Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy in Australia
With the current state of the climate and environment, more and more people are turning to renewable and clean sources of energy as alternatives to coal, fossil fuels, or natural gas. But what exactly are renewable resources and how can you support the development and implementation of them in your home and community? What is the government doing to further their use in everyday life? Discover all this and read more about energy market.
What is renewable energy, green energy, and clean energy?
While often used synonymously, renewable energy, green energy, and clean energy have some slight differences in their effect on the planet. All of them are considered better alternatives to traditional fossil fuels or coal energy but knowing the differences can help you make the best informed decision when it comes to helping the planet.
Renewable energy: Renewable energy is natural energy that is constantly replenished in an efficient and sustainable way without damage to the environment. Unlike fossil fuel or coal which take millions of years to be created, renewable resources are able to be replenished within the human timeline. Renewable resources include water (hydro) power, solar, wind, biomass, or geothermal, but does not include nuclear energy at the moment due to the elements needed to create the nuclear reaction (however this could change as technologies evolve in the future).
Green energy: Green energy is energy that is derived from natural resources. Most forms of green energy are also renewable but not all renewable energy is green. Some might argue, for example, that due to the vast industrialization needed to create hydropower it can be considered renewable but not green.
Clean energy: Any energy that does not pollute the air is considered clean energy. Nuclear energy, while not renewable due to the current use of finite resources, or green since it is not a natural production of energy, is considered clean as it does not pollute the air like coal or fossil fuels.
There is some obvious crossover between these types of energy, and these terms are often used interchangeably. For the most part, however, when people refer to renewable or green energy they are referring to the five major renewable resources: solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal.
Types of renewable energies
There are many types of renewable energies available for use. While the most common renewable resources are solar, wind, and hydro (water) power, biomass and geothermal energy are both alternatives to traditional coal or fossil fuel as well.
Solar energy is arguably one of the most abundant and widely available resources on the planet. The sun itself is one massive nuclear reactor which radiates out the sunlight that fuels our Earth. By harnessing the sunlight (called photons) and using photovoltaics (PV) or solar thermal harnessing, we are able to transform the sunlight into energy for our consumption.
Solar energy is also the most common type of renewable energy for personal use. As the cost of solar systems (solar panels, batteries, and converters) drop, and they become more accessible through private and government-funded initiatives, individual households and businesses are purchasing and installing solar panels onto their property. Many energy providers, as well, are adding incentives for customers to purchase and install solar panels on their property.
Solar Feed-in-TariffA solar feed-in-tariff (FiT) is an energy buy-back scheme implemented by the majority of energy providers. Customers who have solar panels and a solar battery can send unused energy back into the grid which is purchased by the energy companies. In Australia, most states and territories have a minimum FiT but many energy companies will actually give you more for your unused solar energy.
Hydropower, which is energy generated by the movement of water through turbines or generators, is another popular renewable resource as it’s constantly replenished through the sun. Hydropower has been around for a long time, traditionally being used to turn mills in order to break and hull grain or break ore in mining. It is also the largest contributor to renewable energy worldwide, contributing to over 16% of the world's energy production and accounts for over half of all renewable energy. Unlike solar, hydropower is often done on a larger scale as it requires the use of vast turbines and generators and the movement of large amounts of water.
Australia has over 120 hydroelectric power stations, which contribute to over a third of the country’s renewable energy generation and over 7% of the total generation within the National Electricity Market. Snowy Hydro power plant, the parent company of Red Energy and Lumo Energy retailers, is the largest of the country’s hydroelectric stations, contributing to over half of all hydropower within Australia. At present, there are plans to expand Snowy Hydro, with a plan called Snowy 2.0 in an effort to decrease Australia’s dependence on nonrenewable energy sources while implementing renewable energy storage and kWh output.
Through the use of wind turbines, it is possible to capture the power of the wind and convert it into electricity. Kinetic wind energy is converted into electrical energy through propellers spinning gears connected to a generator which then transforms the energy into electricity. While there are some difficulties when it comes to wind energy, as some of the most profitable places are also the most remote areas and the noise and large turbines can disrupt the wildlife in the area, technological advancements are making wind energy cheaper, easier, and less disruptive.
As of 2018, Australia has 94 wind farms with a total generating power of 16GW, and those numbers are expected to rise as the price of wind energy technology continues to fall. AGL owns the largest wind farm, called Coopers Gap Wind Farm, which should have a generating power of 1,510,000MWh per year once completed.
Other renewable energy resources
While solar, hydro, and wind power are some of the most well known and popular renewable energy sources, there are other sustainable sources that provide energy to consumers across the world. While not as popular or well known, as the cost of technology decreases and interest in alternative energies increases, we can expect to see more and more of these alternatives become commonplace.
