When you were growing up, how did you imagine the 21st century?
If you’re like me, maybe you thought we’d have everything the sci-fi movies promised. Flying cars, hoverboards, and highly advanced, occasionally homicidal robots…to name a few.
Importantly, you probably imagined a future with clean energy and zero waste.
Sadly, we’re further away from this childhood fantasy than we’d like to admit.
As you know, Australia is one of the most liveable countries in the world. But in terms of renewable energy, we’re lagging behind. So says a study by the Sustainable Governance Indicators.
Is this due to high costs?
Those have always been part of the problem. And renewables do still represent some higher costs than sources like coal. But costs are coming down.
A report by the International Energy Agency shows that, since 2008, the cost of solar has dropped by 80% globally. And based on their predictions, the prices for wind and large scale solar generators will continue to drop.
So what is keeping us from a new era of clean energy?
Is it a lack of consumption?
No. Renewable energy consumption grew by 11.5% in 2014, according to The Conversation.
OK, so what is it then?
You guessed it…the government! Or at least their total lack of consistent policies. And vested interests dragging their heels. The big corporations often point out that fossil fuels are cheaper, and that moving to renewables means higher electricity bills.
Well the government may have finally come up with a long-term plan.
You may have read about it from Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel. He recently unveiled the Finkel Review. It’s a blueprint intended to optimise Australia’s National Electricity Market.
The report addresses the key issues facing Australia’s move away from fossil fuels. That should help us meet our Paris Agreement goals of reducing carbon emissions by 26–28% by 2030.
But the Finkel Review runs into some contradictions…
For instance, it pushes for a Clean Energy Target (CET). But it also gives the government a quick fix plan on how to build High Energy Low Emissions (HELE) coal power stations.
Now Finkel does not recommend pouring taxpayer funds into building coal-fired stations. But the idea is popular among Federal Ministers and Coalition backbenchers.
Tell me, do you really want your hard earned taxes to be spent on outdated energy solutions? Relic power stations that close unexpectedly?
Or would you rather a power source that will never run out, like the wind and sun?
Of course, there are issues here too.
While the costs for manufacturing renewables are going down, the costs for large scale energy infrastructure are not. And that’s holding back mass adoption.
According to the BP Statistical Review of Global Energy, renewables provided only 2.4% of energy worldwide.
With these high costs, the renewable share of the market stays below conventional forms of energy. So it’s unlikely it will overtake coal, oil and gas anytime soon.
Not to mention, when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, we still depend on fossil fuels. Especially since current battery technology isn’t up to the task of storing renewable energy during these downtimes.
But that’s starting to change.
A lot of companies are working on improving battery storage capabilities. From lithium-ion to vanadium redox batteries, the solution is out there. And it will be found, eventually.
The free market will deliver that solution.
You’re already seeing visionary companies like Tesla, Zen, Carnegie and Lyon Group developing their expertise.
The race is on to bring a battery to market that can store enough energy to cover our baseload needs. And whoever wins that race should see their investors sitting pretty.