A clean energy future: alternatives for Australian homes
It's clean, green and there's plenty of it. Renewable energy sources are environmentally sustainable and could be the answer to rising energy prices in years to come. We look at renewable energy adoption in Australia.
In 2011 Australia was ranked the world's fifteenth largest energy consumer on a per person basis. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas made up 95% of our total energy consumptioni. Although we continue to rely on traditional non-renewable energy sources to power industries and homesii, concerns over the impact of carbon pollution on the environmentiii make renewable energy an attractive alternative for the future.
Households across the country are already making the switch to energy sources like solar and wind to power their homesii. Greater adoption of renewable energy sources can provide solutions for lowering carbon pollution, while also securing a more sustainable energy future. We look at the uptake of renewable energy alternatives in Australia now and some projected developments in the years to come.
Clean energy adoption: now and in the future
Solar energy, which comes from the sun, can be used to power homes when converted into electricity or heativ. There are two main types of technologies that harness the sun's energy for the home: solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systemsiv. Solar PV systems use photovoltaic cells to convert the sun's energy into electricity. Solar thermal systems use solar thermal collectors - devices which capture solar radiation - to convert the sun's energy into heat. This can then be used for heating rooms or wateriv, v.
In August 2011, there were 513,585 small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systemsvi and over 700,000 solar hot water systems installed in homes across the countryvii. That's an increase of 513,322 solar PV systemsvi and 693,774 solar hot water systems since 2001vii. With the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the worldiv, there is enormous potential for growth in Australia's solar energy industryviii.
Wind energy can be converted into other forms of energy, including electricityix. In 2011, enough energy was harnessed from the wind to power over 900,000 Australian homesx. In addition to electricity generation from large scale wind turbines, there are small-scale wind turbine systems that households can purchase and install. These systems are suitable if your property is in a location that is exposed to sufficient wind and where the wind generator will not impact neighbouring properties.
Currently, although wind energy represents only 0.2% of the nation's primary energy consumptionix, development of turbine technologiesx may improve the uptake of wind energy in the future. One of the major challenges for developers has been to reduce the amount of noise that turbines produce in order to make them more suitable for use in urban areas and residential sitesxii.
Geothermal energy is stored as heat below the earth's surfacexiii. It can be used for both heating and cooling. Unlike solar energy, geothermal energy can operate 24 hours a day, which makes it an attractive renewable energy sourcexiii. In 2011, there was only one commercial geothermal plant operating in Queensland, with three more projects underway in South Australiaxiv. At the time geothermal energy represented 0.002% of clean energy generation in Australiaxv.
Hydropower is generated from the force or energy of moving waterxvi. In Australia, there are a number of micro-hydro systems - hydropower systems that are not connected to the main electricity grid - in rural areasxvii. They are a cheaper and greener alternative to extending the electricity grid in isolated communitiesxvii.
Officially completed in 1974xviii, the Snowy Mountains Scheme is one of the most prominent renewable energy projects in Australia. The complex hydroelectric power generation system in NSW is comprised of 7 power stations, 16 major dams, 145km of tunnels and 80km of aqueductsxix. It is responsible for producing approximately 4,500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy each year, preventing about 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being released annuallyxix.
Tasmania is the only state where hydroelectric power is the main source of electricity: other states still rely mainly on electricity generated from fossil fuel power stationsxx. However, the growth of the hydropower industry is restricted by the fact that there are very few sites in Australia suitable for maintaining an ongoing and reliable hydropower systemxvi.
Ocean energy describes forms of energy that come from the seaxxi. This includes wave energy, tidal energy and ocean thermal energyxxi. Ocean energy could potentially be a great source of renewable energy in Australia as our coastlines provide an abundant source of tidal and wave energyxxii.
Benefits for households
In recent years, Australian households have become increasingly conscious of their energy consumptionii. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that more people are taking into consideration the energy star rating of home appliances and energy consumption of lighting before purchasing, and that more households are embracing renewable energy generationii. Greater environmental awareness and a desire for cheaper alternatives for powering homes are driving the demand for greener optionsii.
The 2011 Clean Energy Australia report reveals that one of the major factors affecting the rise in electricity prices is the maintenance of the electricity grid. The cost of upgrading and repairing the grid is estimated to cost over $220 billion over a period of twenty yearsxxiii. In comparison, renewable energy systems usually operate at low costsxxiv.
The benefits of switching to alternative energy sources are not only related to cutting down the cost of energy bills over time. Alternative energy sources could reduce the impact of carbon pollution on the environmentxxiv. The Federal Climate Change Department predicted that if no action was taken on carbon pollution by 2020, the nation's carbon pollution could be 20% higher than it was in 2000iii.
Wind, solar and hydroelectric energy are the only renewable energy sources that are easily accessible to Australian householdsxxv. The GreenPower initiative - a joint initiative of the ACT, NSW, SA, QLD, and VIC governments - plans to take the nation one step closer to a renewable energy future by encouraging businesses and homes to support the development of new renewable energy generators across the nationxxvi. For more information, visit www.greenpower.gov.au.