Energy Security Amid Heightened Global Tensions

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With a war continuing in Europe and an enemy that targets energy infrastructure, it is right to ask questions about energy security. However, it appears odd that reporters would highlight offshore wind farms as a vulnerability. At the recent launch of consultation about the 8 GW offshore wind farms planned for the Newcastle (NSW, Australia) coast, reporters from the Newcastle Herald pressed the federal energy minster (Chris Bowen) about Australia’s enemies being able to blow up the proposed wind farm.

There have been valid concerns among European countries of Russia mapping their offshore wind farms, but any potential enemy would have to travel a long way to destroy the giant turbines 20 km off the coast of NSW, or the Star of the Sea south of Melbourne. The tyranny of distance might hamper Australian trade, but it is a great benefit in times of war and disease. A cyberattack is more of a threat than missiles in modern warfare against energy infrastructure. Perhaps this should be more of a focus for our intrepid journalists?

Newcastle is a conservative area and has long been the home to a thriving coal industry, and so we can forgive the local journalist for “playing to the home crowd.” But seriously? Wouldn’t it be easier to blow up a coal-fired power station, or even an oil tanker, than lots of turbines scattered throughout the ocean? Australia’s previous government, in a twist of irony, appointed Angus Taylor as the energy minister. Angus was anti-wind turbines of any size in any location. Australians are still fighting his legacy of 10 years of opposition to renewable energy.

I guess the next red herring to be thrown up will be the effects of wind turbines on the whale migration which takes place every year along the Australian east coast. Although, there has been evidence of smaller species using the marine structures as breeding grounds, leading to increased numbers of feedstock and also larger pelagic fish. The Australian fishermen may yet thank us.

Although Australia has the highest level of rooftop solar penetration in the world, it lags other developed countries in the installation of wind turbines. Several large projects are underway near Warwick and also off the coast of Victoria, to name just a couple of places.

One rotation of one giant offshore wind turbine provides as much energy as an average rooftop solar installation generates in a day, and it has less fluctuation in supply than onshore wind. The IEA now classifies offshore wind as a “variable baseload technology.” In a time of heightened global tensions, this will provide energy security.

According to a recent media release: “The Hunter (home to the city of Newcastle) is one of six priority regions around Australia with world-class offshore wind potential. The Commonwealth recently declared Gippsland off the La Trobe Valley as the first region in Australia to be home to a new offshore wind industry.

“The government has previously announced a further four regions earmarked for offshore wind zones. These include the Pacific Ocean region off the Illawarra in NSW, the Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria, the Bass Strait region off Northern Tasmania, and the Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury.”

The NSW government (Liberal/National, which means conservative in Australia) has declared the Hunter-Central Coast Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) the state’s fourth REZ and the first to include offshore wind. The offshore wind farm will be sited in Commonwealth waters. One of the reasons for the delay in offshore wind turbines in Australia is that they fall under the purview of the federal government, which previously blocked any development for about a decade.

The Hunter-Central Coast REZ already includes the infrastructure for power distribution built to service the aging and soon to be closed coal-fired power stations at Liddell, Bayswater, Eraring, and Vales Point. All will be gone within a decade. Repurposing existing assets and offering jobs to the skilled workforce already in situ will mean that Newcastle will not turn into a ghost town — and the politicians will get re-elected.

With skilled workers in high demand worldwide, it may be that some of the workforce will relocate to Europe or the USA. Hopefully projects of this magnitude will keep the necessary skills in Australia.

There is no shortage of interested investors, including Fortescue Future Industries, Origin, and Orica. Australia’s largest aluminium smelter, Tomago, would make a great customer for cheap wind produced energy. Green aluminium sells at a premium.

“Making sure we arrive at a position where we have a viable offshore wind energy sector in the Hunter will require tremendous investment and effort to make sure we have the supply chains and workforces ready,” Andy Evans, the CEO of Oceanex, said on Thursday. “The Hunter already has the mindset, infrastructure and workforce needed to accelerate progress towards developing a new offshore wind industry. We want to leverage this potential as much as possible.”

A look at the open National Electricity Market shows that in the middle of the day, in Australia, solar dwarfs wind production, and even in the evenings when wind is at its peak, it is still only a small fraction of the generation produced. This has led, unfortunately, to a continuing dependence on gas peakers, and consequent higher electricity prices for all. This in a country which has one of the highest per capita energy consumption levels in the world.

Distributed generation via renewable energy backed up with battery storage will lead to a more distributed and diversified national electricity market. This will give greater energy security. Of course, the shift to electric vehicles (even in the Australian Defence Force) will enhance that. Then an attack on ships importing oil, or centralised fossil fuel generators with attendant transmission lines, will still be a risk, but that physical attack will make less of an impact. There is no reason that every Australian home and neighbourhood couldn’t produce its own power for domestic and transport needs. Electrification with renewables makes our energy environment safer and more secure. Energy security for all Australians!

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 730 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth