Renewable Energy: a mess or a hope?

Joining us on the blog today is our colleague Eva Medianti, who writes informatively on the current state of renewable energy, the importance of switching from fossil fuels, and what is required in order for this change to occur.

Facts of energy usage

The world’s energy consumption has increased significantly, aligning with the growth in human population and development. 5 billion people on our planet enjoy energy to support their activities, but more than 1 billion people still lack this access. The biggest contributors to energy consumption are heating, cooling, transportation, and power. Energy use for heating and cooling accounted for more than 50% of world energy consumption in 2016. This heating includes water heating, space heating, and cooking. Oil use accounted for 32.9% of global energy consumption, which mostly related to transportation sectors. High dependency on private transportation significantly boosts demand for oil. Power demand, though not as significant as the other two, is also a large source of demand for energy.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the source of the world’s energy generation was dominated by fossil fuels energy (80.7 %), while renewable energy only provided 19.3 % of supply. The majority of this fossil fuel use concerned coal and oil. High dependency on non-renewable energy has numerous disadvantages. It produces carbon emissions, which increase global warming and trigger climate change. Climate change causes detrimental effects such as increased variability of climate, which increases the intensity and frequency of extreme -weather events; rising sea levels, leading to island erosion, which can result in climate refugees; and coral bleaching that threatens the marine life ecosystem and the fisheries industry. In addition to its severe impacts on the environment, fossil fuels such as oil are declining significantly. Therefore, the natural resources created over billions of years has been extracted and will soon vanish, all because of human activities in the past few centuries since the industrial revolution begun. Like it or not, the world must transform its energy supply to renewable energy. Otherwise, we will be unable to continue to enjoy modern development as we understand it.

The current progress of energy generation in the world

Renewable energy offers safe, environmentally-friendly energy, and is self-sustaining. Global renewable energy in 2016 was 19.3%, and within the last decade, it only increased by 2.8 percent on average, mostly by hydropower, solar power, and wind energy. However, its growth is only slightly above demand growth in energy demand due to the high increase in global population. The question is how to supply the energy demands of 6 billion people with renewable energy. Technology, funds, and politics will underpin the change required, not to mention the switch of mindset in energy preferences. It is a battle between the rising new industries and the enormous fossil fuel industry.

Where is Australia?

Australia is one of the highest per capita users of carbon emissions in the world (McCarthy, Eagle, & Lesbirel, 2017). It also depends highly on coal, both as its main electricity generator, contributing 63% of its electricity, and as a national income generator, with 90% of black coal production being exported. In addition, in 2016 38% of energy consumption came from oil. These numbers show the significant role of fossil fuels in the Australian energy portfolio. This highlights the importance of funds, stakeholders, and policy in the industry.

On the other hand, Australia has the natural resources for renewable energy supplies. Its abundance of sunshine and wind are two of its most valuable potential resources. However, it has not optimised these resources to its full capacity. Australia’s renewable energy generation only contributes to 17.3 percent of total energy generation. Its main resources for renewable generation come from hydropower, wind, and solar, which contribute 42.3%, 30.8%, and 18.3 % respectively. In relation to the rest of the world, Australia is ranked fifth together with Greece for solar PV capacity per capita category. Renewable energy sectors in Australia in 2016 provided employment for 11,150 people, with the biggest contribution coming from solar and hydro energy. However, country-level reports do not identify the progress of renewable energy by state. South Australia, ACT, and Tasmania lead the rest of the country in their energy policies and implementation, while Western Australia and Northern Territory’s programs are still in their infancy. Speeding up the renewable energy growth in all states is a major challenge. Increasing the rate of change is necessary to boost renewable energy performance in competing with the fossil fuels business.

In conclusion, shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy requires considerable effort and well-planned strategies. It also demands that all levels of society make an energy preference decision, not just major actors with access to power, large funds, and technology. In other words, this change should happen on both a global and household level. Australia is an example of the struggle for change in energy preference decisions in the world. There is a long way to go, but it is not impossible. Energy generation strategy development should include social, economic, and environmental dimensions to create sustainability in human development. This is necessary in order for the luxury of energy to be able to be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva
Sustainability Officer (2017)

Notes from an International Student in Development

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The view from the Arts Graduate Lounge, one of the many study spaces available on campus.

I am Natasha, a Masters of International Development Practice student in my second semester. My core area of academic interest lies in the field of international relations and development studies. As an Indian, this interest stems from the lived experience and conscious memory of seeing rising developmental issues, numerous diplomatic and military conflicts, genocide, human rights and gender injustices.

