Charging ahead with clean energy

Sustainability, the energy ecosystem and the missing link

The science and economics tells us sustainable energy alternatives make sense. So, what’s the missing link in the path to a clean and prosperous future? Hear from leading scientists, a City of Sydney Councillor and the NSW Minister for Energy and Environment.

Targets, safeguards and the future: these concepts feel abstract and far away. But the reality is, we have the technology solutions at hand, to drive the direction of where we're heading.

We know why we need a sustainable future, and this discussion brings together a spectrum of perspectives, to show how this is achievable.

  • Matt Kean MP, NSW Minister for Energy and Environment, offers perspective into the economic impacts and benefits of investing in alternative energy sources. 
  • Professor Anita Ho-Baillie, John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience and a world leader in perovskite solar energy cells, shares insights into solar photovoltaic research and its potential to produce cost-effective ways of energy generation. The research that Professor Ho-Baillie is leading at the University was also awarded 2.5 million federal funding
  • Professor Thomas Maschmeyer presents a case study on gelated zinc bromide batteries. An Australian breakthrough, this technology is scalable, affordable and safe.
  • Linda Scott, President of Local Government NSW (LGNSW) and City of Sydney Councillor, will talk about sustainability at a local level and community engagement.
  • Dr Tanya Fiedler from the University of Sydney Business School moderates this discussion. Dr Fiedler played a key role in the development of the University's Sustainability Strategy.


Welcome to this Sydney Ideas panel on the topic of charging ahead with clean energy. My name is Tanya Fiedler, I'm a lecturer in the discipline of accounting here at the University of Sydney and I will be chairing this event.

But before we begin proceedings, I'd like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land in which we meet. I'm chairing this event from the lands of the Darramuragal people of the Eora nation.

But I'd also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which our speakers and you the audience reside, as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people participating in this event.

It's upon their ancestral lands that our homes and workplaces are built. So, as we share our own knowledge, teaching, learning, research and practices here today, may we also pay respect to the knowledge embedded forever, within the Aboriginal custodianship of country.

So, before we go on, I just want to just introduce you to our speakers that we have got a great, great lineup today. And I'll introduce you to each of these briefly in turn.

So first, we have Professor Anita Ho-Baillie. And so, Anita is the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience and a world leader in, I hope I'm going to say this correctly, perovskite solar energy cells; Anita will be sharing insights into solar photovoltaic research and its potential to produce cost effective ways of energy generation.

Then we have Professor Thomas Maschmeyer. Thomas is a catalytic chemist and was recently awarded the Prime Minister's Prize for innovation; in recognition of his work translating fundamental research into commercial technologies.

So, Thomas will be presenting a case study on gelated zinc bromide batteries, a technology that is Australian, scalable, affordable and safe.

Then we're going to have Linda Scott. So, Linda is president of Local Government New South Wales and councillor for the City of Sydney.

So, Linda will talk about sustainability at a local level, as well as about community engagement. And she'll be referring to a number of case studies carried out by local councils in New South Wales.

And then finally, we'll have Matt Kane joining us. Now Matt is New South Wales Minister for Energy and Environment and the Member for Hornsby.

Matt will be discussing some state initiatives, including his special energy precinct around Dubbo, and how he intends to rejuvenate manufacturing in New South Wales, while helping us to transition to renewables.

Before we go on to Anita, I just wanted to just sort of set up the status quo. And reflect on some recent events that I think are quite significant and relevant to this discussion.

So only a few weeks ago, the European Union announced plans to further cut their carbon emissions by up to 55% by 2030. And to do this, they're going to be using border tax adjustments against imports from carbon price free countries like ours, Australia. Also, three of our biggest trading partners, China, South Korea and Japan have now all made pledges to become NetZero in the next 30 to 40 years.

Thermal coal projects are rapidly becoming uninsurable, and uninvestable as European, US and Australian and other global insurance banks and investors retreat. And then credit rating agencies such as Moody's and Standard and Poor's are busily buying up climate risk advisory services.

Why? Well, simply because they see climate risk is part of the overall analysis that they undertake, when grading the credit risk of governments and corporates issuing debt in public markets. So why have I raised these points?

Well, because in spite of our geographical isolation, the fact is we operate in a global economy. It means that our physical assets, our companies, and our jobs are all reliant on the ability to raise capital in that economy, as well as vulnerable to the pressures global markets exert.

This means the only way forward if we want to flourish economically, is by embracing the opportunities that renewables present. So, on that note, Anita please over to you,

Thanks, Tanya, for the introduction. So, just to illustrate the point that we're not living in an isolated world, I did a Google search of the Australian bushfire and the American wildfire this year.

