Australia’s electricity grid can easily support electric cars – if we get smart



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Smart meters can help share the load of charging electric cars.
Chris Hunkeler/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Marcus Brazil, University of Melbourne

Following opposition leader Bill Shorten’s policy announcement that 50% of new cars will be electric by 2030, questions have been raised about the ability of the electricity grid to cope with the increased demand associated with a substantial increase in the use of electric vehicles.




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These concerns are not completely unfounded. Modelling and research at the University of Melbourne, conducted as part of a project led by Professor Iven Mareels, has shown that in Victoria even fairly modest rates of electric vehicle uptake could have a major impact on the electricity distribution grid.

However, these problems would be caused by uncoordinated charging, with battery recharging occurring as soon as the driver returns home and plugs in the car. With some simple coordination – perhaps using smart meters – Australia’s grid can easily support far more electric vehicles for decades to come.

The problems

It’s helpful to first understand the challenges to the grid posed by a high number of electric vehicles. The focus here is on the low voltage electricity distribution network, by which we mean the part of the grid “downstream” from local transformers that directly supply electricity to homes and businesses.

This includes most of the grid infrastructure that we see around us every day, such as residential power lines and pole-mounted transformers. Electric vehicle charging can affect this infrastructure in a number of different ways.

Power demand

An electric car with a typical daily commute of 40km requires roughly 6–8 kilowatt hours of energy to recharge, which is equivalent to the daily needs of a small household. In other words, if you purchase an electric vehicle, the impact on the local electricity network is about the same as adding a small house to the neighbourhood.

And in an unregulated environment most electric vehicle owners are likely to plug in and begin charging when they arrive home, around 6 to 7 pm, which is the time residential electricity networks experience peak demand. This can lead to network failures, or component overload where assets such as distribution transformers and the utility lines run beyond their nominal current ratings and capacity limits, substantially shortening their lifetimes.

Voltage drop

Voltage can be thought of as the “electrical pressure” in the network. Each utility line in the distribution network has an associated impedance, meaning that the voltage at each house in the network decreases the further it is from the distribution transformer. As more current is drawn through the lines due to the charging of electric vehicles, this decrease in voltage is exacerbated. If the voltage in some houses falls below regulated limits, household appliances may fail or suffer.

Phase unbalance and power quality

Electricity distribution networks in Australia are generally three-phase, meaning there are three lines carrying the current, each a third of a cycle out of phase with the others. Most houses connect to only one of these phases. If a disproportionate number of households with electric vehicles all happen to be connected to the same phase, then that phase can get out of balance with the others, leading to a significant loss of efficiency in the network. Mass electric vehicle charging could also affect the overall quality of the power in the network, for example by distorting the shape of the 50Hz waveform that carries the current.

Modelling and simulations, based on real Australian data, have shown these negative impacts on the grid can occur at fairly low rates of electric vehicle ownership. For example, in a study based on an area in Melbourne it was shown that an electric vehicle penetration of only 10% can lead to network failures in an unregulated environment.

Getting smart

The good news is that all of these problems can be prevented by implementing a smart charging framework: shifting electric vehicle demand away from peak times.

Electric vehicles are among the most flexible loads in the grid. Unlike showering, cooking and heating our homes, we can shift the demand to other times, such as overnight, when there is more capacity in the network. The trade-off, of course, is that it takes longer until the vehicle is fully charged.

However, most owners are unlikely to notice this, as long as the car is charged and ready to go by the time they need to leave for work. Furthermore a standard commute will generally mean there is enough spare battery capacity to allow the car to be taken out for an emergency late-night run, even if it is not yet fully charged.

Shifting electric vehicle load. If vehicle charging is not controlled, there is a significant increase in peak demand. If the vehicle charging load is shifted to times when there is more capacity, there is no increase in peak load.

