06.02.2020Melbourne’s Pressing Energy Challenges

In October 2010 the Committee for Melbourne in its “Melbourne Beyond 5 Million” report series foreshadowed several energy challenges facing our city as its population marched towards 5 million (now reached) and beyond.

These challenges and concerns included the following (verbatim):

”A significant transformation in Victoria’s energy systems will need to occur

Specific opportunities to evaluate integrated solutions, additional sources and decentralised energy infrastructure

Reduce energy demand through efficiency improvements

More efficient use of natural gas in local cogeneration and trigeneration facilities including exporting excess power to the grid

The electrical (transmission and) distribution system will need to be strengthened to allow significant guarantees of decentralised electrical energy sources to be fed back into the grid

Reducing carbon emissions from the electricity system could result in a significant increase in prices

Higher prices could drive improved energy efficiency, but would have social implications, particularly for low income households

The challenge for Melbourne will be to increase the capacity of electricity generation at the same time as significantly reducing emissions at the lowest possible cost

The alternative of nuclear power is gaining significant attention elsewhere in the world and it would be prudent to ensure that this alternative is given serious consideration

Supplementing clean baseload power in Victoria could come from wind power (of which Victoria has a natural abundance) solar power from both large thermal plants and decentralised systems on building rooftops distributed within urban areas, and combined cycle gas generation

A smarter and more robust National Grid including extensive long-distance direct current links would be required to provide the opportunity to export electricity around both Victoria and Australia

Natural gas is a relatively clean and efficient fuel within the residential, commercial and industrial sectors as well as providing a fast-responding low emission generation source for electricity

With increased use of gas for electricity generation, and as a result of population growth, the long-term adequacy of our local gas resources may be in question

It would be in Victoria’s energy supply interests to assess the potential for (the utilisation of) gas (located) in coal seams beneath the level of brown coal currently (being) mined (in Gippsland)”

Nine years on – in December 2019 – many of these challenges and concerns have proved to be very far sighted and whilst some have been addressed many remain unresolved and several additional concerns can now be added to the list, including:

The loss of baseload electricity generation capacity from the early closure of the 1600MW Hazelwood power station in 2017

The expected further loss of baseload electricity generation capacity from the possible early closure of the 1500MW Yallourn power station in the next ten years

Victoria from being a nett exporter of energy to other States has now become a nett energy importer

There has been a loss of businesses and industries in Victoria because of the high cost of energy

Whilst both Federal and State Government instrumentalities are working on long term (multi-decade) plans for reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity and gas systems Australia-wide, there are some specific short-term initiatives required in Victoria to secure uninterrupted electricity and gas supplies over the next 5 to 10 years for Melbourne as follows:

To avoid blackouts, such as 24/25 January, this year the construction of circa 500MW capacity fast start gas fuelled electricity generators eg in Melbourne’s south eastern industrial area

To boost our diminishing gas supplies commissioning of an exploratory study to ascertain the quantities of deep biogenic peat gas (and associated high quality water) potentially extractable onshore in Gippsland

Planning of transmission upgrades to better connect Melbourne to NSW, Snowy 2.0 and the numerous solar and wind powered generators in Western Victoria

These initiatives will make a major contribution to ensuring an equitable energy future for Melbourne residents, businesses and industry by assisting in the provision of affordable, reliable, dispatchable and environmentally responsible energy supplies.

Such an equitable energy future should be a fundamental objective for our growing city and hence a key pillar in the Committee for Melbourne’s strategy for “Future Melbourne”, as its population grows beyond 5 million towards 6 million and more.

Tom Fricke

2nd December 2019

Read the Forum Highlights and listen to the podcast of this highly informative panel here.

A reflection on the Energy Security Forum by the Committee here.

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