Shifting Energy Landscape: Lecture Examines Australia’s Energy Future

Australia’s energy landscape is rapidly evolving as the country works to move away from fossil fuel dependency and toward renewable resources such as wind energy, solar energy, and hydrogen fuel cells. Ken Baldwin, professor at the Australia National University (ANU) and director of the ANU Energy Change Institute, visited Colorado School of Mines on Oct. 30 to share about ANU’s energy research and predictions for Australia’s energy future.

The ANU Energy Change Institute researches nearly every viable and potentially viable energy resource and is invested in energy change and the energy future of Australia. “Energy change means the research activity that we need in order to transfer from a fundamentally fossil fuel based energy economy to a carbon-neutral energy economy,” Baldwin said.

“We are in a politically interesting space. We have an underlying philosophy that we are both technology and policy neutral. A lot of the work we do is on a human sciences side which influences policy and a science and engineering side, which influences technology. My role as director is to ensure that all areas of technology and all areas of policy are provided with support and that we don’t pick and choose winners. We are putting policy options out there so that the government can choose what they want.”

Government policy will most certainly play a large role in shaping Australia’s energy future. Currently, coal generates about 75 percent of Australia’s energy, but recent government regulations will gradually increase the cost of carbon pollution. The Institute’s research predicts that, within 20 years, the amount of coal used to produce energy will drastically decrease because of the increasing price and it will be replaced by wind and solar energy, both of which the institute believes will be extremely viable sources of energy in the near future.

Nuclear energy, also a viable and relatively cost-effective source, is not predicted to become a source of energy in Australia because current government regulations prohibit its production. However, the institute predicts that nuclear energy is a cheap if not cheaper to produce than other, currently used sources and is the only institute in Australia that is fully equipped to do nuclear research.

Australia’s energy future will impact not only its own energy production and consumption but world production and consumption as well. Currently, resources like coal and iron ore dominate Australia’s exports. If the Institute’s predictions are correct and Australia begins to produce less energy via coal, Australia’s export partners may see a change in the quantity of coal available to import.

Regardless of how much Australia’s energy landscape changes over the next 50 years, research predicts that the landscape will change. The change that Australia undergoes will reveal the practicality of switching from a fossil fuel based energy economy to a renewable energy economy.

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