What do young Australian engineers who have inherited our present world think about the challenges of designing resilient energy systems within the parameters of new and emerging technologies? Commissioned by Engineers Australia in partnership with ASPI, this report presents the thoughts of four young engineers on innovative energy design projects they are currently working on, as well as their views on the challenges they foresee for the design of future energy systems. These four sections are bookended by the views of two established leaders within the engineering profession.
The first section, by Neil Greet, examines wider contexts of the challenge of moving towards industry-wide use of renewable energy sources and supporting infrastructure. A key point in this section is the need to balance inevitable competing views of proponents of the changes with the views of those more cautious about whether energy transition is such a critical national issue.
Following this Clare Paynter dives into a deep yet concise review of Australia’s historical energy development. She provides the context behind the current political opportunities for successfully addressing the energy transition, including the benefits of being an early adopter of new technology, how risk can become better distributed and how we can improve knowledge transfer. The section concludes by emphasising the role of leadership in transitioning to a stable, secure and sustainable Australian energy system.
In the third section, Alan Reid, examines the market presence of innovative home energy monitoring and residential-scale electrical storage and management technologies. Alan also examines governance challenges that arise from large-scale disruptive innovations, with the advent of the ‘prosumer’ of electricity combined with system decentralisation through localised grids.
In the fourth section, Tara-Lee Macarthur examines energy transition in the context of three distinct yet linked themes: engagement between customers and electricity suppliers, innovation and collaboration and approaches to ‘sustainable’ engineering. While each is a standalone issue, Tara-Lee shows that together those themes are enabling factors in the broader context of a rapidly changing sociotechnical landscape. Central to this change is the challenge of how prosumers can and should collaborate with utilities companies to sustain the previous energy model’s valuable attributes of being affordable, secure and safe, regardless of future energy models.
In the fifth section, Jack Bryant argues that the key challenge to renewal and resilience within our power systems isn’t technological change alone, identifying linkages between energy policy and governance arrangements as also important. He suggests a system-wide approach, coupled with good governance, is required to provide well-balanced energy solutions. This section examines some of the most recent policy challenges within our power system, whilst also exploring some of the emergent technology opportunities which are available to address known vulnerabilities across electricity networks.
Finally, the Hon Trish White, National President and Chair of the Board of Engineers Australia, scans the challenges and opportunities the next decades of electricity network development is likely to bring. Many of these are social and economic but they will be driven in part by the ability of engineers to respond and adapt to evolving changes. A critical message from Ms White is that engineering solutions must be integrated with business, political and social systems. Australia cannot afford to manage separate domains and hope that a seamless and orderly transition will occur by itself.