And surprisingly, not surprisingly, the images are very much the same. So yes, we are all feeling the pains of global warming. But fortunately, great things are happening and are happening very fast. So, since 2013, we have been adding more renewables each year than coal, natural gas and oil combined. So that has led to a steady increase in terms of the percentage renewables in the energy mix.

And you can see that solar photo voltaic pie has doubled over the last few years. So solar is getting cheaper and cheaper.

And the cost has come down dramatically; by 10 times in the last 10 years. And I'll say more than 100 times if we count the 10 years before that. So solar uptake in Australia has gone up by tenfold, again in the last 10 years.

And if we count the years before that it has gone up by 100-fold. So, on the 11th of October, in South Australia, for just over an hour, the entire state was powered by solar 100%. So, 77%, from rooftops and 23% from solar farms. In terms of jobs and jobs in growth, well renewables and solar take all the boxes. So global employment has grown by more than 50% in the last seven years.

And solar actually makes up 30% of those jobs, even though solar only makes up 10% of the total renewables. So, you can say that Solar is actually quite a labour intensive industry. Where a lot of places in the world, people are actually very used to being powered by renewables hundred percent.

So, the number of people with no access to electricity has dropped very significantly. And thanks to standalone renewable energy systems. So, a lot of these people have solar on the roof. And they are funded by the NGO or zero interest lines.

So usually it takes them two years to pay off the loan, and they use the diesel fuel money to pay off the loans and two years up after that, they're actually debt free, and they are able to enjoy electricity for free. Now, that means a lot to them, just being able to read at night is a big deal to them, because they can read and they're able to educate themselves.

So, on the right-hand side, you can see photos, showing a bunch of us. So, in 2005, we took a bunch of students, 50 of them to Nepal, and we installed a small solar battery system, just to give light power lights for a medical clinic in a remote area in Nepal, and that remote cleaning is serving 30,000 people. So, you can see me with the red camera on with locals.

And the year after the students went back. And they installed another solar power system. And that was for a fridge to be able to store medicine. So that has meant a lot to them.

And I remember one night, we're in the middle of night and a woman was in labour and she came and visited a medical clinic and just being able to have liked it and it is a big deal. So, what does my research do? Well, as Tanya has talked about, I look at the new solar materials called perovskites. And they're very thin.

So, they're 50 to 100 times thinner than a piece of human hair and is also much thinner than conventional silicon cells that you have on the rooftops. 

So, perovskite is going gangbusters. So, it took 40 years for silicon solar cells to double its efficiency. So, you can see the blue curve there and took 40 years. But for perovskites, it only took 10 years. So, because it's so thin, you can apply it on curved surfaces or flexible services.

And wait, you can also put it on silicon cell. So that means this technology is not necessarily a competing technology, but a complementary technology as well. So, you can stack perovskite on top of a silicon cell, or you can set perovskite on top of each other.

So, the idea is to make good use of the solar spectrum so that you can double and triple efficiencies. So, thanks to ARENA or the Australian Government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we've been able to secure funding to do this research. So, in terms of niche applications, where we can apply cells onto glass to make smart solar windows.

And you can see in my office, we have installed data logger on my windows to see how much sunlight falls onto my window. And surprisingly, through the back of the envelope calculation, we think it may be possible to save the Sydney Nanohub $10,000 in electricity bill each year.

So, well before we start pulling the windows off the building; we've got a student now looking into this more closely, to see to see how the seasonal variation will vary the amount of electricity output we can get or the solar we can get onto the windows. So, this is all I have to say for now and I'll hand the mic back to Tanya.

Okay, thanks so much Anita. Sounds like fascinating research. I'd love to learn more about it later. Okay, Thomas, would you mind telling us a little bit about your research that you're doing, which also sounds just as fascinating,

Right, so thanks for the opportunity to come and sit on this panel and great talk just before. And clearly, renewables are on the way forward. And the pace of change was already indicated, and it is always a difficult kind of thing to understand the pace of change, and it tends to be consistently underestimated.

So just as maybe a little bit left field, let's look at history. And if you have a look at 1903, that was a typical street in New York. And people said, well, this is what's going to be happening, you know, for some time, 10 years later, same street. And you have a very close look, there's one horse left.

So, the speed of change can be really rapid and really profound, with the right conditions. So, in that context, and the energy market is, is forecast to grow by 25% over a very short period of time, so 2,500% increase and that's already now not aggressive enough, it's actually starting to grow faster than this.

