What's the key to unlocking Australia's green energy superpower?

GHD Pty Ltd

By Sarah FitzGerald, GHD’s Global Program Lead – Future Energy
Monday, 19 June, 2023

What's the key to unlocking Australia's green energy superpower?

There is no singular, simple solution to ease Australia’s transition to renewable energy. As we journey towards net zero emissions by 2050, difficult trade-offs need to be made, and tough conversations need to take place if we are going to achieve this goal.

One significant barrier we face is the groundswell of community opposition to the projects that will enable Australia to become a green energy superpower. GHD recently published SHOCKED — one of the largest global opinion research studies undertaken among energy sector leaders — and found 65% of Australian leaders believe community opposition is one of the biggest obstacles to new project approvals.

For Australia to achieve net zero by 2050, and benefit from the opportunities that the transition to green energy offers, we need to do better and do more to improve community understanding and acceptance. This will require authentic, honest conversations around the realities of building more resilient systems that can weather shocks, including discussion of the scale of the transition and the costs involved.

The role of government is key. Public awareness campaigns must spell out the challenges, opportunities and trade-offs at a community level that are necessary to build a clean, resilient energy system. These campaigns will require skilled communicators to drive a collective understanding of any negative local impacts with the real and meaningful benefits that communities will gain, now and for generations to come.

The energy sector itself also has a key role to play, with 74% of energy leaders believing the sector needs to get better at educating local communities on the need to transition. When proposing new projects, companies must make time to meet the communities they will be operating in, listen to their concerns and co-design solutions that are acceptable to them.

To gain social and community acceptance of the energy transition, we can:

  1. Increase public awareness and education of clean energy and sustainable practices, whether through public awareness campaigns or integration of energy transition topics in educational curricula.
  2. Engage communities in decision-making processes by embedding them in the permitting process to generate awareness with meaningful and authentic engagement approaches.
  3. Encourage community-based energy solutions through financial incentives, such as grants, loans and tax credits, to encourage local investment in clean energy and energy efficiency projects.
  4. Address local concerns while mitigating environmental and social impacts through transparent impact assessments and processes that foster trust among the community.

By championing collaboration among stakeholders and empowering local communities through education, participation and transparent systems and processes, we can build a robust foundation for a successful and inclusive energy transition.

Sarah FitzGerald

Top image caption: iStock.com/rudall30

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