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Why Canberra’s renewable energy future looks bright

Catherine Carter

Canberra’s clever minds, innovative start-ups, a committed angel investor community and a government willing to lead are driving a renewable energy revolution in the ACT.

Last year, the ACT Government promised that the nation’s capital would be 100 per cent powered by renewables by 2020.

While Elon Musk’s battery in South Australia grabbed the headlines, the ACT was a first mover in energy storage, and smart solar battery storage systems are being rolled out to more than 5,000 Canberra homes and small businesses.

We now have three solar farms which power 35 per cent of the Territory’s energy needs, while five wind farms are being funded by the ACT for the next 20 years.

The ACT Government has also invested more than $12 million in a renewable energy industry development strategy which is paying off. Jobs growth in the ACT renewable energy sector over the past six years has been 12 times faster than the national average.

Some of Australia’s brightest minds at CSIRO’s Black Mountain campus are investigating renewable energy solutions, from cutting-edge energy storage technologies that use heat, ceramics and batteries to low-cost production methods for photovoltaic cells.

And last year, the Australian National University won $4.7 million in new funding for renewable energy research from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for three ground-breaking projects.

These are just a few of the reasons why many people around town think Canberra is well positioned to be an international test case for a ‘net zero energy’ town.

Toby Roxburgh is one of those people. He is a director of Beast Solutions, a Canberra-based company that works with government and business to create sustainable energy systems of the future.

Toby Roxburgh

Toby Roxburgh

“The world is already looking at Australia as a testing ground. As Canberra is a relatively small territory, a smaller generation requirement is needed making it a perfect test bed,” Toby says.

Reducing our emissions to zero would “make a fantastic export story for Canberra and really put us on the international map, bringing investment and jobs to Canberra and Australia.”

Toby says Beast Solutions has “grown from three staff to 12 in 18 months”. The team is currently working on a range of projects, notably with the Riverview Group at Ginninderry in West Belconnen, where renewable energy initiatives have contributed to a 6 Star Green Star rating – the equivalent to world leadership in master planning. Beast Group is testing a range of initiatives, including rooftop and ground-mounted solar, battery storage and electric vehicles.

“Renewable energy is growing in rapidly in Canberra,” says Rosie King, a director of Renew Estate, which works with both local and national partners to get renewable projects off the ground.

“I am excited about the potential of a zero-carbon transport sector in Canberra over the coming years,” she adds.

Rosie King

Rosie King

Rosie thinks the layout of Canberra presents huge opportunities for sustainable transport solutions too, and points to the ACT Government’s $180 million investment in renewable energy-to-hydrogen energy storage technology, which includes the first hydrogen-fuelled fleet in Australia.

Reposit Power’s Luke Osborne is another person who thinks Canberra can be a zero-carbon capital. This tech start-up has developed advanced software that learns, adapts and predicts energy usage so that people can maximise their solar power.

Luke points to the ACT Government’s climate change strategy, which he says is fostering companies which can grow and earn export dollars for the Territory over the long term.

Luke Osborne

Luke Osborne

Reposit Power was “kick-started” through a grant from the ACT Government, Luke says. “And today, the ACT Government’s Renewable Energy Innovation Fund is helping us to update our technology platform.”

“More than 200 households now have a Reposit system in their homes thanks to the ACT Government’s NextGen battery subsidy. Reposit is funded by Canberra’s angel investor community. And many of Reposit’s bright young staff were educated at ANU,” he says.

Luke has spent most of his Canberra career in the renewables sector. He has also worked at Windlab Systems, which just floated on the Australian Stock Exchange. Windlab “landed in Canberra” as a result of technology developed by CSIRO scientists, funding from Canberra-based angel investors and the ACT Government’s commitment to renewables, he says.

“You can see from my career why Canberra leads the nation, and in many respects the world. It combines great tertiary education with a government which is willing to fund high-risk innovation and then back that up by direct participation in markets.”

I’m not alone, I’m sure, when I admit that debate about climate change, coal-fired power and renewable energy leaves me feeling unsure of the future. But when I see my smart fellow citizens making a real-world impact, I feel inspired.

“It’s like an intelligent alien species kidnapped our government and replaced it with sensible people,” Luke adds. “We have a suite of de-carbonisation policies based on evidence, which at the same time grows the local renewable economy in a strategic way.”

The future of our city is bright indeed.

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Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now heads up Indigo Consulting Australia where she provides specialist business and communication advisory services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010, and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017.

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