The age of the fossil fuel is dying out, and the time for energy efficiency is rising. Thanks to a combination of the depletion of available fossil fuel resources and a global shift towards cleaner, greener fuels, it won’t be long before coal, oil and natural gas will be taught in school history lessons.
The focus instead has now shifted to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal. The technology to convert the earth’s natural, and extremely powerful, sources of energy is rapidly developing and already a large number of Australian households are installing photovoltaic solar cell panels on their roofs. Some states and territories have a higher uptake and spend a larger budget on renewables than others and there is still a long way to go until, as a nation, we can start to wean ourselves off fossil fuels more fully, but the journey towards a cleaner, greener future has begun in earnest.
Australia is lucky that it has an abundance of renewable energy sources but it is not yet utilising those sources to anywhere near close to capacity. Currently, renewable energy accounts for around 5% of the country’s energy consumption, with hydroelectricity, bagasse, wood and wood waste combined accounting for 85% of that total.
Wind, solar and biofuels make up the remainder and solar energy accounts for 1.8% of energy consumption in the residential sector. The production of renewable energy differs from state to state, with differences in climate being a major factor. For example, South Australia and Victoria have the majority of wind farms and New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have the greatest hydroelectric capacity.
As a nation, the target is for 20% of Australia’s total energy consumption to be from renewable sources by 2020. A number of policies and incentives are driving that, including the introduction of Renewable Energy Certificates, which can be applied as a discount on the upfront cost of purchasing solar hot water and wind power systems or residential photovoltaic panels. When it comes to residential renewable usage, solar energy is a growing success story. Over half of all households in the Northern Territory and 21% of Western Australian homes used solar energy to heat water in 2008.
The major barrier to renewable energy technology development is the initial cost of research and plant building. However, a major investment was announced in 2011 - from 2013, The Clean Energy Finance Corporation will begin a five year, $10 billion operation to finance wind, solar and other renewable projects. It is estimated that $20 billion will spent on renewable energy projects in Australia in the next ten years and $100 billion by 2050. However, the idea is that Australia will experience a clean energy boom and the investment will pay for itself in the long term - literally, in terms of the environment, and because it will break Australia’s reliance on an energy supply which will not be around forever.
The overwhelming majority of Australia’s energy (a whopping 95% in 2008) is generated by non-renewable sources, with black and brown coal accounting for over half of the energy produced and a massive 84% of the fuel used to generate the country’s electricity.
Although renewable energy accounts for just 5% of the total energy produced in Australia, the fact that its production increased by 6% between 2008-2009 (with solar electricity increasing by 40% and solar hot water by 27%) is encouraging and is undoubtedly just the start of the country’s shift towards a future powered by renewables.
Journalist and copywriter Emily Buckley is committed to finding greener ways of doing everyday things and has written several articles for AGL about this topic