Not just blowing in the wind
Sometimes it takes a crisis to shine a light on an issue that hasn’t received enough attention and the current debate about how our energy is delivered and produced is an excellent example.
We need to think smarter because looking at our energy future and tackling climate change isn’t just about ‘going solar’ or building more wind farms. It’s about taking a range of measures to tackle a variety of problems.
As a signatory to the United Nations’ Paris Agreement, which took effect last November, Australia is a member of a major international club, the members of which are committed to keeping global temperature rises below two degrees this century.
Australia’s target is to reduce emissions between 26 to 28 percent on 2005 levels by 2030, while, in Victoria, the Government’s plan is to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Australians love beating the odds and it’s true that in science, business, the arts and sport, our champions frequently overcome the underdog title – at a global level – long term. As a nation we like a challenge, and we’re prepared to tackle them.
A LOW CARBON FUTURE ISN’T PIE IN THE SKY
As the upward cycle of a rising population and demand accelerates with many countries moving up the ladder of development, we don’t have to look far to find a thriving low- carbon industry that is ready to grow.
In California more than 500,000 people are employed in clean energy industries, including renewable generation and those implementing energy efficiency measures across households, buildings and publicly- owned assets.
Australia has an increasingly pressing need to produce energy from clean energy sources, and it’s almost monthly that a major clean energy project is announced somewhere in this country.
- In February three solar projects worth $500 million in north-west Victoria were announced with a total output of 320 megawatts and capable of powering Victoria’s three biggest regional centres – Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. In Queensland a 142-megawatt $220 million solar power station was announced for a site near Townsville.
- Melbourne’s Yarra Trams has also announced a plan for its fleet to go solar via a new 75-megawatt solar farm to be built in regional Victoria.
- In December, 116 more wind turbines were given the go-ahead in western Victoria. This development will be able to power more than 250,000 homes and create more than 600 jobs during development.
FIGHTING MULTIPLE BATTLES
To tackle climate change we must hit as many targets as possible. Our need to find clean energy sources and to reduce the amount of leftover food and other products that are considered to be ‘waste’ continues to grow.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s 2015 report ‘Australian Bioenergy and Energy from Waste’ found that the bioenergy and energy from the 114 waste plants operating in Australia produced 812 megawatts of electricity, at the time the report was written.
It is, however, an area of considerable untapped potential as waste-to-energy contributes only 0.9 percent of Australia’s electricity output, compared with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) average of 2.4 percent.
Looking to the future, the Clean Energy Council estimates that investing between $3.5 billion and $5 billion by 2020 could generate 800 megawatts.
Some farms and food processing plants use animal waste to generate heat and power, wood waste and agricultural waste is co-fired with coal, and a small amount of ethanol and biodiesel is used in the transport sector.
Just in Victoria, more than 300,000 tonnes of food waste was produced by commercial and industrial sources in 2014/15, yet only 22 percent was recycled, mostly by composting or used as animal food. But with planning and investment, we could divert much more of this material from landfills and give it a second life as a fuel.
A number of approaches can be used including anaerobic digestion, which can be established by food processing facilities, major hotels, conference centres, shopping centre food courts or groups of restaurants and local councils.
Anaerobic digestion uses bacteria to break down organic material and then uses the gas produced to drive generators. The process has the added advantage of reducing pressure on landfills and the creation of greenhouse gases, which are produced as organic material decomposes.
We also have opportunities to produce fuel by using plastics and the mountains of old tyres we go through every year. Pyrolysis turns plastics and tyres into oils and gases, which can be used for generation and elsewhere, while gasification converts organic or oil-based materials at high temperatures (700-plus degrees Celsius) into a gas that can be used as fuel.
Waste-to-energy projects, along with increasing our domestic, commercial and industrial energy efficiency, offer opportunities across Australia and will help us deal with fundamental problems.
These exciting projects, and others, will be an important part of our low-carbon future and help position us for whatever the future holds.
It would seem, at this stage, the opportunities are limitless.
Stan Krpan is the chief executive of Sustainability Victoria.
This article also appears in Issue 6 of CWS magazine. Get your free, obligation-free trial of the mag here.