Renewable energy gets set to outsmart coal

When Dr Glenn Platt studied electrical engineering at university two decades ago, it’s fair to say that his area of study – renewable energy – did not put him in the cool crowd.
He is slightly bemused today, knowing that his pioneering work has become fashionable.
“It’s remarkable to me that energy and renewable energy and electricity prices and electricity grids are literally on the front pages of mass media every few weeks,” says Platt, an energy expert with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(CSIRO), who is officer-in-charge of its Newcastle Energy Centre in New South Wales.
“It’s amazing that it’s at the forefront of the public consciousness.”
Renewable energy technologies such as solar photovoltaic, wind power and pumped hydro are clearly on the minds of the public and policymakers in Australia. A recent Lowy Institutepoll revealed that eight out of 10 respondents want governments to favour renewable energy over fossil fuels, even if it costs more to create a reliable energy grid.
On the political front, Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel’s 2017 review into energy security in Australia states that renewable generation should account for 42 per cent of electricity demand by 2030, with coal-fired generation set to decline in the next 30 years.
Meanwhile, the Australian Government’s polarising National Energy Guarantee (NEG) has proposed an ongoing role for coal, solar, wind, gas and pumped hydro power in the nation’s energy mix, along with an expansion of the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme.
Dubbed Snowy Hydro 2.0, this proposed expansion would create the biggest “battery” in the southern hemisphere to complement intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind. (Pumped hydro power involves pumping water to a holding dam when power is cheap, and releasing it to drive turbines and produce electricity when more power is needed in the grid.) Its predicted cost, however, varies from A$2 billion up to A$5.25 billion or more.

Energy market investors seek policy certainty

Tom Butler, director of energy transformation at the Clean Energy Council, says while the final impact of the Finkel Review and the NEG remain unclear, they provide some form of policy certainty for investors and market operators. “It’s that long-term policy certainty that’s been missing for quite some time in the Australian market,” he adds.
Butler says that with the energy market clearly starting to favour solutions such as solar and wind – “No one out there is seeing coal as a viable long-term investment option” – the focus is turning to the best new or improved storage options to take advantage of renewable resources.
“From an investment perspective, it’s an exciting time to be involved in the electricity sector.”
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