Published 26 July 2017
Australia’s energy system is in a process of transformation and at times it feels as if our leaders and industry experts refuse to move forward towards renewable energy, at a time when it is crucial to act.
As highlighted in the Finkel Review, the government’s clean energy target of 42% renewable energy by 2030 is far too low if we are to meet Australia’s rising energy demands, address the issue of energy affordability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to well under the limit agreed upon in the Paris Climate Accord.
However, this is not a time to give up hope for our energy future. Whilst our leaders ignore the role that technology and innovation can play in this present process of energy transformation, we see plenty of innovation coming from the private sector, and particularly from young people, who are establishing start-ups with a vision of making the world a better place.
This is true of Marrickville-based solar company 5B Innovations, who last week launched their prefabricated 12kW solar array called ‘Maverick.’ I had the pleasure of attending the launch last Wednesday, where in front of a large crowd of clean energy enthusiasts and curious passers-by, the prefabricated solar array that is tailored to large scale systems was set up in under 10 minutes.
The release of innovative products like Maverick, by local companies such as 5B, brings up important questions about the role of innovation in addressing Australia’s energy issues, especially as federal government leadership toward the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is lacking, to say the least.
What makes 5B different?
More and more frequently, we are seeing innovations in the renewables sector from a growing number of community-based renewable energy projects, which ultimately work towards making renewable energy a cheaper alternative, both environmentally and economically, to fossil fuels.
5B Innovations team are made up 8 managers and 7 labourers, working in their Marrickville-based warehouse, with a goal of making the cost of renewable energy more affordable. The fear of rising energy cost is a contentious topic that is at the heart of concerns in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. This was a topic of conversation at the 2017 Clean Energy Summit held in Sydney last week where the role of renewables in reducing the costs of energy was explored.
When asked what makes the 5B’s Maverick solar different to those currently on the market, Eleanor Wood, Business Development and Strategy Manager, explained that what is unique about Maverick is that it is prefabricated, ultimately reducing the cost and that it is completely portable, having both significant environmental and economic benefits.
“We think it [Maverick] will become the cheapest way to build a solar farm in Australia. It will transform the way a solar farm looks at the moment, which is usually built by a big construction crew that moves into a site for a few months, and it is usually a major infrastructure style of project” said Eleanor.
Linking renewable innovation with justice and sustainability
Solar farms in Australia that are currently being built are usually viable for a period of 25 years, and now that we are seeing more large scale solar farms being built in Australia, there is potential for negative environmental impacts to occur from decommissioning of solar farms in the future years.
Eleanor explains that 5B has anticipated these environmental factors, and explains that “our solution is to be friendlier to the sites at the end of life” and our product will require no land rehabilitation, as there is minimal land destruction during the 5B solar farms decommission process.
This is because 5B’s solar farm product is prefabricated (manufactured in the warehouse and shipped to the site), meaning that when it comes time to decommission the solar array, the product only requires a forklift to come and pick it up.
In terms of the materials used in the manufacturing of the solar panel farm, Eleanor said: “our supply chain is fairly simple. Our main components are the concrete beams that are made in Wollongong and our aluminium hinges which are extruded in Newcastle so both of those are being made in Australia, under Australian OH&S laws from a worker safety perspective.”
In addition, Eleanor explains that 5B are in the process of applying for Cradle to Cradle certification which, if granted, will ensure the full life-cycle recyclability of the product. Having manufactured Maverick with an understanding of the social and environmental factors in mind, Eleanor is confident that the product will meet those guidelines.
Renewable Start-Ups in Australia
Professor Anthony Vassallo, the Delta Electricity Chair in Sustainable Energy Development at the University of Sydney, in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and SEI Key Researcher, was asked what impact he saw local start-up companies having on the future of the Australian energy market.
“I think the opportunity for small scale/startup in Australia is wide open, especially where the developments are about how solar (and other renewables/storage) address Australia’s needs and market initially. But it will come down to how innovative the approach is and whether it can then be adapted globally because that is where the future growth is going to come from. There are a few innovative startups in this space, but they are not doing what 5B is” said Anthony.
With the lack of federal government leadership toward the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, companies such as 5B through their innovative approach to reimagining the potential of solar energy, are pushing us toward renewable energy at a faster pace.
To find out more about 5B and the Maverick solar panel farm product, click here.