Commonwealth, state and territory energy ministers met this week to try to resolve the energy crisis that emerged overnight but has been going on for 20 years. While many of the factors contributing to rising wholesale energy prices are international in scope, the way forward will depend heavily on national energy security.
A bold argument
(Photo: SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)
Experts have argued that those who argue that fossil fuels are necessary for the transition are completely missing the point. While no one is suggesting shutting down gas and coal plants this afternoon, the truth is that we are moving away from carbon-based power. That’s not part of the answer at all.
Energy storage is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Government and corporate energy planners need to change the way they think about batteries to successfully accelerate the transition to renewable infrastructure while keeping the lights on. They are now seen as a buffer for existing energy infrastructure rather than a pathway to a new paradigm characterized by ubiquitous renewable energy and national energy security.
One reason is that current lithium battery technology is best suited for fast charge and discharge storage regimes. It’s fantastic for supporting an energy infrastructure that is deteriorating as coal and gas plants close. Yet lithium cannot be the full story, especially given its supply chain issues and pricing challenges for longer-term energy storage. Other battery technologies must become available before a paradigm shift in thinking – and implementing energy storage systems – can occur.
Battery energy storage infrastructure has the advantage that it can be implemented in months rather than years to commission new gas installations. Solar and wind power combined with battery storage is the best way to switch to renewable energy.
Also read: Cost of renewable energy like solar and wind farms is slowly falling, research shows
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Energy prices are rising not only because of change, but also because we are taking too long to recognize the benefits of renewable energy. An example of what is possible in the nation’s capital is shown. While the rest of us face rising electricity prices of 20% or more, average consumer spending in the Australian Capital Territory will fall by 1.25% next month.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be accomplished. Renewable energy, whether through initiatives such as Sun Cable, green hydrogen or the export of Australian-made solar and battery technology, remains a huge untapped resource for Australia that can not only ensure the country’s energy security, but also provide a dynamo for energy exports.
If we really want to put the climate battles behind us, we can focus on transforming Australia into a global renewable energy giant. However, this will require rethinking battery technology and supporting battery manufacturing in Australia.
Bottlenecks in global energy supply chains hurt energy markets and limit opportunities for economic progress around the world. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a situation where the electricity supply is used as a weapon of conflict. President Joe Biden of the United States used Cold War powers to ensure the availability of lithium for battery development.
Given the global nature of the dilemma and its militarization in geopolitics, Australia’s potential to achieve energy security and sovereignty through renewables must be accelerated. We all expected gasoline prices to remain constant during last year’s transition. It turned out to be a bad decision.
How can Australian solutions weather this perfect storm head-on? Today, battery technology offers a no-marginal-cost alternative to meeting these energy demands. Once built, storage solutions effectively pay for themselves over time.
However, we need to start thinking about batteries in an entirely new way. This is not just a back-up plan in case “real energy” solutions fail; they are the only way to achieve energy independence and a low-carbon economy. And we can produce them right here in the United States, using recyclable materials and reliable supply networks.
While lithium will continue to be part of the answer, there is not enough ore available to meet demand. Lithium prices have increased almost tenfold over the past 18 months, but China still handles 80% of the world’s battery-grade lithium.
Other metals and technologies, such as the zinc used by Gelion, will need to be developed to diversify supply chains and create storage solutions that can support the shift to long-term storage needed to run energy solar as the basic energy source.
Need urgent solutions
This requires immediate investment in medium and long-term solutions rather than energy bets based on an outdated perspective. We must also ensure that we support Australian solutions. Otherwise, our economy will become too dependent on foreign technology and services, which is unwise in the current political climate. Renewables are gaining ground as the EU weans off Russian gas and the US seeks energy security. Australia can no longer afford to fall behind.
Related Article: Experts Say Renewable Energy Sources Are Not Enough to Solve Europe’s Energy Crisis
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