Departmental Seminar

The Energy Transition: Progress and Pitfalls

Dr Trevor Powell
Geoscience Australia

In our response to climate change, the world energy systems will undergo radical transformation that affects every sector of the national and global economy. Essentially there is a progressive shift to a low-carbon electricity system that increases in size as it diffuses into all industry sectors including transport. The speed of the required transition is unprecedented.

Large-scale redesign of the electricity supply system, and its operational models is required to integrate solar and wind generators. Operation of these new networks will be more complex involving smart grid technology and embedded storage.  In order to maintain stability and supply, some form of base load power e.g. nuclear or coal-fired stations equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be required. CCS is also important for reducing emissions from industrial processes such as cement manufacture, smelting of metal ores, where CO2 emissions are inherent to the processes.

In transport early gains may be achieved through national fleet targets for fuel efficiency. This is critical as supplies of reasonably priced crude oil are becoming increasingly problematic and a supply shock can be anticipated. Longer term it is assumed electric and hybrid electric vehicles will progressively replace current light passenger vehicles - the required electricity being generated from low carbon sources, but can the reality gap between what storage batteries can do and our expectations for transport be bridged?   Biofuels are likely to be reserved for some forms of heavy transport and aviation as the barriers to their large-scale production are formidable.

The new energy systems have inherently lower EROI values where:               

         EROI =                Energy returned to society  
                             Energy required to get that energy

This demands major improvement in the efficiencies with which we use energy in all aspects of industry.  The entropy of the energy source will need to be matched to the use – passive heating and cooling of buildings being an example.

Accompanying this transition is a vast research agenda in materials science, advanced manufacturing and modeling of complex processes and systems.  The challenge is immense.

Date & time

Fri 18 Nov 2016, 3.15–4.30pm



Le Couteur Seminar Room (L3.17)


Members of RSPE welcome