Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Royal Society of NSW News & Events

Annual Meeting of the Four Societies 2022

Four Societies logoEngineering and related Challenges in Decarbonising the Electricity System

Professor Stephen Wilson 
University of Queensland

A joint meeting of the Australian Institute of Energy, the Australian Nuclear Association, the Sydney Division of Engineers Australia, and the Royal Society of NSW — this year organised by the Australian Nuclear Association.

Date: Wednesday, 16 February 2022, 6.00 pm AEDT
Venue: Either in person at the UTS Aerial Function Centre ( Building 10, Level 7, 235 Jones Street, Ultimo) and via a Zoom webinar
Video presentation: YouTube video
Slides:  Link to the slides of Professor Stephen Wilson

Summary: Everyone, it seems, is talking about the energy transition. Electricity is pivotal, thermal power plants are highly visible, and few in number. Although far short of total greenhouse gas emissions, power generation is the single largest piece of the emissions pie in most countries, including Australia. Electricity is the obvious place to start reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and reduction strategies in other sectors—such as battery-powered vehicles—rely on more electricity. Achieving net-zero emissions economy-wide will require negative emissions somewhere, most likely including in the electricity sector. 

Some assume that 100% renewable energy is a simple, complete, ‘plug-and-play’ solution. This would be appealing, if not for the fine print. Electricity is the largest and seems the easiest sector. But that doesn’t mean decarbonising electricity will be easy, cheap, and sustainably popular. Engineering complete decarbonisation of electricity systems within the next three decades is likely to become progressively harder. Hence it will be increasingly expensive, and risks becoming politically unpopular.

In this talk, Stephen Wilson will share some insights from recent studies and current research, explore with Australian examples some of the engineering-related challenges that will need to be solved, and note opportunities for Australian engineering to contribute at home and abroad.

Stephen WilsonStephen Wilson is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland who has worked at the intersection of engineering, economics and policy, energy security and the geopolitics of energy and resources across three decades and in over 30 countries. Stephen has worked on projects in energy efficiency and demand-side management, electricity regulation, tariffs and pricing, climate change and energy policy, natural gas, pipeline and storage infrastructure master plans, security of supply and bankability studies, coal and uranium mining, renewable energy and system modelling. Originally trained as a mechanical engineer, Stephen has spent his career in energy economics, as a consultant based in Melbourne, Hong Kong and later London, as general manager of market and industry analysis in the energy product group of a global mining company, and as a full-time teaching and research Professor at UQ. Stephen is Managing Director of Cape Otway Associates.

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