If you’re thinking about a career change or wondering what field your kids could go into to be assured of employment for the next 30 years, the energy industry is calling.
It’s estimated that the energy industry workforce needs to double to around 200,000 by 2030 but then could need to be as large as 850,000 strong by 2060.
There will be a wide range of jobs, including some highly skilled roles installing and running new generators and building thousands of kilometres of transmission lines and associated infrastructure.
The opportunities will include roles that don’t even exist yet and are likely to be spread far and wide because renewable energy projects are already underway all over Australia.
Renewable Energy Zones provide a focal point
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) have been working with state governments for some time to identify locations that are suitable for clusters of renewable energy projects.
AEMO explains that “Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) are high-quality resource areas where clusters of large-scale renewable energy projects can be developed using economies of scale”.
This includes Offshore Wind Zones (OWZs) as well as the land-based clusters.
The REZ system will use existing transmission lines as much as possible and build new renewable energy transmission lines to connect REZs where needed. This is considered the most efficient and cost-effective way to connect renewable energy to the grid.
Here is a list of 41 proposed REZs based on the AEMO’s June 2022 update:
|Far North QLD||North West NSW||Ovens Murray||South East SA||Central Highlands||Hunter Coast|
|North Qld Clean Energy Hub||Central-West Orana||South West Victoria||Eastern Eyre Peninsula||North East Tasmania||South East SA Coast|
|Northern Qld||New England||Western Victoria||Western Eyre Peninsula||North West Tasmania||North West Tasmanian Coast|
|Isaac||Broken Hill||Murray River||Riverland||Illawarra Coast|
|Barcaldine||South West NSW||Gippsland||Mid-North SA||Gippsland Coast|
|Fitzroy||Wagga Wagga||Central North Victoria||Yorke Peninsula||Portland Coast|
|Wide Bay||Tumut||Northern SA|
|Darling Downs||Cooma-Monaro||Leigh Creek|
The New England REZ, announced in January 2022, is the largest planned so far, slated to deliver at least 8 GW of new network capacity.
Is it mostly solar and wind?
Most of the grid-scale renewable energy projects involve solar and wind farms, however, there is a wide range of other technologies being explored.
ARENA supports projects that advance renewable energy technologies along the innovation chain: from early-stage research in the lab to later-stage demonstration projects in the field.
ARENA is currently funding projects working on hydrogen energy, solar PV research and development, commercial refrigeration flexible demand response, distributed energy resource management, concentrated thermal solar power, and even charging infrastructure for heavy electric vehicles.
Are there enough projects in the works?
The trillion-dollar question is: Will we have enough energy available from renewable sources as the aging coal-fired generators go offline over the next decade?
With 62 per cent of Australia’s coal generators expected to close by 2033, we’re going to need something like 230 gigawatts more renewable energy in the next 10 years than we have now, but only 50 GW’s worth has been planned and committed to, so far.
The AEMO 10-year outlook warns the national grid is “perched on the edge of one of the largest transformations since the market was formed over 20 years ago”.
“To ensure Australian consumers continue to have access to reliable electricity supplies, it’s critical that planned investments in transmission, generation and storage projects are urgently delivered,” AEMO chief executive officer Daniel Westerman said.
A massive investment is still needed
According to the Clean Energy Council (CEC), there are currently 79 projects that are under construction or due to start construction soon around Australia: 21 in NSW, 19 in Victoria, 15 in Queensland, 13 in WA, 9 in SA, and 2 in the Northern Territory.
These wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy projects will deliver 12,388 MW of new renewable energy capacity (which is a relatively small portion of that 50 GW planned or committed to mentioned above).
Of those 79 projects, 35 are battery storage projects, which will provide 5318 MW of new energy storage capacity.
While construction began on eight solar and battery energy storage projects in the first quarter of 2023, the CEC is concerned that there’s been a significant fall in new financial commitments to large-scale renewable projects.
Financially committed generation and storage projects fell from $4.3 billion in the last quarter of 2022 to only $400 million in the first three months of this year.
If a drop-off in investment becomes a trend, there’s a chance that some of the projects already committed to but not started could also be impacted, either by being delayed or having their capacity reduced.
Government policy has to play a big part
In last October’s budget, the Government committed almost $25 billion to clean energy spending, including funding for renewable energy and clean energy projects.
The capacity of the Australia Renewable Energy Market is estimated to be around 46 gigawatts now and is expected to reach 80 GW within the next five years.
While that rate of growth is clearly positive, we still have a long way to go to reach the capacity we mentioned earlier: 230 GW more than we have now by the time most of our coal-fired power stations are decommissioned.
It’s a definite “watch this space” situation because, despite the best intentions of governments and various agencies, the transition to renewables requires a lot of infrastructure and a great deal of investment, so we need to pick up the pace if we’re going to get there.