This paper provides a better approach that could be utilized to solve various problems associated with the current power system in Australia. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rates are quite high as a result of overreliance on coal to generate electricity. Investment in alternative sources of energy, renewable sources, such as wind, solar and water are the major alternatives that can be utilized to reduce carbon emission rate. A clear background on the need to consider these alternative sources has been provided with the backing from peer reviewed research sources on Australian energy systems. The advantages and disadvantages of these sources are evaluated in order to have clear reasons for their implementation.
Background to the Problems
Australia’s energy production is dominated by coal, which is a prime cause for the existing greenhouse and global warming effects. Global warming has become a global problem that has raised concern as a result of creating great climatic change all over the world. In 2007, an energy report in Australia revealed that 54% of the total energy production originates from coal (Yusaf, Goh & Borserio, 2011, p.2215). More than three-quarters of the country’s electricity is generated from coal-burning plants (Effendi & Courvisanos, 2012, p.245). Though an abundance of coal in Australia has significantly led to a reduction of energy prices, there are major negative impacts that cancel the short-term benefits realized. However, over reliance in coal as the main source of energy has seen Australia get one of the world’s highest per-capita green house emission rate (Effendi & Courvisanos, 2012, p.245). These facts about the power systems in Australia are main reasons behind the critical need to invest in sustainable power, which will be reliable and most importantly environmental friendly. Investment in renewable sources of energy would significantly reduce the GHG emissions, which are the prime causes for global warming. Currently, there is unprecedented interest in utilizing renewable sources of energy, particularly wind and solar energy, which are considered clean sources of electricity. Considering Australian climate, wind, and photovoltaic energy are the most appropriate sources of energy, which are currently underutilized (Zahedi, 2010, p.2209). The table shows fractions of electric generation from different sources in Australia as of 2008
The electricity demand is expected to projects by 50% by 2020 (Shafiullah et al, 2012, p.190). This will require an estimated value of at least $37 billion in order to meet the energy demand (Shafiullah et al, 2012, p.184). However, meeting these demands while at the same time moving towards a low-emission future is a major challenge facing Australia’s future development plan (Force, 2004). The aim of the Australian government is to ensure high standards of living for its citizens with reliable access to competitively priced energy, optimal resource utilization, and proper management of environmental concerns (Falk & Settle, 2011, p.6805). The government of Australia has created a scheme, MRETS (Mandatory Renewable Energy Scheme), which will facilitate increasing renewable energy capacity from 9500 GWh to 45,000 GWh by 2020 (Effendi & Courvisanos, 2012, p.246). Renewable energy funds of AU$1500 million are provided to enable commercialization, development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies, where AU$150 million will be used for clean energy and solar energy research, and AU$500 million for National Solar Schools, Solar Cities, and Green Precincts initiatives (Zahedi, 2010, p.2210). It is expected that there will be a significant development in renewable technologies by 2020, rising to a 3.1% contribution in the national grid (Kuwahata & Monroy, 2011, p.537). The chart below is the general expectation of power generation in Australia by 2020.
After statistical analysis, which was conducted by use of ranking algorithm on seven Australian states, to ascertain the most appropriate zone for solar plant installations, Northern Territory and Queensland were considered the most suitable zone (Kuwahata & Monroy, 2011, p.540).
Advantages of Solar Power
One of the greatest advantages of solar power is being environmentally friendly. There are no carbon emissions when generating electricity from solar power. This significantly reduces global warming, which is a global threat (Zahedi, 2010, p.2208).
The fact that solar power is renewable means that the source can be relied on for the longest time possible. The sun, which is the source of this power, ensures continuous generation of electricity, therefore being sustainable and reliable source of power.
Solar power will definitely save Australia billions of dollars, which are wasted in fighting global warming (Yusaf, Goh & Borserio, 2011, p.2210). Also, maintenance of solar panel is cheaper compared to maintenance of other power generation systems. After proper installation, there are no mechanical parts that are prone to breakdowns.
Apart from being carbon emission free, solar power does not produce noise during generation. Therefore, noise pollution along with air pollution is significantly reduced. This makes it convenient to be installed in both scarcely and populated zones in busy towns.
Solar panel installation is easier compared to other sources of energy, such as hydro, geothermal, diesel, and wind. Unlike geothermal and wind power stations that make use of drilling machines during installation, installation of solar panels can be done on the rooftops with little expenses.
Disadvantages of Solar Energy
The main disadvantage of using solar power is that it is affected by climatic seasons. Solar power plants are active during the day and dormant during the night hours because power is only generated when the sunrays are available. Seasons affect the length of the day and therefore affecting the rate of power generation. In addition, cloudy and rainy seasons lower the rate of power generation making the source of power to be more reliable as standby and supplementary power. Normally, the output from solar panels is maximized when the panels are directly facing the sun. This means that fixed panels will experience varying output depending on the direction of the sun. However, this problem can be handled by putting the panels on tower that are able to respond to the sun’s direction.