So, it's a really deep transformational change that's occurring. And where's all this station energy storage going to happen? If you have a look at this world map - 8% of that is actually happening in Australia, and Australia has a very small population compared to some other places.

And therefore, the concentration of energy storage is really high in Australia, and many of the large companies around the world are road testing their products here.

And given that that's a situation and given I thought we could possibly improve some of the technology out here. You know, being in Australia, where everybody else is coming to test their products, we thought well might as well set up a company.

So, I set up this company Gelion and we have a new technology that allows us to have a really good interaction with solar. Solar photovoltaics, so the zinc bromine chemistry is been around for many years, the first patent was 1889 or so. But people never got it quite right. And they had flow batteries and non-flow and all sorts of things.

And the last 30 years or so people have been trying to do flow batteries, we've come up with a gel that controls where the ions go inside the battery. And that has really changed the whole design capability of how we can make a battery.

And therefore, very robust, not flammable, all sorts of good things. And just a quick summary of the breakthroughs. Because we are robust because we are not flammable. At the end of the day, we have a very low cost in terms of levelized cost of energy storage.

So, we're very competitive across a lifetime of an application; the lifetime of the project. We're very robust, heat tolerant.  So, we can run it 45-50 degrees without fail, that doesn't matter. Other batteries die, also what's called abuse tolerance. So, we can go to zero charge all the way up to 100% charge and down again, not a problem at all.

Again, other batteries die. If you put those two together, the zero to 100 backwards and forwards and a high temperature most batteries out in the market will not last longer than six months or so. So, we are happy to go on for years and years and years. I already talked about safety and the high temperature tolerance and we are fully recyclable, we don't have heavy metals like lead, which is of course very toxic.

So, we are in a good shape there. In terms of robust chemistry, just to give you some data, not just words, you can see that line here energy efficiency is very, very straight, that's a year effectively of cycling and we have no fade whatsoever so the battery is as good as it was on day one. And for the geeks around the place you can see charging profile at the bottom.

Equally, we have other kind of profiles of charging and discharging more voltage smoothing for wind farms and again 2500 cycles, zero fade. And this particular kind of battery has been incorporated into a demonstration and commercial demonstration that's been installed at Sydney University in solar benches, part of the sustainable campus initiatives of living laboratories; and we have our batteries that are in the box at the bottom of the of the bench.

The solar panels give shade during the day and provide the electricity for the battery to charge during the day and at night we have light, and, in a few weeks, we’ll have some USB charging points as well. We have it as a living laboratory because we are able to showcase a range of batteries as they come in terms of our technology pipeline, to life.

And we also are monitoring each of those batteries. And we have these infographics that people can have a look at, you know, how many kilowatt hours that we saved, what was the equivalent of co2 saving, and what's the representation of that, and that sort of thing.

So, it's really tried to be integrating the story of sustainability into university life. And as such, I'm very proud that despite COVID, all of this was Australian manufactured. We had more than 12 local manufacturers involved in this in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

And really, it's a renewables industry success story in a really tough and difficult environment. Here, you can see some pictures of manufacturing, of installation, of the product itself. And we think that will really work well together with the modernising manufacturing initiative of the federal government, and the energy strategy that's been pushed through ARENA.

And of course, they're matching elements of funding from states attached to these strategies to make those numbers a little bit bigger and more attractive. And we feel that, you know, as a company, we are well positioned to try and attract some of this funding so that the technology can stay onshore and the jobs can stay onshore, so that we helping the local industry to get us through the COVID slump.

Overall, we are aiming to leverage the existing ecosystem, through global partnerships, transforming their low growth into high growth scenarios. And that's the reason why we believe we have a chance, we don't need to rebuild new factories, or build new factories, we can refurbish existing factories, and lead acid, although it's a bit boring, maybe it's still half the world's manufacturing capability, representing $45 billion a year.

So, we can integrate into that infrastructure. That's why we think we have a chance. Last slide. How are we going to do this, and initially, we're taking our robustness, heat tolerance, abuse tolerance into really challenging positions in agriculture, for desalination of bores, which have gone saline; irrigation, water shifting.

And once we've done that, we go to slightly larger systems, standalone power systems, commercial and industrial. And once we have that volume of production, we can just integrate into the usual solar farm, wind farm, utility grid kind of narrative.

So, it's a stepwise process, because we also have to stepwise increase production. And as production becomes bigger, the cost goes lower. And once I'm at utility scale, the whole thing is a very thin margin. Whereas if I sell systems for agriculture, I can live with a slightly larger battery price. And that is it. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Thomas. I haven't been on the university campus recently. But I really look forward to seeing those benches in action. Okay, Linda, would you like to now tell us something about the initiatives that local governments have been undertaking?

Thank you so much, Tanya. And it's lovely to be with you all. And a big shout out to the Fort St. Students who are here with us today and any of the other students.

And it was so fantastic to hear about Anita and Thomas's really amazing research. And I too, would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation whose land I'm on today. But of course, we're on lots of different First Nations lands.

And lovely to be here with Matt Kean who, even though we are very much on the opposite side of politics, we do a lot of work together. And we're very happy to see him doing all his good work on taking action on climate change at a state level.

So, unlike the other speakers, I'm just going to start with a very different approach. The reason I care about climate change is because of my dad, he was a climate scientist.

He had a PhD in chemistry. And when I was growing up, he used to drag us out on bushwalks and lecture us about endangered species. He used to make us all have water saving showerheads in our house, much to the protest of my sister and I who really hated not having enough water to wash our long hair. He installed solar in our house and he used to tell us about how much money he saved on our power bills. He was always so excited by that.

And finally, he hand dug trenches in our garden to install a water recycling system in our own garden; to ensure that our garden was always watered with as much recycled water as he could access.

So, of course, when I first went to university and grew up in a world around me, I have always been really amazed by the fact that there continue to be a huge number of Australians and indeed a huge number of people in our world, who don't believe the science of climate change, who don't believe the innovations that Anita and Thomas are talking about are critical to the future success of our economies, our jobs, and of course, our planet and our environment.


Nevertheless, we have a really important task to talk to those people; to help them to understand what's so important about this. And to help them to take the steps that we all need to see global action on climate change.

I'm really proud as a councillor to try to do that in my own local council, the City of Sydney, so I was really excited to be the first Councilor to move a motion to declare a climate emergency. I've managed to ensure the city will now transition to electric vehicles.

We have set targets for our own local government, not just for our own council energy use, but also the energy use and emissions of our local government area, all our communities. And the City of Sydney, as a very dense place with a lot of people living in it has a lot of emissions. So, we've got a very big task ahead of us.

As has already been stated, we know in recent days, some of our biggest trading partners have taken a new course on energy. And so actually for the future of our economy, now more than ever, we really do need to see the federal government taking action on climate change.

But in the absence of that, what can we do at a local level? What can we do to take this issue forward? And that's really what I'm here to talk briefly about today. Australia is obviously at a tipping point, as is the rest of the world.

And I think the release of today's findings from the Bushfire Royal Commission are yet another reminder of what we need to do as a nation to make that change. As a matter of sheer necessity, we're moving from a centralised energy system where we have big emitting coal fired power stations often unseen often don't know where our power comes from, we just turn on the switch at home and there it is, to really localised solutions.

And Anita and Thomas's research show us the great Australian innovation that can turn on and really efficiently generate that energy at a local level. It's clear that Australia is one of the best places in the world, for this innovation.

It's really clear that Australia continues to invent some of the best ways in which we can use these local tools, local batteries, local solar panels, Thomas has also done amazing things converting plastics into materials that can be recycled. So many amazing Australian innovations from Sydney University and our other academics that really are world leading when it comes to these localised solutions.

So, what are local governments trying to do to take up some of this Australian research to try and have local tailored solutions? In Shoalhaven, they've done amazing work trialing electric vehicles, installing solar panels, a revolving Energy Fund and replacing their streetlights with LED lights saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also stacks of emissions.

In Forbes, not a place usually associated with action on climate change; they've undertaken work to install one of the longest routes of solar lighting around the world. And they did it by employing local farmers during a drought to do that work, a really great economic solution.

In Waverley council a bit closer to home, they've taken the traditionally hard to reach sector in apartments and done really well to reduce their emissions in line with their own emissions reduction target. They've also got a project about EV ready and creating access to local charging infrastructure and drivers’ anxieties about that.

And really well done to the city of Newcastle who have in fact been one of the leaders in the nation when it comes to acting on climate change. They've done a huge amount of work with electric vehicles. They constructed a five-megawatt solar farm and they've introduced 4000 streetlights to LED.

Wollongong Council has upgraded its own administration building to be a five green star rating. And other councils are now creating their six-star rating buildings; really incredible results. And finally, my own Council, the City of Sydney, we've upgraded our original target to accelerate it to be 100% renewable by 2021.

