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Energy Sector Update (21/6/2016)

The Southern Highlands Energy Strategy – Solar Farms, Off Grid & Low-No Carbon

Do large-scale solar farms make sense for us? Will “Off-Grid” systems work for villages? Can we profit from a low-no carbon economy?

A seismic shift away from fossil fuels is underway:

  • In September 2014 the heirs to the Standard Oil fortune joined a campaign that will withdraw a total of $50bn from fossil fuels, including from tar sands funds.
  • Norway’s $900bn sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, has been selling down its coal portfolio in recent quarters and said its holdings were already small. “Investing in coal companies poses both a climate risk and a future economic risk,” the parties said in a joint statement. (Guardian 28/5/15)
  • While the Saudi government still expects fossil fuels to dominate the world’s energy mix in the near future, it recognises that eventually we are not going to need fossil fuels – perhaps as early as 2040 – just 25 years away.
  • AGL, Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, has vowed to close all its existing coal-fired power stations by 2050 and will not build or buy new conventional plants in the meantime.

Coal provides about 69% of Australia’s electricity production, and it is heavily subsidised. According the Sydney Morning Herald (2/6/15), Australia has received more than $4 billion in money from foreign governments to fund coal projects since 2007. And Australian taxpayers have subsidised coal mines and power plants around the world to the tune of $1.4 billion via the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, a government bank that helps finance Australian projects in other countries.

The question for our region is when, not if, we “divest” from fossil-based fuels and inject renewables into our economy?

Now that solar panels are now mainstream technology and solar battery storage systems are starting to enter the marketplace, a wide range of energy options are within our grasp.

  • New technology is expected to provide individual houses with the ability to disconnect from the grid. The same technology can be used with large groups of houses. Do we use this technology to set up our existing villages or new suburbs so that they can operate “off-grid”? If we go down this path, what are the best ways to finance the networks?
  • Research on lithium battery technology continues apace. Alternatives like graphene technology are on the horizon. Do we look at promoting the Moss Vale Enterprise Zone to battery research businesses around the world as an R&D base? Or does a large solar farm in the Moss Vale Enterprise Zone make more sense? Or do we do all of the above?
  • Recent tax changes for small businesses could act as a catalyst for the development of centre that specialises in training electrical engineers. Can our education system quickly gear up to train a new generation of solar installers and supply new entrants to an ageing pool of air conditioning engineers via the Moss Vale Campus?

Energy Sector Summary: Oct 2015

Energy Sector Summary: July 2015

Where we want to be by 2031

  • Exploit fast emerging business opportunities in the field of alternative and decentralised energy generation (2031-EconDev-5.4.3)
  • Wingecarribee community has a carbon neutral economy Council’s role (2031-Environ-4.4
  • Promote the type of development that would reduce the use of fossil fuel (2031-Environ-4.4.1)
  • Promote local sources of renewable energy (2031-Environ-4.4.3)
  • South East Region of Renewable Energy Excellence (SERREE). (Regional Development Australia Southern Inland (RDASI) worked with RDA ACT and RDA Far South Coast to establish the SERREE project in 2012. (RDA Table-SH)