OPINION: Shaping our energy future is an opportunity Brisbane innovators can lead

Words by Paul Hodgson, General Manager, Innovation and Stakeholder Engagement, NERA (National Energy Resources Australia)


It would be a brave person to predict what Australia’s - and indeed Brisbane’s - energy mix will look like 10 years from now. But that's what makes it such an exciting time for energy innovators and for those who view alternative energies not as any particular type but as the jigsaw that makes up the many and varied whole.

Viewed globally, the energy mix presents a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity to grasp. And locally, there is huge opportunity for innovators across the energy spectrum.

From energy demand management, energy-efficient appliances and new models of energy delivery right through to different fuels and sources of energy distribution and storage. It's ripe for innovation and, as I said, the prize is huge.

For somewhere like Brisbane, which is quite easily a significant energy hub, it has the capability, solutions and knowledge to ensure that innovation continues happening here.

The innovation opportunity in Brisbane

Queensland has quite a broad range of energy sources and quite a holistic plan, I think, for energy development. Everything from coal and gas to solar, wind and biofuels. There's also a renewed interest in waste energy and hydrogen.

Rather than talking in absolutes it’s more salient to look at all energy types as competing alternatives, each with their pros and cons. What we should focus on is how we pull all that together now and how that changes over time. That comes down to cost, emissions, availability and reliability, among all the other factors that are important.

In the past coal and oil have dominated, while gas has been increasing. While coal is still a predominant part of our domestic energy makeup, renewables are increasing strongly.

The challenge with renewables - a challenge that a number of Brisbane companies are taking up, such as Redback Technologies and Tritium - is storage.


It's no surprise that a lot of renewables are intermittent in terms of generation. Obviously the sun doesn't shine at night. Sometimes it's windy and sometimes it's not. Being able to store some of those and then be able to deploy it at times when it's not necessarily being generated is a very key part of flattening out the demand and supply challenge in energy.

I'm a big fan of the work Redback is doing. They are really looking and understanding how households use energy, and designing an energy management platform that will give consumers a massive amount of choice and power in the energy conversation.

Some of the other storage opportunities are in gas and hydro, and as I said recently to a group of university students, a lot of this stuff is still up for grabs.

One thing NERA is working on is the demonstration of the technical and commercial value of Hybrid Wellsite Solar Battery Generator packages for coal seam gas wellsite power. It may sound like a mouthful, but the impact will be a reduction in generator operating hours and maintenance costs, improved service life of generation equipment, increased field capacity, lower carbon and noise emissions, and improved flexibility with generator maintenance.

All of these things are sought by energy players both big and small, and the incremental efficiencies across a broad energy mix are what innovators can and will deliver.

The Brisbane centres and companies leading the energy-tech marriage

It’s worth noting that last month Brisbane hosted the International Conference on Robotics and Automation and there's a mammoth amount of things happening in the energy sector around automation. Everything from the use of drones in monitoring gas wells to a whole bunch of smart data analytics about household demands and remote operations in the sector.

At NERA we're funding some collaborative projects as well, such as the combination of clean tech and gas for example. There are quite a number of research organisations in Brisbane doing the same thing. Brisbane is home to the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision and the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies at Pullenvale. You also have the Centre for Coal Seam Gas and the Sustainable Energy Initiative at the University of Queensland. There is some incredible work and capability happening at these centres.

Then there are the amazing researchers at the major energy players in Brisbane. Companies such as Shell, ConocoPhillips, Origin and Santos have a lot invested here and with some extremely clever people. And that has to be good for Brisbane as a key focal point for the energy industry.

On a different level, EnergyLab - the energy innovation accelerator that started in Sydney - is looking at setting up a clean energy incubator here. The CORE Innovation hub out of Perth is currently scouting a location for its Brisbane hub.

In terms of investors, Brisbane is also playing host this month to Energy Mines and Money, a conference bringing some of the largest investors in the world to Queensland and to Brisbane.

Attracting the energy talent to Brisbane

Brisbane is competing and succeeding across the whole energy sector and its ancillary functions. And it has the talent or can attract the people it needs to keep the ball rolling.

The thing is for people to not be dissuaded from getting into the energy industry. You take energy away and we're pretty quickly back in the dark ages. People might hesitate because of the political division around energy. But it's such a fundamental part of our economy and our society that you could build a career and build successful businesses out of the energy sector.

There's a lot up for grabs and even with the political argy bargy around the mix, it truly gives people the opportunity to really get in and help shape it.

Grasping that multi-trillion-dollar opportunity depends on it.

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