Cleaning up Australia’s energy future

DESPITE its position as a world leader in the provision of major natural resources such as oil and gas, Australia is being overshadowed by its major trading partners in one key area of development: its use of clean energy generationmethods. A recent World Wildlife Fund study, Clean Economy, Living Planet, found that despite marginally improving development of its clean energy industry, Australia ranked just 26 of 40 countries in terms of clean technology product manufacturing, lagging behind countries such as China, Korea, the US and Russia.
Locally, however, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) is working to change Australia’s standing among the world’s users of clean energy. The CEC is a national not-for-profit organisation that represents Australia’s clean energy sector, made up of more than 600 member companies that operate in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency, developing or deploying all major ‘clean’ energy technologies.
The CEC promotes awareness of the clean energy industry through leadership and business opportunities such as industry events, meetings, newsletters, directorates and media interaction.
Members of the CEC receive a range of benefits, including: advocacy on their behalf to drive government policies; opportunities to participate in industry development programs; information on market and regulatory developments and government policies and programs; advice on regulatory and market issues that may affect project development or operations;
and media updates and invitations to member-only events.
Clean energy technologies in use in Australia
Solar photovoltaic
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of buildings capture the sun’s energy and use it to generate electricity cleanly and quietly: the PV cells on the panels transfer sunlight photon energy into electrical energy with the use of specially fabricatedsemiconductor crystals. Although panels cannot generate electricity all the time, the technology does generate electricity when it is needed most – during the day and, more specifically, on hot days when electricity demand is at its peak.
Solar power is a zero-emission electricity source: the generation of one megawatt hour of solar-derived electricity avoids the creation of about 1t of carbon dioxide. Importantly, solar PV technology generates electricity at the point of demand – on site where people live and work – which negates the needs for energy to be transferred by expensive infrastructure.
Most solar PV installations in Australia are grid-connected, but the technology has a long history of supplying reliable ‘off grid’ power, making it suitable for use in remote and regional communities as well as suburban and city areas.
As one of the sunniest continents in the world and home to vast open spaces, Australia is an ideal location for solar PV and there is huge potential for the technology to make a significant contribution to electricity generation across the country.
Solar thermal
Solar thermal technology generates electricity by using lenses and reflectors to concentrate the sun’s energy. The concentrated energy is then used to heat a fluid such as water or oil, which produces steam, and the steam drives a turbine that generates electricity.
Solar thermal generation technology is suitable for deployment on a large scale, and related storage systems are being investigated.
According to the CEC, the most common solar thermal power stations utilise Compact Linear Fresnel Reflectors – modular flat reflectors that focus the sun’s heat onto elevated receivers containing water. The concentrated sunlight boils the water in tubes, generating high-pressure steam for direct use in power generation and industrial steam applications without the need for expensive heat exchangers.
Other similar solar thermal systems commonly used include trough systems, tower systems and parabolic dish systems. As with solar PV technology, solar thermal power is a zero-emission electricity source: one megawatt hour of solar-derived electricity created via this method avoids the generation of about 1t of carbon dioxide.
There are very few solar thermal power systems currently operating in Australia, but a number of companies have expressed interest in developing larger systems.
Solar hot water
A solar water heater uses energy from the sun to heat water, by moving the water through collectors on the roof of a building. The main solar collector types are flat plate, evacuated tube and heat pumps. Heat pumps use the reverse of a refrigeration process, transferring heat from the air to the water stored inside a tank. The heated water is stored for use in an insulated storage tank just like a conventional hot water system. Water heating accounts for one quarter of the energy used in the average Australian home and is responsible for 23 percent of total household greenhouse gas emissions. The installation of a solar water heater reduces the greenhouse pollution associated with water heating in the average Australian home by between 60 and 90 per cent.
Heat is naturally generated in granite rocksdeep below the earth’s surface and trapped there by layers of insulating sedimentary rocks. In areas where underground temperatures are suitable the trapped heat can be freed and used as a power generation source, utilising techniques established by the oil and gas industry. Wells are drilled to depths of between 3km and 5km below the surface to locate suitable heat-producing granites. Water is then pumped down in the wells and through the cracks in the rocks.
The water is heated to a temperature of up to 300°C and pushed back to the surface, where the heat is used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. The water used in the process is then recycled.
Geothermal power is a zero-emissions power generation method, but while some of the world’s best sites for hot rocks are in Australia the country still has very few working geothermal operations. About $1.5 billion worth of geothermal exploration work is in progress in Australia, by more than 50 companies working to establish geothermal generators. The major areas of geothermal exploration in Australia are: South Australia’s Cooper and Eromanga basins; the Hunter Valley, near Newcastle in NSW; Victoria’s Otway Basin; and areas of Tasmania.
Wind energy
Wind energy, currently the world’s cheapest renewable energy source, involves the generation of electricity from the naturally occurring power of the wind using large wind turbines. The turbines’ large blades are driven by the wind; the turning blades drive electrical generators that produce power, which is then exported to the grid. Areas that enjoy strong, consistent winds are the most appropriate locations for ‘farms’ of wind turbines. Australia has some of the world’s best wind resources, particularly in South Australia, and there
are now more than 50 operating wind farms across the country. The CEC has estimated that in 2012 wind energy generation will save Australia 7,386,400 tonnes of carbon
Marine energy

Marine power uses ocean tides, currents or waves to produce electricity. Power comes from the water’s movement, generated by either the changes in the height of the tides or the ocean’s current.
There are a number of different marine energy technologies that utilise different methods for harnessing the ocean’s energy,but the most common oceanic power generation system uses a water-driven turbine to drive an electrical generator.
Methods of marine power generation include: tidal power, in which water flows from the high side of a dam or barrage across a bay or river mouth to the low side, moving through turbines to generate electricity; wave power, which utilises surface waves and pressure variations below the ocean’s surface to generate intermittent power or floating buoys, platforms or submerged devices placed in deep water to generate electricity using the bobbing motion of waves; and ocean thermal, which extracts energy from the temperature difference
between the ocean’s warm surface waters and deep, colder layers, using the water to make steam and then passing the steam through a turbine generator to make
According to the CEC, Australia’s near-shore wave energy resources could create about four times the nation’s current national power needs, but wave energy resources are still almost completely undeveloped in Australia. Regions such as South Australia’s Port MacDonnell, Victoria’s Portland, Warrnambool and Phillip Island, the areas of Albany and Geraldton in WA and parts of the Tasmanian and NSW coastlines are optimal sites for wave energy plants.
Bioenergy generates power using renewable fuel sources that can be stored
and controlled, and the technology for this form of power generation has a proven track record of delivering reliable energy to both industrial and domestic consumers. Bioenergy involves the use of a range of power generation technologies to efficiently extract considerable quantities of clean, low-emission electricity from sources such as agricultural crop waste, wood waste, urban garden and food waste, sugar cane residue, sewage and animal wastes. Bioenergy is a clean energy source that creates little or no greenhouse emissions, depending on the type of biomass and conversion technology used, and it is capable of being carbon negative if carbon capture and sequestration is employed in the process.
Sustainable biomass fuel sources are available in abundant supply in Australia, including sugar cane bagasse (residue from processing), sewage gas, landfill gas, wood waste and black liquor, energy crops, agricultural products and their wastes and municipal solid waste. In Australia most of the energy created from biomass fuels is in the form of heat from firewood and bioenergy from sugar cane bagasse or wood wastes.
According to the CEC, bioenergy contributes an estimated 1 per cent to Australia’s electricity and accounts for about 12 per cent of the country’s renewable energy generation.
Hydroelectricity, also known as ‘hydro’, is a well-developed renewable technology that utilises the energy of flowing water to spin a turbine connected to a generator that produces electricity. The amount of electricity generated depends on the volume of water passing through the turbine and the height of the water above the turbine. Hydroelectricity does not actually ‘use’ water, as all the water that passes through the turbine is returned to its original source (such as a river).
Large hydroelectric power stations use dams to store the water needed to produce their electricity. These dams are often built for irrigation or drinking water, and the power station is included in the project to ensure maximum value is extracted from the water. This form of generation can provide both base load and peak load electricity and, importantly, a hydroelectricity generator can start up and supply maximum power within 90 seconds. Hydroelectricity has a long history of development in Tasmania and NSW, and delivers the majority of Australia’s renewable energy. There are more than 100 hydroelectricity stations across the country, totalling more than 8000 megawatts of capacity that produces about 5.5 per cent of the nation’s total electricity output.
Clean Energy Week 2012
Clean Energy Week is Australia’s largest event for the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, incorporating the ATRAA solar conference, a huge trade exhibition, a schools program and events for the general public.
Hosted by the Clean Energy Council, the week’s program of events delivers the latestpolicy initiatives and technology developments, as well as the opportunity for industry participants to make valuable new contacts and form critical business partnerships and deals.
Clean Energy Week 2011 drew more than 2000 local and international delegates to Melbourne and the 2012 event, to be held in Sydney from July 25 to 27, is set to be even bigger.
For more information about Clean Energy Week 2012 or to register, visit

One Response to Cleaning up Australia’s energy future

  1. Deborah

    July 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    this is an amazing article, thanks.

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