Research for a net-zero future: MEI Symposium 22

The Melbourne Energy Institute’s major annual event delivered a packed schedule of new multi-disciplinary research towards a clean energy future

Daniel Westerman addresses MEI Symposium 22

Photos by Ross Bird/Peter Casamento Photography

The Melbourne Energy Institute in December hosted MEI Symposium 22, an all-day showcase of the latest in multi-disciplinary energy research from across the University of Melbourne and beyond.

The theme was set in an opening plenary keynote on Paving the way to Australia’s net-zero future, delivered by Mr Daniel Westerman, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

Drawing insights from AEMO’s Quarterly Energy Dynamics reports, which are presented regularly at MEI, the keynote explored the changes needed for a smooth transition to a net-zero energy system in Australia.

“The first step towards a net-zero economy is a net-zero energy system,” Mr Westerman said in his opening address. “Creating a net-zero electricity system is possible because the way Australia generates electricity is changing.”

Mr Westerman predicted that as Australia moves away from dependence on coal, our energy future will be built on four pillars: low-cost renewables, firming technology to fill the gaps, new transmission networks, and grids running on renewable energy.

With abundant opportunities for wind, solar and hydro resources, Mr Westerman predicted that Australia’s future grids will be able to run at times entirely on renewable energy. Firming technology like pumped hydro, batteries and gas generation can be relied on to fill any peaks and gaps. New transmission will be needed to power our towns and cities these through new and diverse low-cost sources of energy.

MEI Director, Professor Michael Brear, welcomed attendees back to the Parkville campus after a few interrupted years, and introduced the topics for the day’s discussions.

“This was our first event since early 2020 that was solely face-to-face,” he said. “What a joy to see so many of our students and younger researchers present their work, discuss and debate their findings, and learn from leaders in the sector about the massive opportunities that the energy transition presents. MEI is very grateful to all of our presenters and attendees for making the day a great success.”

Audience members at MEI Symposium 22

A packed schedule of speakers represented disciplines from across the University of Melbourne, as well as from industry and interstate.

Parallel sessions throughout the day covered MEI’s four Research Programs: Energy Systems, Energy Materials, Power Generation and Transport, and Hydrogen and Clean Fuels.

The Energy Systems session opened with a keynote by Professor Tapan Saha from the University of Queensland, on overcoming the operational challenges of renewable-dominated grids. For Energy Materials, the keynote came from Professor Xiaojing Hao from UNSW Sydney, who gave an update on new technologies for increasing the efficiency of solar cells.

In an afternoon session on Power Generation and Transport, Associate Professor Yi Yang from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Melbourne discussed his research on decarbonising combustion with carbon-neutral fuels. In the parallel Hydrogen and Clean Fuels stream, Professor Karen Wilson from RMIT University delivered findings on tailoring multifunctional catalysts for making clean fuels.

In total, more than 60 people presented their research during the Symposium. Students and Post-Doctoral Research Fellows competed for $8,000 in prizes for Best Presentation and Best Poster in four categories, following the themes of the four MEI Research Programs. Prize winners will be announced before the end of the year in the energy@melbourne newsletter.

Poster competition at MEI Symposium 22

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