Another drawback of solar power is that initial cost involved is normally high. The solar panels and solar cells that are required to harness solar energy are expensive when purchasing them. However, the government of Australia has introduced suitable schemes to encourage adoption of renewable sources of energy, which includes reduced tariffs (Yusaf, Goh & Borserio, 2011, p.2216).
Currently, Australia has over 45 wind farms, which are actively supporting the national grid (Yusaf, Goh & Borserio, 2011, p.2219). Wind power in Australia produces about 0.5% of the total electricity used within the country, with Southern Australia being the leading region with high wind installations (Smith, & Taylor, 2008, p.15).
Advantages of Wind Power
Unlike other forms of power generation where fuel is required, wind power generation relies on wind, which is free in nature. Wind is a natural fuel that does not require mining or transportation to the site of power generation. This makes wind power generation less expensive compared to other sources of power generation like coal which is highly used to generate electricity in Australia (Zahedi, 2010, p.2209).
The price of electricity from nuclear and fossil fuel can fluctuate often due to variable cost incurred during transportation and mining. However, wind energy can ensure price stability because the price of fuel required to generate electricity is absolutely free. Depending on the project size and the speed of the wind, wind power promotes production of cost-efficient energy. The cost of electricity generation has fallen significantly over the years as a result of inclusion of wind power generation.
Wind power plants can be installed amid agricultural land without interfering with crop production, livestock, and people. This makes it a reliable source that ensures diversification of rural communities, providing new types of income and generating power for rural electrification.
Unlike coal and natural gas that produce large quantities of carbon emissions, wind power does not produce any harmful gas, making it is environmentally friendly (Smith, & Taylor, 2008, p.16). As a result of zero emission during power generation, wind power generation reduces global warming. Also, wind harvesting ensures preservation of nature since the need for destructive mining is reduced.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
Although wind energy is considered a renewable source, it is however, a variable resource, which is normally affected by seasons. The turbines produce power when the wind blows; therefore, variation of wind speed greatly affects the rate and amount of power generated. Some seasons come with low wind speed, which ultimately affects the generation output (Diesendorf, 2014, p.1).
As with majority of construction projects, interference with the natural ecosystem is expected. Depending on the sensitivity of the area, wind power project can impact animals and plants. Loss of natural vegetation and wildlife habitat are primary concerns for wildlife management in Australia.
Wind turbines cause noise pollution though on a lower magnitude compared to other power generating plants like coal. However, it can cause disturbance to people residing near the power plants.
Geothermal power features as a minor source of electricity in Australia. However, there is significant development and growth of geothermal projects in Australia (Kuwahata & Monroy, 2011, p.541). There are potential areas that are considered suitable for geothermal project in Australia. Currently, there are explorations being conducted in the Northern territory and all other states. Some exploratory wells have been made to test the availability of geothermal reservoir rocks, and hot granites were detected in some regions. Australia is regarded a convenient place to develop geothermal power generation because of vast resources available and geologically stable conditions (Kuwahata & Monroy, 2011, p.541). Volcanic regions have the hottest rocks near the earth’s surface, therefore being potential regions for geothermal development.
One of the greatest advantages with geothermal energy generation is that it is emission-free energy. Normally, stored heat energy is extracted from earth’s interior region and used to rotate turbines in order to generate electricity.
Australia has great potential of becoming a global leader in energy production and management through appropriate utilization of renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. The great need to reduce GHG emission can be solved through development of renewable energy. These renewable sources are friendly to the environment and therefore reduce global warming significantly. Proper policies and management strategies should be put in place through the effort of key stakeholders from the private sectors and state agencies to fully exploit the available renewable resources. However, since these renewable sources lack consistency as a result of changes in climatic conditions, it is appropriate to supplement with other source which are more stable and reliable, such as geothermal energy. Great volcanic regions in Australia are key regions where several geothermal power generation plants can be established.
Wind and solar projects that are currently underway will be able to increase the total power generated and therefore significantly reducing the cost of electricity. However, solar energy is the most convenient source of power generation that can be heavily utilized to ensure a sufficient and reliable supply of electricity in all regions. Most significantly, the development of these renewable sources will reduce air pollutions in Australia and as a result reduce the global warming effect in the entire world. As the study reveals, there are several suitable zone where these projects can be established to boot power generation in Australia. Also, as a result of climatic changes which might cause variance in power generation, it is also important to factor other source such as geothermal, which are more reliable and not affected by seasons.
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