With upcoming federal elections just around the corner, Australians are making their voices heard about what issues matter most. For one sector of the economy, agriculture, the pressing issues revolve around current energy policies and improving them for the future. The Ag Energy Taskforce, a coalition of 13 farming and irrigation groups led by the National Irrigators Council, has recently released its 2019 Federal Election policy submission titled: “Off the Grid or Off the Plate: Fixing the Energy Disaster Killing Agricultural Competitiveness.”
In the submission, the organization outlined many of the concerns the agricultural community has looking forward. From the report, the group outlined ten specific requests for 2019:
- 16 cents/kWh maximum
- Implement ACCC recommendations
- Optimise the Regulated Asset Base
- Introduction of irrigator tariffs
- Genuine Competition in the NEM
- Make it easier to build local networks
- Reduce barriers to connecting on-farm generation to the grid
- Policy certainty
- A $250 million water and energy productivity program
- Funding support for policy engagement
Amid its requests for the coming year, the task force has pointed to a host of problems plaguing the agricultural industry and putting additional burdens on farmers and irrigators calling the current situation a “disaster” that is “killing agricultural competitiveness.” If the key requests from above are met, the Ag Energy Taskforce believes it will help get the Australian agricultural sector back on track and improve its competitiveness in an increasingly global economy.
However, while industry groups recognize issues in the current energy situation, there are efforts already underway that respond to — at least some — of the concerns raised by the agricultural industry. Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison forwarded the “Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund” granting $50.4 million for a pilot program to explore the viability of microgrids and their utilization for meeting the energy needs of under-served/poorly-served and remote areas of the country.
According to the statement from Energy Minister Angus Taylor, as off-grid electricity continues to decrease in price, it’s likely to be more affordable at times to produce off-grid energy than to expand the current infrastructure for to include transmitting energy from to more remote areas of Australia. For many in the remote and poorly served areas, energy is highly dependent on diesel-fueled generators but many see significant room for improvement. The new fund is slated to support as many as 50 new feasibility studies aimed at testing how microgrids may be able to improve electric reliability and resilience while keeping things cost effective and lower emissions.
Alternatively, the private sector is looking for solutions of its own to aid in the ongoing energy disaster. Power Ledger, one of the most well-known blockchain-based companies in Australia, has been tackling the issue by creating a decentralized means for those with solar panels and other forms of renewable energy production to trade excess energy with others.
David Martin, managing director at Power Ledger, spoke with Smart Energy International this month and sees room for decentralized, off-grid solutions in the future, saying:
“Australia is a very large country and we are rapidly approaching a tipping point where it’s cheaper to install solar-storage and or microgrids in regional areas than it is to maintain network infrastructure over large distances. However, there are still elements of the regulatory governance framework that incentivize network providers to maintain under-utilized and expensive networks. I think once these incentives begin to be wound back and the model for the alternative becomes clear, we will see an uptake in off-grid solutions, particularly in regional Australia.”
Whether being handled by the private or public sector, it’s clear that energy policy is one of the top priorities for many in Australia this upcoming election season. For those living outside of the traditional grid and in more remote areas of the country, energy efficiency and reliability is an even more pressing issue as electricity blackouts remain a very real possibility, especially during the summer months for southern Australians. Last year, more than 10,000 homes were left without power in the middle of a scorching heat wave.