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Ready, set, boom: is the wait for renewable energy finally over?

A little over a decade ago in 2008, Australia cemented its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by ratifying the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – the international greenhouse gas and global warming reduction treaty.

It was a game-changing moment in the drive towards sustainable development as Australia committed to binding emission reduction targets – with electricity generation at the top of the list.

And for good reason. According to the Clean Energy Regulator, some 52.4% of Australia’s total 2016 greenhouse gas emissions of 336 million tonnes came from electricity generation.

The most obvious solution to cutting those emissions, and one now widely demanded by the general public, is through the development of renewable energy. As a country blessed with an abundance of wide open spaces and plenty of sunshine, wind and solar power are a natural fit.

So in the last decade, how far have we come?

Wind and solar power are leading the renewable energy boom

The development of renewable energy electricity generation got off to a slow start through the early part of the decade. But Deakin University’s Deputy Head of School in the School of Engineering, Professor Aman Than Oo says over the past five or so years, levels of investment, construction and commissioning of wind and solar power plants has accelerated exponentially.

Projects recently completed or currently under construction represent almost $7 billion in investment nationally and include the $800 million Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia, the $400 million Lilyvale Solar Farm in Queensland and numerous smaller projects such as the $50 million Gullen Solar Farm in NSW.

The pace is set to continue with a veritable explosion of activity over the next two years. The Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target to reach by 2020 is now 33,000GWh or 23.5%, up from 17,500gWh or 17.3% in 2016.

‘We have come along way,’ Prof. Aman says. ‘While we haven’t been as productive or effective as we could have been, we are still on track to achieve the target and there are a number of large scale renewable energy projects happening now and in development.’

‘The next two years will be critical, but because Australia’s renewable energy targets are very conservative, they are achievable.’

'The next two years will be critical, but because Australia's renewable energy targets are very conservative, they are achievable.'

Professor Aman Than Oo,
School of Engineering, Deakin University

States are pushing for faster action

At a state level, governments are being a lot more bullish with targets for renewable energy generation, ranging from 40% in Victoria to a massive 75% in SA by 2025.

Around the country, billions of dollars in investment and record large-scale project approvals in wind and solar power generation developments are in the pipeline. These should add thousands of megawatt capacity – together with increased energy storage capacity like South Australia’s new Tesla battery – over the next few years.

But it is not just about large-scale projects, Prof Aman says.

‘Due to Australia’s large geographical size, for the greatest efficiency, larger projects need to be supplemented with smaller scale renewable energy developments that generate electricity where it is consumed.’

Deakin’s ‘smart solar’ microgrid leads by example

Deakin University provides a perfect example of this with the recent announcement of a $30 million partnership with Mondo Power, a subsidiary of AusNet Services, to establish a smart microgrid at Deakin’s Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.

The partnership will see more than 23,000 solar panels installed across a 14.5-hectare site to create a 7.25MW smart microgrid, together with a 1MWh battery storage. The solar farm will not only provide about 50% of the university’s electricity needs once it is completed by mid-2019, but also play a significant role as a research project for university students and staff.

Director of Deakin Energy, Dr Adrian Panow says the microgrid will contribute about 60% of the emissions savings required to achieve Deakin’s sustainability target. ‘It’s primarily a piece of research infrastructure but it is also a part of the sustainability program as well as helping us to manage our costs.’

He says the project will offer technology research opportunities both in terms of PV efficiency and battery operations, through the BatTRI-Hub research collaboration between Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) and CSIRO.

But as a fully operational commercial project, he says it offers far more.

‘The research part that perhaps isn’t as obvious is the whole transaction – how do you trade electricity within the university or how do you provide services externally?’ Dr Panow says.

‘The microgrid will be of sufficient scale that, in the future, may support requests from the local electricity distribution company (Powercor) to support its network. They might ask us to reduce our import from the grid or dispatch our battery to manage local network demands.’

And then there is the chance to research how best to manage the power generation and distribution within the university to achieve financial cost savings.

‘One of the key benefits of the microgrid having a large battery is that we will be able to even out our energy consumption and minimise demand charges, which will be worth millions.’

Clearly the promise of renewable energy is finally being realised – with a future that is truly electrifying.

Interested in a career in the renewables industry? Check out our article about engineering careers and trends.

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Professor Aman Than Oo
Professor Aman Than Oo

Deputy Head of School, School of Engineering, Deakin University

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Dr Adrian Panow
Dr Adrian Panow

Director, Deakin Smart Energy Solutions, Deakin University

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