Can Australia be an Energy Superpower?

Renewable energy and large energy storage solutions to enable Australia to be the next Energy Superpower.
News Image
Can Australia be an Energy Superpower?

Message by Tim De Grauw FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER RPEQ, Engineers Australia Newcastle President 2016.

Often it is said that we need cheap power to be globally competitive in the manufacturing industry.  Historically, Australia has had an energy advantage via abundant cheap energy, which has enabled energy intense industries in steel manufacturing, smelters to produce Aluminium, and further down-stream manufacturing such as car manufacturing.

Australia’s coal fired power stations provide this base-load power, but are an aging infrastructure that will require future replacement solutions.

To provide context, just the Liddell and Bayswater power stations in the Hunter provide over 4000MW of generation, compared to one of the largest Solar Farms at Nyngan of approx. 100MW (over factor of 40 times) requiring over 2km of area.

We will require a lot of land area with access to the required electrical infrastructure to get to the equivalent levels of generation to support manufacturing for similar levels of output. Imagine an electric vehicle manufacturing plant with the supporting manufacturing of the Battery technology. The Hunter Wetlands’ free electric vehicle charger is a great example of how Newcastle region is already leading the way in providing renewable energy based solutions. Tesla cars are already available to purchase online in Australia (with a map to the free charging stations), or anyone can buy the parts from a local supplier who is testing their components and manufacturing process on the race-track.

What is equally if not more important, is the ability to store this renewable energy when it is required. Otherwise, other sources of energy such as open cycle gas will be required in times when the renewable energy such as solar or wind is not available. This would result in additional CO2 emissions.

The key enabler to true CO2 reduction is to be able to have large storage solutions for large scale renewable energy. One of the cheapest forms of energy storage is water, where using surplus energy water is pumped to a higher location and then allowed to flow to a lower location when extra generation is required. This could be a very effective use of end-of-life mine rehabilitation to achieve such a solution with access to the existing required electrical grid connected asset, which would achieve a substantial saving in building any new infrastructure.

The State of the Engineering Profession report by Engineers Australia states that in 2014, over 13% of total energy generation in Australia was from renewable energy. The report also provides an excellent snapshot of energy policy, energy generation and energy security within sections 5.3 to 5.5 of the document.

The recent release of the Energy Superpower Plan by the Beyond Zero Emissions highlighted that in the future, a country could become an energy superpower, and Australia is well placed to take advantage of its natural resources and position to improve the balance of trade with our increasing energy imports.

It has been suggested that when there is future wide-spread electric vehicles, the batteries could be used as a large source of available stored energy.  However, without the right regulatory framework being in place to force this outcome it is unlikely to be available because it would impact the car manufacturer battery warranty, and would not be supported by their industry.

There are over five coal power stations in the region with over a combined 10,000MW generation capacity. Imagine if the region transitioned to become an energy superpower given it has all the right ingredients and the supporting infrastructure.

It is evident that all paths clearly lead to requiring a large energy storage solution that enables Australia to becomes a true energy superpower supporting our advanced manufacturing.