There is now overwhelming agreement that the world needs to move to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 to mitigate the most serious effects of climate change. Energy is responsible for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions; net zero emissions thus requires ‘an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally’, as stated by the International Energy Agency in 2021.
At the same time, climate change and the global pandemic are revealing the fragility of many of our existing systems. The current transition to renewable energy has the potential to either increase or reduce that fragility. For example, renewable energy systems are inherently distributed, which would be expected to increase resilience. However, there is also concern that such systems could substantially increase fragility through the requirement of balancing, say, solar energy generated in one region with wind energy generated elsewhere. This tight interconnect and long-distance transport could be vulnerable to a range of risks, such as extreme weather events that are only increased by climate change, or the potential for our changing climate to reduce the amount of wind and hydropower resource available.
Projections of the impact of climate change show that the resilience of the systems we depend on needs to be a central part of our thinking going forward. This is especially the case for energy, given the energy system is in the early stages of an unprecedented transition as we move away from fossil fuels, of a scale we have not seen since the beginning of the industrial revolution. As part of the shift, we have seen more solar photovoltaic capacity installed in the last few years than any other electricity technology, either renewable or fossil-fuel based. And we can expect the transition to accelerate, with emissions modelling scenarios forecasting a dominant role for renewables and solar in particular in the future energy system. This is not just for the current electricity needs but for a greatly increased demand as sectors such as transport become electrified, and as the energy source for making fuels like hydrogen.
This project investigates new approaches to make the energy system more resilient. We use an energy balance model developed at ANU to create designs for future energy systems that are resilient, zero-emissions, and low-cost. This project is available for PhD, honours or R&D students.