Your own pigs don’t stink, or the best way to replace end-of-life power stations with sustainable solutions

By Su Wild-River

Each year the ANU Sustainability Learning Community hosts a Great Green Debate but this year was different. Recognising that there is not debate that climate change is happening, the group instead organised a forum on solutions, bringing together technology and policy experts to discuss sustainable solutions to climate change and energy demands. And what a discussion it was.

The draw-card speaker was Adam Bandt MP, Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, Federal Member for Melbourne and true inspiration. Adam reflected on a recent trip to Germany and the perplexing differences between Australian and German opinions on wind farms. Wind energy of course is one of the most promising green energy sources and by 2013, new power stations running on wind were about 2/3 the price of new coal – even without the carbon tax.

One of the biggest barriers to wind energy in Australia is Wind Turbine Syndrome, a peculiar condition affecting mainly English speakers who have been exposed to frightening information about wind farms. Adam Bandt believes that Germans are not affected because more than half of the country’s renewable energy infrastructure is owned by its citizens. He talked to a German farmer who confirmed he doesn’t complain about wind farm noise because he owns it, and “your own pigs don’t stink”.

After the trip to Germany, Adam says he spends most of his time wondering how we can increase community ownership of Australia’s renewable energy infrastructure. This is timely because about 40% of Australia’s coal-fired power stations are past their end-life and need to be replaced.

A German presenter gets in the way of the graph that Adam Bandt MP intended to photograph. Adam is the small, dark pointer at the front of the slide.

A German presenter gets in the way of the graph that Adam Bandt MP intended to photograph. Adam is the small, dark pointer at the front of the slide.

Windlab is well on the way to providing a solution to Adam’s dilemma. Garth Heron spoke about the Coonooer Bridge wind farm in Victoria, which is the first renewable energy project in the country with an ownership structure that includes the local farming community together with the developer. Garth also showed off Windlab’s wind prospecting technology and energy models showing the feasibility of electricity co-generation from solar and wind. In some places, the wind and sun can reliably generate baseload energy throughout most of every day, with more energy produced than is needed for many hours.

The bright future for renewable energy harvest went pocket-sized in Professor Hoe Tan’s presentation on nanotechnology solutions. He’s harvesting solar energy using photonic devices about the size of atoms and integrating them into bigger applications, hugely increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated.

With enough renewable energy capacity in the bag, the climate solution discussion shifts to battery technology. Professor Christine Charles is developing hydrogen fuel cells that could soon install rocket power into clean, green cars, as well as stationery settings.

Many commercial property developers are actively progressing the green energy agenda. James Bichard, the Development Manager at the Molonglo Group which designed the Nishi Building in New Acton explained how energy efficiency is fundamental to the design of their new, iconic cinema/office/apartment block which won the International Project of the Year at the 2015 Building Awards in London . Green energy doesn’t have to be elite either, with Nishi holding a proportion of it’s apartments at an affordable entry level for new home-owners.

Of course all of this needs financial support and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has the solution. This profitable government body secures financing solutions for the clean energy sector. The CEFC partners with commercial financiers and focuses on projects and technologies at the later stages of development which have a positive expected rate of return and have the capacity to service and repay capital. The CEFC’s 2013-14 Annual Report revealed a total project value of $3.2b, and a positive return of $2.40 profit for every dollar it invests.

Compact or large-scale combined solar and wind power generation, efficient battery storage, green buildings and the CEFC are quite possibly the best way to replace end-of-life power stations with sustainable solutions. These are all proven, cost-effective and available now. In light of these options it seems inexcusable for Australia’s Coalition government to threaten Australia’s Renewable Energy Target and its associated research, development and financial initiatives as they are this week in Australia.

Thanks Alexander Ferguson, Karen Hussey and the Sustainability Learning Community for these amazing stories to support our outrage. 

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