Last Updated Apr 7, 2017 · Written by Rob Schneider
Australia has the world's greatest potential for renewable energy. Our interior has sunshine most of the year. The oceans that surround us can potentially produce energy and wind turbines could give us even more green energy. Are we taking advantage of our opportunity to be the world's first nation running entirely on green energy?
It takes time to change from fossil fuels to green energy, but there are signs that Australia is ready to make the change. These are some examples of Australia embracing green energy.
In 2016, ABC wrote Australia solar production to triple with 12 new plants to be built. Six of the plants will be built in Queensland, five in New South Wales and one in Cervantes in Western Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) says the new plants will increase Australia's large scale solar capacity from 240 megawatts to 720 megawatts, which is enough to power 150,000 average Australian homes.
According to Queensland Environment Minister Mark Bailey, the Queensland power stations will create jobs and transform Queensland from the "Sunshine State" to the "Solar State." In Queensland alone, the investment is half a billion dollars and will produce 500 regional jobs and hundreds more indirect jobs.
It seems counter-intuitive that a mining town would go solar, but that's exactly what has happened in two Australian mining towns.
Broken Hill was born because of the mining potential in the desert around it. It produced the world's largest mining company, but as Broken Hill's mineral wealth ebbs, the city is looking for another way to produce income. It has found it in solar energy. A solar farm the size of London's Hyde Park is producing enough energy to power 17,000 homes. Ultimately, the solar farm may grow and produce far more electricity.
Collinsville was a coal mining town, so switching to solar seems like it would be something its residents would fight against. Located 3 hours south of Townsville, Collinsville actually wants to become "the solar capital of Australia" according to ABC News. Collinsville gets 300 days of sunshine per year and northern Queensland has high solar radiation levels. According to Edify Energy director John Cole, solar power in Collinsville will be twice as effective as a similar project in the U.K. and 5 to 10 percent more effective than a similar project in New South Wales or Victoria.
In January 2017, the Victorian state government announced that Melbourne trams would run on solar power. A solar plant is being built that will produce 75 megawatts of power. About 35 megawatts will be needed to run Melbourne trams and the remainder will be used for other purposes. Tenders are still being reviewed, but sites in north-eastern Victoria are being considered.
The solar plant is expected to be built by the end of 2018. Critics say the plant may make conventional electricity more expensive, but Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D'Ambrosio argues it will actually put downward pressure on electricity prices. For more information, read Melbourne's trams to be solar powered in The Age.
Western Australia seems to be committed to a greener future. By 2015, one in five homes in WA had solar power. The rate of growth has been phenomenal in WA, with over 1800 solar installations per month in 2015. At the current rate, Perth could become fully solar powered in 10 years, according to an article on news.com.au. The "game changer" is the increasing use of battery storage systems which allow homeowners to store extra energy during the day and use it at night.
Homeowners with solar panels benefit by transferring their unused solar power to the grid system. Currently, the WA government subsidises electricity use "to the tune of $600 million a year," according to the article. This puts a big dent in the state government's finances. Encouraging solar power will not only reduce the cost of electricity to homeowners and businesses, it will also help the state balance its budget.
Automobiles produce pollution. The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia decided to do something to promote the use of electric cars. They installed charging stations on roads between Perth and Augusta. The project was funded by the RAC, but is owned and maintained by the towns where recharging stations are located. The "Electric Highway" is a first in Australia, but may encourage other areas to install charging stations for electric vehicles.
When we think of renewable energy, we think about solar power and perhaps wind power. The ocean creates waves that can be used to create energy, too. The CSIRO has been actively engaged in studying the possibilities of wave power as a source of energy. Already, over 200 wave energy devices are in different stages of development.
According to CSIRO research:
Australia's southern ocean is the greatest source of wave power
Wave energy could produce up to 11 percent of Australia's power needs. This is enough to power the entire city of Melbourne
The CSIRO is working to study the environmental effects of wave-generated power stations, but they believe the potential for this type of power is enormous.
With all the news about solar power, it's easy to assume solar power supplies more energy to Australia than wind power. That may become true in the future, but as of 2015, wind power produced 4 percent of Australia's renewable energy versus rooftop solar power's 2 percent. According to ARENA, wind energy is used primarily to generate energy, but is also used to pump bore water in rural Australia.
The capacity for more wind power is here in Australia. ARENA also says Australia has some of the world's best wind resources along our south-western, south-eastern and southern margins. It's a resource we haven't exploited to its full potential yet.
With a combination of solar, wave and wind power, there is no reason why Australia can't become the world's capital of renewable energy. The initial costs may be high, but once renewable energy is in place, Australia will also have the world's cheapest energy and all of it will be green energy.