Words by Scott Drelincourt
General Manager – QEM Ltd
The narrative around renewables is as diverse and nuanced as the energy mix itself.
It has been forecasted that by 2030 Australia will be well and truly transitioned into renewables. What that actually means and how long that really takes however, I believe, comes down to the models we can apply to accelerate that.
And education has a crucial role to play.
A great lesson of why education is so important can be seen in the case of coal. There’s a common misunderstanding around the different types of coal.
But coal can generally be broken down into two main types – thermal coal, and metallurgical coal. Thermal coal is burnt in power plants to generate domestic energy supply and it this product that is responsible for large volumes of CO2 release. Whereas metallurgical coal (coking coal) is used in the production of steel and is a much lower global contributor to CO2 release.
But many people don’t realise this difference – they are commonly grouped together under the one banner and treated the same. Yet they are different, have different uses, and different impacts.
Renewables can learn from its fossil fuel predecessors in that it needs to start educating the public now about the different renewable technologies available, and what they are specifically best suited for. Education would stop renewable technologies being thought of as one general product and creating space for each to stand on its own, and be accurately portrayed. An example of this is seen in the battery space.
Comparably, the technology, science and knowledge around renewables is far more complex and complicated. It’s one of the key lessons our industries – exploration, mining, mining services and companies spruiking their renewable credibility – need to learn.
A great example of how marketing and awareness can play a very positive role in shaping the thoughts and beliefs present in society can be seen in what Elon Musk is doing with lithium ion batteries and battery storage, particularly in our own metaphorical backyard.
However, what’s lacking is the exposure to education on the different types of battery technologies.
The vast majority of the public and governments would be unaware of superior battery technologies such as Vanadium Flow Batteries, which excel in the larger utility scale.
A report by Aurecon, reported on December 5 in The New Daily, suggested Tesla’s South Australian battery had saved the grid nearly $40 million in its first year – savings that flow back to the state’s bill payers. The report also found the battery’s response time was 100 milliseconds – meaning it could go from full output and back in an instant.
This example shows the advantages of battery storage and one can only imagine if, with education a superior technology was selected, how much more of positive impact it could have had.
It just really proves why we need to come down the centre with logic and facts to empower our consumers, not confuse them. To spread the message and see information as power.
For this energy transition, the acceptance and uptake in society will on aid the technologies and allow the transition to occur much quicker and more smoothly – if the education is done properly right from the early days.
Where does the education process begin?
Of course there are lots of things we can educate consumers and businesses about, but the key concepts that are really integral to get across are topics such as what renewable storage is actually all about.
I also think we really need to demonstrate to the public which renewable energy technologies are available in detail, and make it easy to compare the differences, the pros and cons in concise tables and clever infographics – whether that’s battery storage, microgrids, virtual power plants and so on.
We need to do whatever it takes to help consumers make decisions, compare like-for-like, and decipher what’s best for them so when it comes up in conversation, people will say: Why are you using that?” or “We should be using that”.
When that knowledge starts to become second nature, we’ll know we’re having an impact.
For example, lithium ion is superior in our phones, being very small and light, however it does have a high heat exchange issue, but how does that compare to the big things that use batteries, such as grid storage?
In Dalian, China, they are building the world’s largest battery – a 200MW/800MWh vanadium flow battery (VFB). The VFB has a much longer life than Lithium ion and does not have any of the heat exchange issues. It can also be fully discharged, unlike lithium ion batteries.
The battery’s purpose is to provide power during peak hours of demand, to enhance grid stability and deliver juice during black-start conditions in case of emergency. The system is expected to peak-shave about eight per cent of Dalian’s expected load when it comes online in 2020.
So where does this kind of education need to come from? I believe governments – Federal, states and local – should play a big role in this. Mainstream media outlets and private enterprise can also view this education process not just as a perception-forming exercise, but as an opportunity to acquire customers in key demographics with different power products.
It would be great to see this kind of education rolled out in classrooms as part of standard school science programs.
Because it really comes down to the science behind it. And with the children of tomorrow growing up with this knowledge as second nature, the new technologies of the future will also be defined by these children come 20 or 40 years from now.
We’re in the transition now, disruption is underway, and the reality is if we don’t accept that or embrace that, our people, country, technology and businesses will be left behind with old technology.
We’ll face being just the consumers – not adapting and not innovating. We need to embrace the energy market disruption and transition underway, and understand it properly, and in doing that we can lead the way.