Setting up such a charging system would not be particularly difficult or expensive. One suggested scenario is for each residence with an electric vehicle to acquire a home charging terminal that the car plugs into, which receives instructions from the utility operator via the household smart meter. This allows the operator to control vehicle charging across the network based on the current network conditions and demand.

If the charging of electric vehicles can be controlled in this manner, then our existing networks will be able to sustain high uptake rates, without any additional investment into grid infrastructure.




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Detailed simulations have shown that the same network that started to fail at a 10% uptake with uncontrolled charging is able to sustain more than an 80% uptake when vehicle charging is shifted, using simple optimisation algorithms. Through this sort of demand management, most of our existing networks should be able to handle electric vehicles for decades to come.The Conversation

Marcus Brazil, Associate Professor and Reader in Engineering, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Five gifs that explain how pumped hydro actually works


Roger Dargaville, Monash University

People have used moving water to create energy for thousands of years. Today, pumped hydro is the most common form of grid-connected energy storage in the world.

This technology is in the spotlight because it pairs so well with solar and wind renewable energy. During the day, when solar panels and wind farms may be generating their highest level of energy, people don’t need really need much electricity. Unless it is stored somewhere the energy is lost.




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Pumped hydro can cheaply and easily store the excess energy, releasing it again at night when demand rises.

Here’s how it all works:

How it works

Put as simply as possible, it involves pumping water to a reservoir at the top of a hill when energy is in plentiful supply, then letting it flow back down through a turbine to generate electricity when demand increases.

Like all storage systems, you get less energy out than you put in – in this case, generally around 80% of the original input – because you lose energy to friction in the pipes and turbine as well as in the generator. For comparison, lithium ion batteries are around 90-95% efficient, while hydrogen energy storage is less than 50% efficient

The benefit is we can store a lot of energy at the top of the hill and keep it there in a reservoir until we need the energy back again. Then it can be released through the pipes (this is called “penstock”) to generate electricity. This means pumped hydro can create a lot of additional electricity when demand is high (for example, during a heatwave).

The disadvantage of pumped hydro is you need to have two reservoirs separated by a significant elevation difference (more than 200m is typically required, more than 300m is ideal). So it doesn’t work where you don’t have hills. However, research has identified 22,000 potential sites in Australia.




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Pumped hydro is traditionally paired with relatively inflexible coal or nuclear power stations, using under-utilised electricity when demand is low (weekends and nighttime), then providing additional generation when demand increases during the day and into the evening.

With the rapid increase in deployment of wind and solar, pumped hydro is again gaining interest. This is because the output of wind and solar plant is subject to the variability in the weather. For example, solar power plants generate the most electricity in the middle of the day, while demand for electricity is often highest in the evening. The wind might die down for hours or even days, then suddenly blow a gale. Pumped hydro can play a key role in smoothing out this variability.

If the electricity being produced by wind and solar plant is greater than demand, then the energy has to be curtailed (and is lost), unless we have a way to store it. Using this excess power to pump water up hill means the solar or wind energy is not wasted and the water can be held in reservoirs until demand rises in the evening.

There are lots of different kinds of energy storage technologies, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For large-scale grid-connected systems where many hours of storage are required, pumped hydro is the most economically viable option.




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The Conversation


Roger Dargaville, Senior lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here’s how a 100% renewable energy future can create jobs and even save the gas industry



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The gas industry of the future could manufacture and deliver renewable fuels, rather than mining and processing natural gas.
Shutterstock.com

Sven Teske, University of Technology Sydney

The world can limit global warming to 1.5℃ and move to 100% renewable energy while still preserving a role for the gas industry, and without relying on technological fixes such as carbon capture and storage, according to our new analysis.

The One Earth Climate Model – a collaboration between researchers at the University of Technology Sydney, the German Aerospace Center and the University of Melbourne, and financed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation – sets out how the global energy supply can move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, while creating jobs along the way.

It also envisions how the gas industry can fulfil its role as a “transition fuel” in the energy transition without its infrastructure becoming obsolete once natural gas is phased out.