Geothermal energy takes heat from the Earth, in the form of steam or water, which is transformed into electricity. According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, while Australia has immense geothermal energy potential it is not the most financially viable renewable energy option due to the significant start-up costs for the geothermal system technology needed, as well as the difficulty in identifying and then extracting the geothermal reservoirs. As such, it accounts for around 0.001% of the country’s total clean energy consumption.
Biomass utilizes living or once-living organisms to create electricity though burning the biomass to create hot gas. These organisms can be anything, but wood waste, black liquor (a by-product from paper manufacturing), biogas from landfill or sewage methane, energy crops, commercial crop residue, or household garbage or garden prunings, are the most common. This hot gas is then generated into steam through a boiler, which is run through a steam engine or turbine to create mechanical or electrical energy. As of 2017, biomass accounted for 1% of total energy production and 11% of renewable energy production in Australia.
Top green energy providers in Australia
Many energy providers in Australia offer some form of renewable energy initiative, whether it’s through GreenPower, solar FiT, or other energy schemes. Some, however, go above and beyond to contribute to renewable resources and their local environment. Here, we outline some of the top green energy providers in Australia, as well as what they’re doing to help encourage renewable resources and sustainable energy in their communities.
Powershop: 100% carbon offset and environmental initiatives
Powershop earns the top spot on GreenPeace’s Green Electricity Guide, thanks to its renewable assets, strong public position against fossil fuels, and it’s involvement in local energy trading. Powershop offers 100% carbon offset energy at no extra cost and, through Your Community Energy, supports local environmental initiatives including their current project to support the Great Barrier Reef by raising baby corals which will be planted back into the reef into June 2020.
Diamond Energy: Renewable energy generation
Diamond Energy was the first energy retailer to offer export tariffs on their customers’ solar battery energy storage, and positions itself as a leading renewable energy provider as well as earning the second highest spot on the GreenPeace Green Electricity Guide. Unlike many other energy providers who offset their carbon emissions, Diamond Energy generates 100% renewable energy through solar, wind, biogas, and rooftop PV (rooftop solar panels).
Energy Locals: Local energy trading, and solar system schemes
Energy Locals is not only an 100% carbon-offset energy provider, but another green and community-driven company that works to bring more renewables to the Australian energy market while minimizing the market share of the bigger energy giants. Through a partnership with P2P energy trading partner Enosi, Energy Locals allows customers to buy and sell their solar generated energy to others within their community. Energy Locals has also paired up with Tesla and the South Australia government to lower the cost of full solar systems for households, and bring more solar energy to the South Australia virtual power plant.
Enova Energy: Community-owned energy provider and local community support
Enova Energy is a community-owned energy provider, dedicated to bringing renewable, community-based, energy to Australia. Not only do they offer 100% carbon-offset energy but they offer multiple initiatives to support local communities that rely less on big energy providers. This includes funding solar gardens for people who might not be able to otherwise access solar energy, launching micro-grids to reduce renewable energy costs while keeping energy locally generated and stored, and most recently through the implementation of a shared community battery to help generate, store, and supply local energy more efficiently.
Renewable and sustainable government initiatives
The Australian government, as well as state governments, have multiple renewable energy initiatives for energy customers and energy retailers in an attempt to transition the country to more and more sustainable sources of energy. These can include solar buyback schemes, assistance with personal rooftop solar systems, and more.
South Australia Virtual Power Plant
In collaboration with Tesla, the South Australia government has begun implementing a Virtual Power Plant in an attempt to reduce energy costs while supporting the energy grid. This initiative first launched in 2018, with 1,100 Housing SA properties being outfitted with solar panels and battery storage with all installations completed in 2019. Currently, the results of the trial phase are being evaluated to decide the future of the VPP.
Once the evaluation is complete, an additional 49,000 homes could be included in the program. With 50,000 properties potentially being included in the VPP, this could account for 20% of South Australia’s average daily energy requirements while reducing household energy bills, and providing greater energy security.
Private households, not part of the Housing Trust, can also join the VPP by purchasing a Tesla Powerwall system directly from Tesla, or a number of energy retailers including Energy Locals which currently offers financing assistance through its partnership with Tesla.
GreenPower is a voluntary government initiative that allows energy consumers to displace a percentage of their electricity usage with certified renewable energy. For a certain amount of c/kWh, customers can offset anywhere between 10% to 100% of their electricity usage through their energy retailer. This renewable energy is added back into the grid on the customers behalf, and is additional to any other mandated government clean energy requirements.
How does GreenPower work?If a customer uses 700kWh / month of electricity, and chooses to offset 10% of their consumption with GreenPower, 70kWh of energy supplied back into the electricity grid will come from renewable resources.
While GreenPower does increase your electricity bill (an additional 5-8c/kWh), most of this goes directly to GreenPower-certified electricity generators. Since its implementation in 2009, GreenPower customers have invested more than $500 million into Australian renewable energy.