Power to the People

For some people, one of life's little pleasures is looking at a city skyline all lit up at night and considering the possibilities that lie within its X, Y and Z axes. And for those lucky enough to hold a view of Melbourne's ornate and ever-changing evening skyline in all its glory on a regular basis, appreciate its magnificence for the nightly show comes at a cost to both to our pockets and to the environment.

It's common knowledge that for over a 100 years, Australia has relied on energy generated by the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels built originally by governments and now operated privately. This outdated approach to energy production is unsustainable and is potentially counterproductive as we move into the future. Unsurprisingly, it is only a relatively recent trend where governments and business leaders have made a concerted effort to create policy and facilitate investment into more sustainable energy generation and energy saving measures.  

According to a 2011 detailed report conducted by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics titled Australian energy projections to 2034-35, Australia's total primary energy consumption is forecast to increase by 29% from 2009 to 2034-35. Of this energy, non-renewable sources consisting of coal and natural gas will remain the most dominant with renewable sources forecast to increase from 5% to 9% over the same period.  To date, wind energy is seen as a proven and mature technology so it comes as no surprise that it's expected to account for approximately 14% of all energy production in 25 years time with strong growth to be seen in other renewable sources such as geothermal, solar, hydro and bioenergy. By 2034-35, the energy generation balance between non-renewable and renewable sources will be 76% to 24%.

To help drive Australia's push towards a cleaner future, the Renewable Energy Target (RET) was set up in 2010 which requires the production of 45,000 gigawatt hours of energy to be produced through renewable sources by 2020. Part of this initiative is to provide incentive for large-scale businesses, and small-scale businesses and households, to voluntarily adopt renewable energy sources by earning Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) through solar credits. Looking beyond the scope of this report and above all else, I believe this initiative is the key for Australia's energy security beyond 2034-35.

Another angle that warrants consideration is the cost of retail market electricity to the household moving forward, and if recent pricing forecasts by the Australian Energy Market Commission are anything to go by, there is little doubt the need for our households to generate their own energy is here already.  In the Electricity Price Trends Final Report published on 22 May 2013 by the AEMC, national electricity prices in nominal terms increased by 14% between 2011/12 to 2012/13, prices are forecast to increase by three per cent between 2012/13 to 2014/15. No matter which way you look at it, prices have been on the way up and will continue to go up.

By no means can Australia, and Victoria as a brown coal state afford to completely cut out non-renewable sources, but the balance between non-renewables and renewables moving forward needs to change. We must think of our built structures (be it commercial or residential towers or detached suburban homes) as mini power plants, with the capability to generate enough power to sustain itself. The notion of generating the majority power either by non-renewable or renewable sources in a far flung location is not going to fully solve our medium to long term energy supply needs. Solar panels and water capture for highrise buildings has become common place, yet as technology improves policy should be implemented to necessitate and enhance these measures.

Clearly I speak whilst living in a perfect world, yet the technological and economic realities suggest set up costs associated with creating an energy independent structure (read skyscraper) may not viable. Then again, what's the issue with a retrofit? Manchester's CIS Tower (above) with its solar panel facade is possibly the ultimate example. By taking the initiative and implementing policy the necessitates the creation of power at the point of use, in the long term we would take control of our energy security...bring the power back to the people.


Sources and further reading

Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, Australian energy projections to 2034-35, December 2011.

Australian Energy Market Commission website -

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