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Innovating our way to net zero 

By Jordan Oliver and Hugo Twopeny 

A packed, buzzing room of energy stakeholders in Melbourne last week started their day hearing about nuclear fusion, electric aircraft, the rise of artificial intelligence and green steel, and then delved into the future priorities of the nation’s top energy regulators and leaders. 


Energy Networks Australia’s (ENA) Innovation Seminar on 3 May was an enormous success on all fronts, attracting industry heavyweights from across Australia to connect with peers and discuss how all components of the energy sector can work together to enable net-zero. Read on for a wrap up of the event. 

Gazing into the crystal ball… 

The seminar came out swinging from the opening ball with a fired-up keynote speaker Bruce McCabe, global futurist, who was notably also the only speaker for the day to take to the stage with a walkout song. 

Bruce had the room full of energy experts captivated from his first word, announcing that the crowd was part of the biggest wealth creation opportunity in generations, with “capitalism and environmentalism colliding.” 

If that wasn’t enough for attendees to sit up and take notice, Bruce elaborated with electric planes, personal drone taxis, and hydrogen use cases. He talked about more efficient chemical batteries that were soon going to be on their way, with far greater power density than the ones we have today. 

He noted he was particularly excited about the production of green steel, even after being told only a few years ago it was impossible. 

Bruce predicted a massive increase in the use of artificial intelligence within businesses, up to 1000 times in just the next two years. He emphasised that AI will optimise every aspect of our operations, enabling a deeper understanding of the environmental impact of each decision with greater precision and detail. 

Bruce also touched on technologies that have been talked about in some quarters as a “holy grail” for solving rising emissions, writing off direct air capture as requiring too much power to make sense, while suggesting nuclear fusion was definitely “going to happen” – but it was still some way off, likely commercial by the 2040s. 

While acknowledging the challenges ahead, Bruce’s optimism, enthusiasm, and vision conveyed that the future, although daunting, holds an abundance of opportunities. The onus is now on all the whole of Australian energy sector to decide whether we are willing to seize them. 

Challenges in Australia…and lessons from abroad 

The first plenary panel then kicked off, getting right to the heart of the topic, how to overcome the challenges of delivering a net zero energy system. 

Merryn York from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Jacqui Bridge from Powerlink, Mark Vincent from SA Power Networks and Frank Tudor from Jemena led an insightful discussion talking about everything from bringing communities along for the journey when delivering major projects, to addressing the upcoming challenges of solar-induced minimum demand in the middle of the day. 

Ben Wilson, from National Grid in the UK, then joined the seminar and gave an update on how networks there are tackling the energy transition. 

Strikingly, Ben spoke about the enormous transmission build-out occurring, including the requirement to build six times the transmission built over the past 30 years – in just the next seven years. 

Ben also spoke about the offshore infrastructure required to deliver the transition taking place in the UK, including not just offshore wind, but also artificial islands that act as hubs for all transmission offshore, and contain the relevant transformers and other equipment required to convert the power generated for use onshore. 

Whole of system transformation, delivering a smarter and more resilient grid 

Anna Collyer from the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) spoke on the next plenary panel about getting the rules and regulation right ahead of the next major change to the system, which will likely be electric vehicles. 

Anna was joined by Stephanie McGregor from Ausnet Services, who described the challenges of coordinating the transition across all facets of distribution, transmission, and gas networks. Michael Brear from University of Melbourne and David Norman from the Future Fuels CRC spoke at length about the policy challenges of the transition, touching on the sheer volume of new energy generation and transmission required to deliver net zero. 

They were followed by Horizon Power’s Lisa Stanley, SA Power Networks’ Mark Vincent, Strategen’s Mark Paterson and EvoEnergy’s Peter Billing, who covered the topic of DER integration. The discussion was notably led by Mark Vincent who told the crowd that at times for 28 days last year, SAPN’s entire distribution network was powered by rooftop solar alone. 

Finally, Fiona Orton from Transgrid, Guy Chalkley from Endeavor Energy, the Australian Energy Regulator’s Kris Funston and Vikram Singh from Australian Gas Infrastructure Group tackled the issue of making energy networks more resilient.  

Innovation Celebration 

Energy Networks Australia’s acting Chief Executive Officer Garth Crawford closed the day remarking on the customer-centric tone of the seminar. 

“The challenges and opportunities we are embracing to deliver the energy transition are many, varied and complex, but I leave here today even more confidence that our industry and our sector broadly can achieve our goals and deliver for customers right across Australia,” Mr Crawford said. 

Energy Network Australia’s next event is the Regulation Seminar, being held in Brisbane in August. To register, visit this link. 

Register for the next ENA event now!