Chair's Foreword: State of Energy Research Conference 2021

Welcome to ERICA’s second State of Energy Research Conference, SoERC2021! The community of researchers and their industry partners that gather here this week, represent hope and dedication to the most urgent and critical challenge facing humanity to date; anthropogenic climate change.

The societal impacts of runaway climate change are unimaginable. At Paris COP21 it was agreed that to avoid famine and water shortage based geopolitical instability, which would cause massive population displacement and consequent war and suffering, we must limit warming to 1.5 degrees. This requires halving global emissions by 2030! As the world gathered for COP26 in Glasgow last month, the stark realities of the challenge ahead have become painfully clear.

While significant progress has been made in putting the world on the path to 1.5 degrees through new policies and technologies, much work still remains. SoERC2021 provides an opportune time to revisit the leading role the research sector must play in addressing the challenge.

However, there is hope on the horizon. Mass-scale renewable solar and wind technologies are more competitive than fossil sources, even in Australia where fossil power is amongst the cheapest in the world.

Technologies such as batteries, rooftop solar PV and electric vehicles, have a complete set of building blocks for mass decarbonisation of the electricity and transport sectors, accounting for up to two-thirds of the world's energy-based carbon emissions.

However, in this transition there are emerging challenges that cannot be overlooked. For example, with the proliferation of large-scale solar, together with the world's highest per capita deployment of rooftop solar PV, Australia is seeing the emergence of phenomena like the ‘Minimum Net System Load’ during high solar production, leading us into uncharted grid control territory.

Many of the solutions needed are still not available “off the shelf”. While wind and solar electricity generation has won the race against other sources of electricity generation, both young and old, there is still work to be done. This conference allows us to get together and discuss some of the key questions still to be answered, such as:

  • How do we progressively integrate renewable and disruptive technologies, such as electric vehicles, into a power grid that was built for fossil fuels?
  • How will people's decisions and expectations impact the pace and scale of the energy transition?
  • What energy market design will serve consumers better, while at the same time accelerating the update of renewables?
  • How can green hydrogen and its derivatives such as ammonia help make the entire global supply chain and transport sectors carbon-free?

The questions that need to be answered keep coming.

This is far from normal times for researchers, industry, and the Australia communities we serve. I believe this conference will provide a reset to our research ambitions, in support of climate change mitigation through an accelerating energy transition.

We at ERICA are particularly excited to acknowledge the excellent work being done by the Australian Council of Learned Academies’ (ACOLA) on the Australian Energy Transition Research Plan, led by our first keynote speaker, Drew Clarke AO.

Mr Clarke, as both the plan’s architect and Chair of the Australian Energy Market Operator, is uniquely placed to guide the Australian Energy Transition research community on a path to an accelerated research effort in support of a speedy energy transition.

The magnitude of this challenge requires collaboration. The research sector, including universities and the CSIRO, is more critical than ever to the future needs of Australian and global society. We stand ready and are humbled by the enormity of the task ahead.

I believe and trust that this second ERICA State of Energy Research Conference heralds a new era of scaled-up collaboration between researchers, industry and government across Australia.

I’m pleased and honoured that so many researchers, both early career and experienced, have agreed to share their research during SoERC2021 as well as to have industry leaders share their hope for the growth of a vibrant collaborating research community. The future of global society and its well being is in your hands.

Find out more about SoERC2021 here

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