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Our scenario, which will be published in detail as an open access book in February 2019, sets out how the world’s energy can go fully renewable by:

  • increasing electrification in the heating and transport sector

  • significant increase in “energy productivity” – the amount of economic output per unit of energy use

  • the phase-out of all fossil fuels, and the conversion of the gas industry to synthetic fuels and hydrogen over the coming decades.

Our model also explains how to deliver the “negative emissions” necessary to stay within the world’s carbon budget, without relying on unproven technology such as carbon capture and storage.

If the renewable energy transition is accompanied by a worldwide moratorium on deforestation and a major land restoration effort, we can remove the equiavalent of 159 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (2015-2100).

Combining models

We compiled our scenario by combining various computer models. We used three climate models to calculate the impacts of specific greenhouse gas emission pathways. We then used another model to analyse the potential contributions of solar and wind energy – including factoring in the space constraints for their installation.

We also used a long-term energy model to calculate future energy demand, broken down by sector (power, heat, industry, transport) for 10 world regions in five-year steps. We then further divided these 10 world regions into 72 subregions, and simulated their electricity systems on an hourly basis. This allowed us to determine the precise requirements in terms of grid infrastructure and energy demand.

Interactions between the models used for the One Earth Model.
One Earth Model, Author provided

‘Recycling’ the gas industry

Unlike many other 1.5℃ and/or 100% renewable energy scenarios, our analysis deliberately integrates the existing infrastructure of the global gas industry, rather than requiring that these expensive investments be phased out in a relatively short time.

Natural gas will be increasingly replaced by hydrogen and/or renewable methane produced by solar power and wind turbines. While most scenarios rely on batteries and pumped hydro as main storage technologies, these renewable forms of gas can also play a significant role in the energy mix.

In our scenario, the conversion of gas infrastructure from natural gas to hydrogen and synthetic fuels will start slowly between 2020 and 2030, with the conversion of power plants with annual capacities of around 2 gigawatts. However, after 2030, this transition will accelerate significantly, with the conversion of a total of 197GW gas power plants and gas co-generation facilities each year.

Along the way the gas industry will have to redefine its business model from a supply-driven mining industry, to a synthetic gas or hydrogen fuel production industry that provides renewable fuels for the electricity, industry and transport sectors. In the electricity sector, these fuels can be used to help smooth out supply and demand in networks with significant amounts of variable renewable generation.

A just transition for the fossil fuel industry

The implementation of the 1.5℃ scenario will have a significant impact on the global fossil fuel industry. While this may seem to be stating the obvious, there has so far been little rational and open debate about how to make an orderly withdrawal from the coal, oil, and gas extraction industries. Instead, the political debate has been focused on prices and security of supply. Yet limiting climate change is only possible when fossil fuels are phased out.

Under our scenario, gas production will only decrease by 0.2% per year until 2025, and thereafter by an average of 4% a year until 2040. This represents a rather slow phase-out, and will allow the gas industry to transfer gradually to hydrogen.

Our scenario will generate more energy-sector jobs in the world as a whole. By 2050 there would be 46.3 million jobs in the global energy sector – 16.4 million more than under existing forecasts.




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Our analysis also investigated the specific occupations that will be required for a renewables-based energy industry. The global number of jobs would increase across all of these occupations between 2015 and 2025, with the exception of metal trades which would decline by 2%, as shown below.

Division of occupations between fossil fuel and renewable energy industries in 2015 and 2025.
One Earth Model, Author provided

However, these results are not uniform across regions. China and India, for example, will both experience a reduction in the number of jobs for managers and clerical and administrative workers between 2015 and 2025.

Our analysis shows how the various technical and economic barriers to implementing the Paris Agreement can be overcome. The remaining hurdles are purely political.The Conversation

Sven Teske, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

35 degree days make blackouts more likely, but new power stations won’t help



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Whether your energy comes from coal or renewable sources isn’t likely to make a difference to your risk of a blackout this summer.
yellowbkpk/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute and Lucy Percival, Grattan Institute

Summer is here with a vengeance. On hot days it’s very likely something in the power system will break and cause someone to lose power. And the weather bureau expects this summer to be hotter and drier than average – so your chances of losing power will be higher than normal.

