Welcome to the 1st episode of the IdeaSpies Editor Series in partnership with the A Spanner in the Works Disruption Podcast. I'm Lynn Wood, the Founder and Chief Idea Spy of IdeaSpies.
Kylie Hargreaves, Chair of the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2EP) and Energy Editor of IdeaSpies, will give you a passionate update on what's new and exciting in the energy field.
You can see Energy ideas, explained simply, on the IdeaSpies platform https://ideaspies.com/sort/Energy
Great to be with IdeaSpies this morning and great to talk about one of my passion areas, which is what's happening in energy. I thought I'd start talking a little bit first about energy demand, just to set the scene. So like it or not, the global demand for energy, which we need to remember is electricity, liquid fuels like petrol and diesel, and natural gas is continuing to grow and grow as our populations and economies grow. So if we can't realistically reduce overall energy demand, then we most definitely need to decarbonize the energy that we are using or obviously, we'll never reach net zero, which is critically important.
It's this race to decarbonize our energy that I think is really fascinating. It's creating all sorts of fabulous opportunities for new companies and for new ways of doing things. And as the Energy Editor for ideaSpies I thought I'd briefly touch on four areas of keen interest to me at the moment. Those four areas are energy productivity; the electrification of absolutely everything we can, but of course, the electrification of everything using clean electricity; what's happening in alternative liquid fuels- petrol, diesel etc: and of course, everyone's favourite at the moment, energy storage. I'll touch very briefly on each one and hopefully give listeners some interesting insights into what's going on.
Pretty simply energy productivity just means let's use less energy to produce the same or more outputs as before. And the reason that's my number one trend to watch is because improving our energy productivity is often the cheapest and the most immediate way for us to reduce the use of fossil fuels and therefore to reduce both emissions and energy costs. And interestingly, in Australia, according to the Federal Government's lower emissions technology statement, emissions generated from the burning of fuels for the purposes of generating heat, or steam or pressure, made up about 20% of Australia's total greenhouse gases in 2020. Now, in almost all of those processes, I can absolutely guarantee you that there is a ton of energy being wasted, often in the form of wasted heat. So I'm really interested in technologies that help to reduce energy waste in buildings, but particularly in manufacturing processes, because if you think about drying, sterilising, steaming, and about how hot those workplaces are, obviously we're wasting an enormous amount amount of energy. One of the things that caught my eye, for example, was aquatic centres. Given that many Australians swim, I was quite interested in the fact that RMIT in Melbourne has estimated that aquatic centres can consume up to seven times more energy per square meter than the average commercial office building.
And if you think about industrial operations, like real breweries or paper mills or even dry cleaners, you can really easily see and imagine the amount of wasted energy that comes from those industrial processes.
So tracking things like heat pumps, in aquatic centres, or even better closed, loop solutions for manufacturing operations becomes important. If you think about a brewery, they might have solar panels on their rooftops, batteries to store excess energy and a biogas unit to convert their organic waste into gas for their boilers, which they use to make the beer, and an AI system to manage it all remotely. Those sorts of things are really, really exciting.
Of course, some of the challenges for existing technologies in this area are high temperature, waste and heat recovery. Traditionally, heat pumps operate in lower temperatures. There's a lot of innovation going in the higher temperature areas, up to about 160 degrees Celsius and beyond. Just being really tricky. High temperatures are very difficult to work in, including for equipment, but there's some really interesting developments, for example, an Austrian project by a consortium called DryFiciency, which I posted to IdeaSpies recently, and that's delivered some really impressive results in high temperature industrial processes, including saving 80% of energy, which is obviously pretty impressive, resulting in co2 emissions.
2. Electrification of Absolutely Everything
Moving on to the second major trend that I mentioned, the electrification of absolutely everything we possibly can. Some estimates for global electricity demand show that by 2050, the demand will probably be increasing as much as 60%. That's because we're trying to transfer everything that we possibly can in households, in manufacturing processes and in transport. So that's EVs. And also, of course, in household batteries and large scale batteries.. And we also need to increase electricity for things like green hydrogen, which I'll touch on shortly.
