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Energy in the Future

Where our energy comes from, and how it is used, is changing in response to factors such as concern about the environment (particularly climate change), advances in technology, and increasing energy costs. For example, significant changes in our use of renewable energy, our modes of transportation, how we control our electricity networks, and how we use energy in our homes are likely in coming years.

Renewable Energy

The use of renewable energy for electricity generation in Australia is increasing, although fossil fuel generators still dominate. In order for Australia to meet its commitment of an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 levels by 2050, a major shift toward low or no emission technologies will be required.

The Australian Government's Renewable Energy Target is the main policy instrument driving the increase in renewable energy, with the current target set to achieve around 20 per cent of renewable generation by 2020. The carbon pricing mechanism is also contributing toward increasing levels of renewable generation by increasing the costs of fossil fuel generation.

Electricity generation in Tasmania is already dominated by renewable hydro generation, with wind also becoming an increasingly significant source of generation.  Tasmania's world class renewable energy resources, which include wave and tidal and potentially geothermal in addition to wind and hydro, ensure Tasmania is well placed to further its position as a renewable energy powerhouse supplying mainland jurisdictions via Basslink and potentially additional inter-connectors.  For example, Hydro Tasmania has recently announced they are investigating a 600 MW wind farm (known as TasWind) on King Island which would supply clean electricity to Victoria via an undersea cable.

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Transportation

Liquid fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel are by far the current dominant transportation fuels, and are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.  A reduction in transport related emissions will be necessary in order for Australia to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Improvements in technology are increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles, and there is an increasing trend toward use of bio-fuels (usually in blends with fossil fuels).

Most major car manufacturers are now producing electric and hybrid vehicles, which many people suggest will be the way of the future. Currently these vehicles are relatively expensive due to the cost of the batteries; however rapid advances in technology are seeing ongoing improvements in efficiency (allowing for increased range and re-charging capabilities) and reductions in cost.

The ability of electric vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depends on the source of electricity generation. In regions where coal fired generators dominate; there is little or no benefit in using electric vehicles instead of petrol or diesel vehicles. However in regions where renewable energy generation is dominant, such as in Tasmania, the greenhouse gas benefits of using electric vehicles are significant.

Indeed perhaps the single most important contribution Tasmanian residents can make to reduce their emissions footprint is to minimise their use of fossil fuel vehicles and/or switch to less emissions intensive forms of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transport, and less emissions intensive vehicles.

Another important reason for considering the use of alternative transportation fuels such as bio-fuels and electricity is from an energy security perspective, given that Australia is becoming increasingly dependent on imported liquid fossil fuels. Tasmania is totally dependent on the import of refined petroleum products, with no production or refining capabilities within the state.

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Electricity Networks

Traditionally our electricity supply networks have been built to enable a one way flow of electricity from large scale centralised generators to dispersed end users, with any demand constraints met by simply increasing the capacity of the network. Control of the network has been relatively coarse, with identification of faults dependant on end users reporting loss of supply.  However improvements in technology and an increasing focus on demand side participation and on improving network efficiency are changing the way our electricity networks operate.

For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of distributed generators (that is generators connected to the distribution network) with the popularity of roof-top residential PV systems.  This trend is expected to continue, and will have both positive and negative impacts on electricity networks.  If distributed generator output is -firm- (that is, always available when required) then it can offset the need for expensive network augmentations, however distributed generators can introduce network control issues.

Other ways of reducing peak demand, which is a major driver of increasing electricity costs, is through the introduction of cost reflective tariffs where consumers are incentivised to reduce demand in peak periods. Such tariffs will be particularly important if electric vehicles are widely adopted, in order to minimise re-charging during peak periods.

Another peak demand reduction mechanism is through direct load control, where network operators can reduce network peaks in constrained areas by shifting deferrable loads such as hot water cylinder heating. This is typically done in such a way that the customer doesn't notice any difference in their hot water supply.

Direct load control is one of a number of "smart grid" technologies that improve the efficiency of the network. Other smart grid technologies can improve the reliability of the network, for example by allowing remote detection and clearing of line faults.

A number of smart grid technologies are being trialled as part of the Australian Government's Smart Grid, Smart City trial.

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Energy in our Homes

The way we use energy in our homes is also changing.

Perhaps the biggest change has been through improvements in household energy efficiency which has been driven by mandatory energy efficiency requirements for new  homes and renovations, and by minimum energy performance standards for appliances. Gradual replacement of inefficient old building stock and appliances will see further improvements in household energy efficiency, although this is being partly offset by a trend toward larger houses and the use of more electronic devices.

It is likely smart meters will increasingly be installed in households in order to enable cost reflective pricing, household energy management systems, and a range of other innovative products that are likely to be offered to consumers by service providers in a competitive retail market.

Many households have already installed distributed generation systems, such as solar PV and solar hot water, which enable them to generate some of their own energy requirements. This trend is likely to continue.  It is also likely that as battery technologies improve and costs reduce, energy storage will be incorporated into distributed generation systems (maybe in the form of an electric vehicle).  Energy storage can enable more efficient use of intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar, for both the householder and the network, particularly where time of use tariffs apply.

So the house of the future may be one that:

  • requires minimal heating and cooling due to its energy efficient design;
  • generates some or all of its own energy needs;
  • has an electric vehicle in the garage which also acts as a form of energy storage;
  • has smart appliances, a smart meter, and a home energy management system which optimises how energy is used in the house, and the car, to minimise costs without compromising services.

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