We’ve analysed outage data from the electricity distribution networks over the past nine years and linked it to Bureau of Meteorology maximum daily temperature data for each distribution network. The findings are stark: customers are without power for 3.5 times longer on days over 35 degrees than on days below 35.




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Grattan Institute

What causes outages on hot days?

Hot weather puts more stress on all parts of the power system. Wires sag and short, fuses blow, transformers overheat, and fires and storms damage power lines. And demand spikes when people get home from work and turn on the air-conditioner.

When the air-conditioner doesn’t work during a heat wave, people get upset and politicians rush to assign blame. They often point the finger at a lack of electricity generation capacity – just ask the current federal energy minister, who responded to a report forecasting supply shortages in Victoria this summer by saying:

This is a direct result of Victorian government policies forcing out reliable 24/7 power, and a failure to prioritise firming of heavily subsidised intermittent wind and solar generation.

Media reports highlight this risk, too. But the truth is, if you do lose power it’s much more likely to be because of problems in your local network.




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There have been generation shortfalls in Australia on only three days in the past fourteen years, whereas there are network failures every summer all around the country, every year.

The last time a lack of generation affected large numbers of customers was in Victoria and South Australia in January 2009. But even on very hot days that summer, Victorians and South Australians lost 14 times more power because of network failures and weather damage than generation shortfalls.

Outages caused by generation shortfalls are also easier to manage than network problems. Power can be restored at a flick of a switch, as soon as demand falls or supply increases. And the blacked-out areas can be rotated, to reduce the impact on any individual customer. By contrast, if your power goes out because of a network failure or storm damage, you’re stuck with the problem until a crew can come out and fix it.

Our analysis of outages shows almost all customers affected by generation shortfalls in 2009 were back on line in less than an hour. By contrast, if your power goes out for other reasons, you will normally be waiting more than an hour to get back on line. In the worst cases, you can be left waiting for more than five hours.


Grattan Institute

What should we do (or not) about summer blackouts?

The main thing governments should to address summer blackouts is… nothing, just sweat it out. If governments over-react to newspaper headlines about blackouts, customers will pay more in the long run. Power failures on a hot day are unpleasant, but the bill to avoid them entirely would almost certainly be worse.

Blackouts in 2004 prompted the New South Wales and Queensland state governments to tighten network reliability standards. This caused over $18 billion of network over-spending and delivered only modest improvements in reliability. Network costs were the largest cause of increasing residential electricity prices in those states over the past decade, which increased more than 50% above inflation in New South Wales, and more than 70% in south-east Queensland.

Customers are unlikely to be willing to pay for more network “gold-plating”. Research by Energy Consumers Australia shows more customers are satisfied with the reliability of their power supply than with the price they pay.




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Customers can also play an important role. If your power does go out, don’t buy into the political blame game. Contrary to the impression the politicians and media might give, it’s very unlikely the outage will have been caused by a lack of power supply – whether coal, gas or renewable.

So be sceptical when a hot-headed politician tells you the solution is their preferred energy generation technology. Neither a new coal-fired power station nor a giant solar-fed battery will keep the power on if your local network fails.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute and Lucy Percival, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Computing faces an energy crunch unless new technologies are found


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The tools on our smartphones are enabled by a huge network of mobile phone towers, Wi-Fi networks and server farms.
Shutterstock

Daisy Wang, UNSW and Jared Cole, RMIT University

There’s little doubt the information technology revolution has improved our lives. But unless we find a new form of electronic technology that uses less energy, computing will become limited by an “energy crunch” within decades.

Even the most common events in our daily life – making a phone call, sending a text message or checking an email – use computing power. Some tasks, such as watching videos, require a lot of processing, and so consume a lot of energy.

