Picture yourself renting a cosy place in rural Australia and working in healthcare. It's not all magical sunsets and simple living. Your energy bills skyrocket during summer because of the heat and your asthmatic child needing a dehumidifier. Despite asking your landlord for solar panels, your request is denied. Now, you're contemplating investing in an electric vehicle and battery to manage bills, but it feels like a mountain to climb.
Such issues can feel individual and personal. However, they are a key consideration for nationwide sustainability and energy policy reforms, impacting countless Australians in similar situations.
The challenges of sustainability and the cost-of-living affect us all in different ways. Renewables are set to transform Australia’s energy system in the coming years. We're shifting from fossil-based energy consumption systems, like coal, oil, and natural gas. And we're moving to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and sustainable energy storage, such as lithium-ion batteries.
Exploring Australia’s energy transformation challenges
Last November, our Smart Energy Mission embarked on a journey to explore the challenges of Australia's energy transformation. We want to help inform the potential development of a National Energy Analysis Centre (NEAC). The Smart Energy Mission’s focus is to enable Australia’s next generation of integrated and customer-centric energy systems.
To reach our net zero emissions targets, we must acknowledge the complexity of energy transformation. It's an integrated systems challenge that encompasses engineering, economics, environmental, regulatory, social, and digital aspects.
In eight weeks, we had heart-to-heart discussions with participants from 23 diverse organisations. From policymakers to innovators, we covered the spectrum, including planners, investors, advocates and academics.
While the energy transformation is a national endeavour, the challenges and solutions are deeply local. Our consultations highlighted critical gaps in a lack of reliable data from everyday energy users and a limited understanding of how this transformation affects society at large.
Going beyond early adopters
We wanted to shift our focus beyond just the early adopters. It's crucial to acknowledge the diverse challenges encountered in the transition to renewable energy.
These include the financial hurdles of acquiring renewable technologies, especially for lower-income individuals. There are also unique logistical issues faced by rural communities due to geographic isolation. The need for a stable power supply is critical for those dependent on home medical devices, highlighting the life-or-death stakes of reliable energy. Additionally, enhancing electric vehicle infrastructure is essential, particularly in areas currently underserved.
An inclusive approach that embraces these varied issues is vital. It's important to understand and integrate the perspectives of people who face difficulties with new technologies, those grappling with high energy bills, and communities in remote areas, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
By considering these diverse viewpoints, we can work towards a truly comprehensive and sustainable energy transformation.
Building trust and raising awareness
Dr John Gardner and Charlie Mere, from the Smart Energy Mission, unveiled key insights from the consultation. Navigating the energy transformation is challenging for everyone, with unique obstacles and opportunities.
"Public responses are crucial, and understanding them is currently lacking," John says.
Limited public knowledge and low trust in organisations pose hurdles for planners and approvers, making effective engagement difficult.
"Innovators are driven by the big picture of the energy transformation, believing their work can accelerate it," Charlie says.
Innovators’ passion underscores the potential of innovative solutions in expediting the energy transition. Advocates and academics, however, see pitfalls. Charlie emphasises the need for an inclusive approach.
"They're concerned about people being excluded from the transformation's benefits," Charlie says.
As a key institution in the energy transformation, CSIRO can help broker partnerships at both local and national levels with existing stakeholders, while also levelling the playing field for new entrants.
As we navigate the evolving energy landscape, insights, data and analysis will serve as a compass, guiding us toward a future that is sustainable and equitable for all.