Throughout the course of my higher education I have been engaging directly and indirectly with questions relating to gender, conflict resolution and security in development practices and international relations.

Why I study in Australia?

It was a visit to Australia as a tourist during my undergraduate studies, that set me on the path to further studies abroad. I fell in love with Monash´s stunning Caulfield campus; it’s liberal environment, highly experienced faculty, welfare and support facilities, and the conducive living and learning atmosphere.
All these aspects, were surely going to make my time at Monash an extraordinary experience. And to top that, being able to learn at this much-lauded university is one of the best ways to imbibe multi-cultural diversity, develop an international perspective and understand the role of Australia´s development sector, which I have always wanted.

 

First weeks in Australia

Arriving in Australia as an international student, one of my first hurdles was the usually routine processes of opening a bank account, getting an Australian phone number, Monash ID, and OSHC card.

Getting important admin out of the way, on to the house hunting, where I was lucky enough to find a nice two-room place near the university without much trouble. Initially the distance looked minimal but as classes began and catching the shuttle bus became a major mission, I realised getting a bike was a smart idea and hence Gumtree became my best friend! I found a second-hand bike along with some furniture for the house.

Looking back after five months, I remember how getting a fridge, a microwave or even a donna became such important things and entertaining conversation topics.

 

First months at Monash

My experience at Monash as an MIDP student has already been an interesting journey. Firstly,everything is online, leaving me feeling a little technologically challenged. Coming from India where a lot functions the old-fashioned way, working with Moodle (especially while submitting assignments), Allocate+, WES, all these were both interesting and frustrating at the same time. But in the end I learnt how to spot various aspects of my course online such as presentations, discussions, course content. Everything was just a click away, and just like learning an instrument or sport, navigating Monash´s online world gets easier with practice

As an international student, understanding the Australian accent and its own colloquial slang words was quite the challenge. I have to admit to still listening to things twice, with double concentration to understand what the lecturers say or what my peers discuss. Hence, many times I missed out on jokes that went around in class and I would then appeal to my neighbour to explain what just happened.

 

Settling in and lessons learned

Being part of MIDP program, I have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people from all across the globe. It is a pleasure to listen to their experiences as development practitioners working in various countries. It is great to learn of the ground-realities from the field. It helped me understand the similarities of problems across the world and hearing the various development practices working as solutions insightful.

Another important skill I have gained is working in groups, as a lot of assignments require us to work with 3-4 people. It is a daunting task to agree to what everyone else has to say. Sometimes most of your time can be spent narrowing down the various ideas without offending any particular person.

However, by the end of semester we understood each other well and had grown from being total strangers to friends. While I must admit, this friendship was mostly due to food and other hot topics that dominated our discussions, often more so than the academics! It is also comforting to know I am not the only one who felt clueless, there were others also in the same boat.


Studying development in an international setting

In India right now, not many places provide a specialisation in international development practice. After gaining an understanding of international relations and working for think-tanks and NGOs I felt that a more specialised understanding of development practices from issues emerging in the international community was much needed for me to excel in this field and to also carry out further research in the form of a PhD in the future.

Pursuing a Masters of International Development Practice at Monash University complements my academic and working experience. The MIDP program has so far been amazing, especially with a faculty from whom I believe I still have so much to learn.
The program allows flexibility for an interesting range of subjects, especially as I have found, for students with an international relations background. The multi-disciplinary nature of the faculty and students helps contextualise my experience of South Asian politics and international relations with global development perspectives.

 

Looking forward

After successfully completing the first semester, I move on to the second, feeling much more confident with an increased sense of belonging at Monash.

This semester I am going to be studying Project Planning and Management and am looking forward to learning project planning from an international perspective and using it in the future in a local context.

Aside from the academics, I am excited to meet new people, not just from MIDP but students from other courses as well. I am thrilled to spend more time at the new MPA lounge on the Caulfield campus and during exams, making the Arts Lounge my home again. Not so preoccupied with the fears of beginning the first semester, I am sure I will now enjoy experiencing the things I may have missed out on before.

 

My top piece of advice

As an International MIDP student, I am perhaps too young in the programme to make total sense of it all. My one recommendation is to spread out the core units, one during each of the first three semesters. As many of the students work part-time alongside the full-time course, it is advisable to space out these core units, allowing for a better understanding of them through a deeper engagement with their content. Doctrines, Project Planning and Research Methods, these form the basis of our programme and our understanding of development, give yourself the time to absorb all that they have to teach you.

Natasha
MIDP student

nrag4@student.monash.edu

+61 410 937 347