Because of the energy required to power the massive, factory-sized data centres and networks that connect the internet, computing already consumes 5% of global electricity. And that electricity load is doubling every decade.

Fortunately, there are new areas of physics that offer promise for massively reduced energy use.




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The end of Moore’s Law

Humans have an insatiable demand for computing power.

Smartphones, for example, have become one of the most important devices of our lives. We use them to access weather forecasts, plot the best route through traffic, and watch the latest season of our favourite series.

And we expect our smartphones to become even more powerful in the future. We want them to translate language in real time, transport us to new locations via virtual reality, and connect us to the “Internet of Things”.

The computing required to make these features a reality doesn’t actually happen in our phones. Rather it’s enabled by a huge network of mobile phone towers, Wi-Fi networks and massive, factory-sized data centres known as “server farms”.

For the past five decades, our increasing need for computing was largely satisfied by incremental improvements in conventional, silicon-based computing technology: ever-smaller, ever-faster, ever-more efficient chips. We refer to this constant shrinking of silicon components as “Moore’s Law”.

Moore’s law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who observed that:

the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year while the costs are halved.

But as we hit limits of basic physics and economy, Moore’s law is winding down. We could see the end of efficiency gains using current, silicon-based technology as soon as 2020.

Our growing demand for computing capacity must be met with gains in computing efficiency, otherwise the information revolution will slow down from power hunger.

Achieving this sustainably means finding a new technology that uses less energy in computation. This is referred to as a “beyond CMOS” solution, in that it requires a radical shift from the silicon-based CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) technology that has been the backbone of computing for the last five decades.




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Why does computing consume energy at all?

Processing of information takes energy. When using an electronic device to watch TV, listen to music, model the weather or any other task that requires information to be processed, there are millions and millions of binary calculations going on in the background. There are zeros and ones being flipped, added, multiplied and divided at incredible speeds.

The fact that a microprocessor can perform these calculations billions of times a second is exactly why computers have revolutionised our lives.

But information processing doesn’t come for free. Physics tells us that every time we perform an operation – for example, adding two numbers together – we must pay an energy cost.

And the cost of doing calculations isn’t the only energy cost of running a computer. In fact, anyone who has ever used a laptop balanced on their legs will attest that most of the energy gets converted to heat. This heat comes from the resistance that electricity meets when it flows through a material.

It is this wasted energy due to electrical resistance that researchers are hoping to minimise.

Recent advances point to solutions

Running a computer will always consume some energy, but we are a long way (several orders of magnitude) away from computers that are as efficient as the laws of physics allow. Several recent advances give us hope for entirely new solutions to this problem via new materials and new concepts.

Very thin materials

One recent step forward in physics and materials science is being able to build and control materials that are only one or a few atoms thick. When a material forms such a thin layer, and the movement of electrons is confined to this sheet, it is possible for electricity to flow without resistance.

There are a range of different materials that show this property (or might show it). Our research at the ARC Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET) is focused on studying these materials.

The study of shapes

There is also an exciting conceptual leap that helps us understand this property of electricity flow without resistance.

This idea comes from a branch of mathematics called “topology”. Topology tells us how to compare shapes: what makes them the same and what makes them different.

Image a coffee cup made from soft clay. You could slowly squish and squeeze this shape until it looks like a donut. The hole in the handle of the cup becomes the hole in the donut, and the rest of the cup gets squished to form part of the donut.

Topology tells us that donuts and coffee cups are equivalent because we can deform one into the other without cutting it, poking holes in it, or joining pieces together.

It turns out that the strange rules that govern how electricity flows in thin layers can be understood in terms of topology. This insight was the focus of the 2016 Nobel Prize, and it’s driving an enormous amount of current research in physics and engineering.




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We want to take advantage of these new materials and insights to develop the next generation of low-energy electronics devices, which will be based on topological science to allow electricity to flow with minimal resistance.

