How does renewable energy work?

Renewable energy is produced through natural resources that are constantly replaced and never run out. There are many different types of renewable energy, here are three main categories with some examples of what types of technologies are within those categories: 

1. Common technologies: 

  • Solar power (like the panels on top of roofs that get energy from the sun)  
  • Wind power (think those big wind turbines) 
  • Hydropower (energy of moving water) 

2. Energy harnessing technologies: 

  • Geothermal energy (heat from the Earth) 
  • Bioenergy (organic renewable materials, typically wastewater, municipal waste and waste streams) 
  • Ocean energy (wave, tidal, and ocean thermal) 

3. Grid strengthening technologies:

  • Battery storage (pretty self-explanatory, this uses batteries) 
  • Smart technologies (predicts when and where electricity is required)

Where is Australia at with renewable energy? 

In 2020, Australia’s total electricity generation was 27.7 percent renewable. 

In this year’s Budget, the Federal Government leaned towards focusing on technology that reduces emissions, particularly with gas production, rather than looking towards renewable projects like wind and solar (even though gas plays a minor role in the national grid providing about 8% of electricity). In essence, commentators recognised that the current Government’s key priority was on a “gas-led recovery” rather than further funding for renewables and green hydrogen. 

What’s holding them back? 

Given how rich in renewable resources Australia is, we’re considered to be in a strong position to make the switch to renewables. After all, we’re one of the sunniest continents on earth, the technology already exists, and is booming elsewhere in that world. That said, as we pointed out earlier, gas appears to be the current priority for the Government, as reflected in the Budget. It is known that gas produces less greenhouse gases than coal, so it is seen by some in the Government as an adequate “transition” step before Australia goes totally renewable. In the interim period, the Government has continued to allocate money to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation to back new clean energy projects (though that hasn’t been free from criticism, which you can read about here).  

The current Federal Government has previously (and currently) been reluctant to set ambitious targets for climate policy and renewable energy. Back in 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke about ensuring climate policy and renewable energy was integrated in a way that would not “wreck the economy”. Another difficulty with moving towards renewables that have been identified is Australia’s complex electricity grid connection, with risk needing to be offset. 

The other side of the argument continues to claim that renewable energy sources like solar and batteries are projected to continue experiencing the fastest cost reductions of any source of energy technology. Additionally, there is the general argument that pivoting towards renewable energy is fundamental to slowing down climate change. Greens Leader Adam Bandt has previously said he wants Australia to close the coal industry by 2030, and turn completely towards renewables. “We could get to zero emissions within Australia and become a renewable energy superpower that is exporting our sunlight instead of exporting our gas and coal”, Bandt said. 

The transition towards renewables has begun, but continues to be a major point of contention within both major parties – it has brought down a Prime Minister, Ministers, Shadow Ministers and continues to divide electoral voters too.

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