Transitioning towards renewables: How government, energy and construction firms better collaborate

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

By Rob Bryant, EVP, APAC at InEight

Despite the economic slump driven by the onset of the pandemic in 2020, renewable energy projects hit record levels last year. The Clean Energy Regulator estimates a record seven gigawatts of new renewable capacity was installed throughout Australia in 2020, driven by record rooftop solar investment.

Meanwhile, according to the Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, the Australian Government invested $7.7 billion or $299 per person in renewable energy last year, placing the nation ahead of Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States on a per capita basis.

Collaboration with the private sector

Beyond government, renewable energy projects are increasingly being driven by private investment. For instance, billionaires including mining magnate, Andrew Forrest and Atlassian CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes recently invested in the oversubscribed capital raising for Sun Cable, a Northern Territory located solar farm, planned to become the world’s largest and, capable of supply electricity to Singapore. Besides the reduction in carbon emissions, such initiatives offer significant economic prospects for the Australian economy to build a new export opportunity through clean energy.

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For these types of projects, it will be essential for governments and the private sector, as well as energy and construction firms to collaborate across all stages of the project lifecycle. Connected data will be vital to ensure all stakeholders are kept informed of developments in real-time.

With the Australia Government holding itself to a target to increase the use of renewable energy up to 2030, while states such as NSW have committed to a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, collaboration via data will be critical. This will help improve decision making and project visibility to ensure that all target deadlines can be met.

Considerations for constructing renewable energy facilities

As major renewable energy projects such as the giant solar farm in the Northern Territory or the Asian Renewable Energy Hub go live, a key challenge will be in ensuring seamless integration with existing energy systems. With government energy policies continuing to transition away from oil, gas and coal fired energy production towards renewables such as wind, solar and hydro, construction firms charged with building and maintaining these facilities must be prepared for the different construction engineering workflows renewable facilities require. 

For example, there are different sets of challenges for constructing a solar farm rather than an oil refinery, particularly when it comes to component lifecycle management, design and planning, as well as ongoing asset management post-construction. 

Renewables projects in particular require a lot of offsite manufacturing and tracking of materials to monitor the progress and delivery of multimillion prefabricated components. Virtual design construction is crucial across the lifecycle of a renewables project to bring together data from disparate sources. The operations and maintenance phase of a renewables project is especially important to track wear and tear on components such as turbines and blades on windfarms as part of continuous maintenance.

Closing in on a cleaner future

Large infrastructure assets like roads and railways will require power, and that provides a need, and private sector opportunity for energy investments. These initiatives should not be expected to come from government alone. It is a long term critical need to have renewable as part of the complete energy picture to power transport and other major infrastructure today and into the future.

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Australia is strongly positioned as a nation to drive the evolution towards 100 percent renewable energy in the next few decades. Our geography, weather and climate hold enormous potential for big returns on solar investments. Moreover, the pioneering Snowy Hydro Scheme demonstrates the long-term sustainability and growth benefits that can be reaped from renewable energy megaprojects. Its planned expansion to add a further 50 per cent power generation capacity will take advantage of the advances in digital transformation for mega project design planning, construction and ultimately operations.

Australia’s policy obligations to a more sustainable, net-zero future mean the transition to renewables must come rapidly. With ongoing commitment from government to finance new renewable energy projects, combined with private sector investment, the country is set to become a global renewables energy power player. Digital project controls, data analytics and data driven decision making are essential to ensure these projects are delivered as efficiently as possible. To unlock the full economic and social benefits, the same pioneering and forward thinking approach must be applied to the lifecycle of their design, planning and construction.