In his analysis of the NT’s energy woes, Matt Cunningham of the NT News pointed out that back in 2009, Labor Chief Minister Paul Henderson “signed the NT up to the deal of a lifetime for gas” to fuel our domestic energy supply for the next 25 years.
But this doesn’t mean we should delay the NT electricity system’s inevitable upgrade to clean energy.
Holding onto a clunky, highly-centralised, gas-powered grid, is a bit like refusing to upgrade to a smartphone just because your uncle scored a good deal on some old dial telephones a few years ago. We are witnessing every other Australian state upgrade to efficient, networked, fast and agile technology, and the NT only shoots itself in the foot if it tries to cling to outdated tech.
Forget the moral imperative to upgrade to clean energy, there is a strong economic case to be had with NT’s abundance of solar resources representing an opportunity to revitalise our economy.
Here’s an idea: let’s use incredibly cheap clean energy to power a local manufacturing industry. Rather than simply digging minerals out of the ground and shipping it straight overseas, let's add value to those minerals by processing it and manufacturing low-carbon products such as green hydrogen and green steel (driven by rapidly growing overseas demand) - all powered on next-to-free solar energy. With a thriving manufacturing industry, who knows, maybe we’ll even be able to break out of painful boom-and-bust cycles set by fossil fuel industries.
But that window of opportunity is closing. If we don’t seize it, other states will make better progress and grab market share. (A recent report, State of Play: Renewable Energy Leaders and Losers, ranked the Northern Territory last on renewable energy uptake, with states like South Australia and Tasmania speeding towards their 100% renewable energy target.)
Now is not the time to buckle. We should hold our nerve, muster that pioneering spirit the NT is famous for, and continue the work of upgrading our grid as laid out in the detailed, step-by-step 2017 report Roadmap to Renewables. A short period of pain will pay itself back with an eternity of cheap, reliable, dispatchable energy on a smart grid, and unlock a world of potential for the NT.
A report published by the Environment Centre NT and Beyond Zero Emissions, The 10 Gigawatt Vision, shows that driving 10 gigawatts of renewables (20 times the current renewable energy target) could create over 8,000 new jobs and over $2bn in annual new revenue by 2030. It could support local businesses, lower power prices for residents and mean the kind of cheap, reliable power that remote communities in the NT have rarely ever experienced with diesel generators.
But none of it will be possible unless we upgrade from NT’s Electricity System 1.0 to Electricity System 2.0. Here's a taste of how smart that system will be:
- Not only will Territorians generate energy from their own panels, but they’ll also be able to trade clean energy locally with neighbours, the nearby solar garden, or the solar project at the edge of town
- When the sun is shining smart software will send a signal to energy users to turn on their pumps and fill up their batteries. Future electricity use will be much more dynamic – demand follows generation, as much as generation follows demand
- If there’s a big storm and a power line goes down, network control can decide to ‘island’ a town or a suburb, disconnecting it for a few hours or days from the main grid and running it on electricity from solar, batteries and other local renewables, which turns that area into a micro-grid and helps the Territory weather the storm’s aftermath
Let’s embrace a modern grid, for a thriving NT, and not drag out the awkward and difficult upgrade period any longer than we must.