This work creates the possibility of a sustainable continuation of the IT revolution – without the huge energy cost.The Conversation

Daisy Wang, Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW School of Physics, UNSW and Jared Cole, Professor of Physics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What would a fair energy transition look like?


Franziska Mey, University of Technology Sydney and Chris Briggs

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced last week that a federal Labor government would create a Just Transition Authority to overseee Australia’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This echoes community calls for a “fast and fair” energy transition to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.




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But disruptive change is already here for Australia’s energy sector. 2018 has been a record year for large-scale solar and wind developments and rooftop solar. Renewable energy is now cheaper than new-build coal power generation – and some are saying renewables are now or soon will be cheaper than existing coal-fired power.

Based purely on the technical lifetime of existing power stations, the Australian market operator predicts that 70% of coal-fired generation capacity will be retired in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria by 2040. If renewables continue to fall in price, it could be much sooner.

We must now urgently decide what a “just” and “fair” transition looks like. There are many Australians currently working in the energy sector – particularly in coal mining – who risk being left behind by the clean energy revolution.

Coal communities face real challenges

The history of coal and industrial transitions shows that abrupt change brings a heavy price for workers and communities. Typically, responses only occur after major retrenchments, when it is already too late for regional economies and labour markets to cope.

Coal communities often have little economic diversity and the flow-on effects to local economies and businesses are substantial. It is easy to find past cases where as many as one third of workers do not find alternative employment.




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We often hear about power stations, but there are almost 10 times as many workers in coal mining, where there is a much higher concentration of low and semi-skilled workers. The 2016 Census found almost half of coal workers are machinery operators and drivers.

The demographics of coal mining workers in Australia suggest natural attrition through early retirements will not be sufficient: 60% are younger than 45.

Mining jobs are well paid and jobs in other sectors are very unlikely to provide a similar income, so even under the best scenarios many will take a large pay cut.

Another factor is the long tradition of coal mining that shapes the local culture and identity for these communities. Communities are particularly opposed to change when they experience it as a loss of history and character without a vision for the future.

Lastly, the local environmental impacts of coal mining can’t be neglected. The pollution of land, water and air due to mining operations and mining waste have created brownfields and degraded land that needs remediation.

What is a ‘just’ transition?

A just transition to a clean energy economy has many facets. Unions first used the term in the 1980s to describe a program to support workers who lost their jobs. Just transition was recognised in the Paris Agreement as “a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs”.

However, using the concept of energy justice, there are three main aspects which have to be considered for workers, communities and disadvantaged groups:

  • distributing benefits and costs equally,

  • a participatory process that engages all stakeholders in the decision making, and

  • recognising multiple perspectives rooted in social, cultural, ethical and gender differences.

A framework developed at the Institute for Sustainable Futures maps these dimensions.


Institute for Sustainable Futures

A just transition requires a holistic approach that encompasses economic diversification, support for workers to transition to new jobs, environmental remediation and inclusive processes that also address equity impacts for marginalised groups.

The politics of mining regions

If there is not significant investment in transition plans ahead of coal closures, there will be wider ramifications for energy transition and Australian politics.

In Australia, electricity prices have been at the centre of the “climate wars” over the past decade. Even with the steep price rises in recent years, the average household still only pays around A$35 a week. But with the closure of coal power plants at Hazelwood and Liddell, Australia is really only just getting to the sharp end of the energy transition where workers lose jobs.

There are some grounds for optimism. In the La Trobe Valley, an industry wide worker redeployment scheme, investment in community projects and economic incentives appears to be paying dividends with a new electric vehicle facility setting up.

AGL is taking a proactive approach to the closure of Liddelland networks are forming to diversify the local economy. But a wider transition plan and investment coordinated by different levels of government will be needed.




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We know what is coming: just transition investment is a precondition for the rapid energy transition we need to make, and to minimise the economic and social impacts on these communities.The Conversation

Franziska Mey, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney and Chris Briggs, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.