So that's great, but where's all the clean electricity going to come from for this 60% increase in electricity demand. And in that space, I look at things like everyone does, which are solar, onshore wind, hydro, and renewable energy sources in Australia which accounted for only about 7% of Australia's total energy consumption in 2020. So that's, again, not just of electricity, it's of all our energy needs. When you just look at electricity, it's much higher at about 24% of Australia's total electricity generation in the same year that came from solar, wind and hydro. And of course, the investment that's going into the renewables market is massive. Investment in renewables has doubled in the last 10 years and it’s forecasted that in four years time, at some times during the year, and on some days, as much as 77% of our electricity demand could actually be coming from rooftop solar alone. So that's only in four years time. That's pretty impressive. And a report last week shows that renewables will be about 35% of all of our electricity. That's up from 24% in 2020. About 35% of all our electricity in the last three months of 2021 came from renewables. So lots happening. I look at things like the application of renewable technologies such as solar cells, including improvements around the efficiency of the technologies because solar cells are not that efficient. They're at 15 to 20% efficiency and leading edge technology pushing it to 23 to 25%. So clearly lots of room to move, and also new developments in the kinds of materials that are being used, for example, what are the alternatives to silicone?
I also look at less advanced renewable technologies. One of my favourites in this space is offshore wind, particularly because Australia doesn't have any yet, but recent legislative changes have shown that now we can actually put offshore wind into the waters around Australia. And if that gets up and running a new project could supply about 20% of all of Victoria's electricity needs. So offshore wind is a really interesting space. Turbine size is changing.
There's a lot of investment going into floating wind. And that's really cool because it also relates to one of my other passion areas, which is ocean energy. So for example, there's a UK pilot that's trying to test floating wind turbines and partnering them with wave energy. Now ocean energy is niche, but really fascinating and I love watching this space. Oceans cover more than 70% of the world's surface. You can generate energy from waves, from tides and from currents, but also from harnessing differences in the water temperatures. Even in salt concentrations. For example, where rivers make sea and you can put devices on the sea floor, floating in the middle of the water column or on top of the waves, that can be fixed to other structures. It's a really fascinating area. I probably put an overemphasis on ocean energy and some of the things I'm interested in, but it's more predictable than solar or wind. You can actually think about it as evening out the intermittency of solar and wind.The last area of renewable energy that I keep an eye on is biogas. It's a really active area in Australia already and some of the interesting developments are around the next generation of anaerobic digestion and how you can use it for bio waste, how you can use bio waste for both energy production, but also for electricity and that can be for heat. It can be used for biomethane as well as producing organic fertilizers and other sort of byproducts that you can actually use in the agricultural industry. So there's lots happening there, which brings me to alternative fuels,
3. Alternative Liquid Fuels
There are things you can do with renewable electrification that can also produce all sorts of different alternative liquid fuels. And that's also an area that's of interest to me. Not just methane, but methanol, aviation fuels, and of course, everyone's favourite, green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is getting a heap of attention at the moment because it offers a trifecta. It can give you an alternative liquid fuel for hard to abate sectors such as transportation or steelmaking. It's used in a power station. And you can put it in pipelines so you can use it instead of natural gas. So there are multiple reasons to pay attention to hydrogen. I like looking at things like what's happening in the electrolyzer technologies and bring those costs down, but also transportation. So one of the challenges is how do you transport a liquid fuel that needs to be stored minus 200 plus degrees Celsius? And how do you ship that? So those sorts of things are interesting as well as applications. There are a few really good ideas on IdeaSpies around what's going on in the hydrogen space, so everyone should have a quick look by searching the keyword hydrogen.
4. Energy Storage
And lastly, that brings me to energy storage, where everyone expects you to talk about batteries. That's that's a fair point. Investment in large scale battery storage is obviously going gangbusters and is needed to complement the growth in wind and solar. But batteries need large footprints. They obviously have fire dangers as well. They're excellent for short bursts of energy, but not so great for a sustained large scale supply of energy. And just to help people understand that, one of the largest batteries we have in Australia, soon will be the AGL 250 megawatt Torrens Island battery. Now, that's sounds pretty big and it is pretty big. It can provide 250 megawatts for about an hour and that capacity will be expanded so it can get up to 1000 megawatts for four hours. But what does that mean?
To put it in context, 1000 megawatts is equivalent to only 10% of total peak New South Wales electricity demand. And that sort of battery would not cover the peak period, which can run for more than six to eight hours on very hot summer days. So batteries are absolutely part of the answer, not a whole answer to a stable and consistent low emission energy source. And I do keep an eye on things in the battery space, including battery type which is currently a war between lithium and alternatives like zinc. Again, size, duration, inverted technologies and things like that are relevant, because there’s lots and lots going on in that space.
So Lynn that was an absolute whirlwind tour of the 40 trends that I'm keeping an eye on at the moment in the super exciting energy space, which I love. If anyone is interested in seeing some of the ideas in this space that I might have mentioned or others, they can always go to IdeaSpies, click on the energy category, and use the keyword search function. Type in something like solar or battery or whatever specific area you're interested in browsing and I would strongly recommend people do because it's a lot of fun browsing through the IdeaSpies platform and seeing ideas that interest you, explained simply.