will allow us to achieve the renewable energy target easily.

'Most wind turbines have three blades, but we’re developing one that has 32 blades. This means even at the minimum wind speed you will be able to produce more energy.'

Professor Aman Than Oo,
Deakin University

Build energy neutral homes
We are working on the development of energy neutral homes. To do this, a house must produce as much energy as it consumes. One of the major challenges is a lack of physical locations where people building new homes can go to and explore their options. Insulation is a big consideration; if you have good insulation you do not need as much heating and cooling. It is harder to make an existing home energy neutral, but it is not impossible. In Geelong, for example, a lot of heating and cooling systems are based on old technology. We can replace the systems, but we need to do that in the most efficient way. We have come a long way with price. Solar panels are a lot more affordable than they were five years ago. It makes sense to encourage people to install them as power prices rise. We’re currently developing a project that will provide guidelines to build energy neutral homes in Victoria.

Integrate energy storage systems
Energy storage will play a significant role in the way we manage our energy and power in the future. Energy storage can be used to capture the energy from the renewable energy sources and utilise it as needed when renewable energies are available in the time of energy demand. Storage can also be used to manage the critical load or demand at the transmission and distribution level. We are investigating how energy storage can be integrated more effectively with the grid, as it can sometimes create unwanted challenges. The outcome of our research will be very useful for grid operators.

Allow communities to rely on microgrids
Microgrids consist of multiple sources of energy generation. They’re small grids that communities can rely on for getting their power. In the next five to ten years you will see more and more microgrids. They allow us to produce energy where it is consumed, so energy losses in the transmission and distribution network can be avoided. Microgrids, along with the energy storage, will have a significant impact in the future as more and more people will be building and relying on microgrids rather getting power from the traditional grids. We’re working on developing effective microgrid systems, which are suitable for various communities and locations based on the availability of the various energy sources.

Reduce the use of coal power
Renewable energy based technologies are becoming increasingly cost effective and competitive. This means we’ll rely less on coal power as we look to alternative ways of producing energy. With the introduction of various demand management tools, consumers are becoming more wary of how they manage and consume energy. This will result in a substantial reduction of energy demand. Hence, reducing coal power based power plants will be more and more common.

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Professor Aman Than Oo
Professor Aman Than Oo

Associate Head of the School of Engineering, Deakin University
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