This week I headed out to Murdoch University, Perth, to attend the World Renewable Energy Congress’ Southern Hemisphere Conference on Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development and Decarbonisation.
This was my first energy conference with a focus on academia as opposed to industry, and I couldn’t help but notice a surprising difference in the conference focus. The majority of presentations related to technical aspects of renewable energy, which is probably unsurprising given that about 70 per cent of attendees were engineers. I was disappointed at the lack of policy, political and economic focus of the conference. There were a variety of governance presentations, however these were largely focussed on what might be termed ‘little g governance’… iterative and ad hoc governance processes in existing practice, as opposed to Governance – the realm of interactions between and within political, financial and industry institutions and frameworks for appropriate practice, which I think is a more interesting and relevant area of study. But I suppose this might reflect the academic rather than industry focus of the conference!
This leads well into my second observation from the conference – that of an attitude towards policy and politics. It seemed that the conference presentations were largely divorced from the implications of policy, beyond those that specifically restricted renewable energy (regulations and planning approval processes). There was no real discussion on challenging political realities or assumptions; although, perhaps this is a result of the on-going success (relatively speaking) of renewable energy compared to its past. Phil Jennings of Murdoch University noted in his closing remarks that the first WREC conference in Australia had a much stronger focus on policy and politics, and that changes to the themes presented in these conferences reflected a change in focus with regard to research and the concerns of the renewable energy industry.
Regardless of the lack of presentations directly relevant to my research, there were some that were very interesting and thought provoking:
- Professor Paul Hardisty from CSIRO gave an excellent presentation providing an overview of renewable energy in Australia, including its progress, public perceptions, its interaction with climate change and mitigation strategies and even utilised an interactive audience voting tool, which kept everyone alert and awake.
- Steve Gates from Sustainable Energy Now presented on a fairly robust computer model to test whether WA could have entirely 100% renewable generation on the SWIS. The findings indicated that this was possible but that it would require significant commitment to fund infrastructure, but this was not necessarily more than would be required to upgrade our system in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Funnily enough it didn’t seem as though the presentation considered the political challenges associated with this – stability in policy, commitment to a change in generation framework and public-private partnerships to deliver the assets required.
- Glen Holland from SunWise electrics gave a very convincing argument on why we should all change our domestic and industrial refrigerant gasses to hydrocarbon form. His argument was so convincing, in fact, that I couldn’t understand why regulations haven’t been amended to enforce the use of HCs.
- Chris Beaton and Jenni Harrison from the City of Cockburn presented on the excellent progress the City is making towards increasing renewable penetration and the adoption of behaviour change programs in the region. It will be interesting to consider this in more detail when I start researching local councils.
- Oscar Arteaga from Western Power spoke about results from the saturation of PV systems in the Perth Solar City program, finding that PV use led to reduced reliability for households where electricity was fed into the grid, and did increase the potential for the system at the transformer scale to be noncompliant with regulation, but that at the penetration level tested there was no substantial impact on the stability of the grid. This, however, was only at 29 per cent penetration based on system inverter rather than system capacity. It would be interested to see what happens when capacity exceeds 30 or 40 per cent!
- The charismatic Josh Byrne gave us a look inside his very own home – Josh Byrne’s 10 Star Home. Apparently you can follow Josh’s entire journey on the telly, through ABC’s Gardening Australia. But I hadn’t heard of him. I sat next to him at lunch and didn’t realise he was a bit of a celebrity!
- Matt Lennie blew everyone’s socks off with an entirely innovative plan to build ships that use wind power to generate hydrogen for use as a power/water source. While only in its very infant stage of design and development the concept could assist small nations with access to water resources to increase their access to and reliability of power/water supply.
- Marek Kubik concentrated on an issue close to the heart of any system operator dealing with intermittent wind generation – how to balance curtailment of wind supply, demand and alternative energy sources, particularly in events that have not been forecast. Unfortunately, I don’t think there was really the networks audience that would have benefitted from his research.
- Yoshihiro Yamamoto from Japan looked at diffusion of innovation theory with regard to domestic PV adoption, a topic frighteningly close to one I am studying. He found that the diffusion of innovation theory did hold with regard to PV adopters in terms of early adopters being influential citizens with higher income. He used his findings to suggest that up-front discounts and subsidies are a more appropriate mechanism than feed-in tariffs to increase adoption.
- Of all the presentations I saw, though, I enjoyed my trip to BioWorks oil refinery the most. This incredible small business sources used cooking oil from around the state and turns it (using a decidedly backyard-type operation) into BioDiesel. Producing only 10,000 litres a day, it is truly a boutique refinery. I applaud the work of the CEOs in their foray into this complex world of chemistry, regulation, markets, consumer engagement, transport logistics, accounting….
My research presentation, examining stakeholder perceptions of the Renewable Energy Target was well received by the audience, as was indicated by a range of questions! You can see a copy of my slides at the link below.