Although we were pipped by Newcastle as being the first council to be able to do that, and we're working with a solar farm coalition from New England and Wagga and Shoalhaven to get energy to power our own operations in the City of Sydney.

What are the kinds of things you can do as academics or indeed just as people living in a community to take that local action? First of all, fund local innovation. We've got a research fund that I'm very happy to set up at Local Government New South Wales, where we encourage councils to partner with academics, to take action on climate change, or come up with other innovative results in their own areas. It's a great step to keep ensuring Australian innovation continues.

The second thing we can do is to partner with the level of government that is actually going to be creating the change, and that is local government. It's very important to have internationally binding agreements, it's very important that state governments do their work. But ultimately, local governments have the spaces to install the batteries, the buildings to put the solar panels on, and the places for people to create change in their own communities.

The third one is to make sure we have a national grid to allow energy in and to remove all the constraints for doing that. Many of you will have seen in his budget reply Anthony Albanese announced a policy to nationalise the grid. Ideas like these to fix our national grid are really important.

Next is to build the evidence base for what works at a local level. New South Wales councils like my own a part of a Rockefeller Foundation project called Resilient Cities. We've built a great database of energy, and we can literally map it block by block across Sydney, so that if you install some of those solar panels from Anita, we can measure the impact that is having block by block.


If you start using Thomas's batteries in an area, we can start measuring the energy changes, block by block across Sydney. Matt's going to hopefully fund us to roll that program out across the rest of the state. That's what I want him to do.

But it's innovation like this that can be measured, that is going to convince people about making the difference. And the final point I make is to communicate back communicate about climate change in a way that makes a difference.

I started speaking about my dad, because that's how I came to love and care about our environment. But everyone has their own reason. We know if you have read Rebecca Huntley's recent book about how to effectively communicate about climate change, she goes around the world and finds examples of what people love, be it bird life or saving money, or just the right thing to do acting on climate change, and finds that reason why people were driven to take action and turns it into a reality.

So, when you're talking about this to people, find out what they love, find out what they care about. And then that's the way to talk to them about changing our climate.

Some good advice there. Thank you, Linda. Matt, great to have you here. And could you maybe start telling us about these broader state initiatives that Linda is hoping will fund the work that she would like to do?

Thank you so much for having me here today. And could I just start by also acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I speak; the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respects to elder's past, present and emerging and just remind everyone that the land we're all on is was and always will be Aboriginal land.

Without wanting to turn this into the mutual appreciation society, can I just say that, regardless of what your politics are, the sooner we get someone of Linda Scott's caliber into our federal parliament, the better off we all will be as a nation.

Linda, thank you so much for what you do at the City of Sydney council. And as important that is that is, we need someone of your talents on the national stage. Can I also take this opportunity to thank Vice Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence for the invitation to speak today.

And I just want to thank the amazing thought leaders of Sydney University for sharing their remarkable breakthroughs. If there is one area of common understanding that has come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that so much of our way of life depends on science.

Science will ultimately bring this pandemic to an end through a vaccine or a cure. And science will give us the means to decarbonise the economy and generate opportunities to secure our state's future for generations.

So, the New South Wales Government is listening to the science and delivering on the policy. Our net zero plan is fully funded, with a $2 billion investment and a roadmap to cut emissions by 35% by 2030. On the way to net zero emissions by 2050.

We've got to get this done. We're committed to delivering three priority renewable energy zones located in the state's Central West Orana area, the New England up around Armidale and southwest regions.

The renewable energy zones will unlock a significant pipeline of renewable energy and storage projects, supporting up to 17,700 megawatts of new generation. So, it's utility scale, renewable generation, a modern-day power station.

It'll turbocharge the economy of $23 billions of private sector investment; and 2000 construction jobs each year, every year, over the next two decades. I mean, this is transformative. This is not some big, Green New Deal. This is economic rationalism at its best, you know, we should be doing this because it's good for the environment.


But we should also be doing this because it's all about growing our economy, driving investment into the state, creating jobs and setting us up for a prosperous future. So, while the number of low emissions technologies are competitive today, new technologies are needed to achieve net zero in ways that improve the state's prosperity and not undermine it.

So, we know we've got some technologies, particularly around renewables, where you can decarbonise and lower cost of living for people. There are some hard to abate areas of the economy that we need to find solutions to deal with.

So, we've got a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth to establish a clean technology program to research develop and commercialise emissions reduction technologies and establish a clean technology hub in the state.

So, as the recent report from the New South Wales chief scientist has shown, there is significant potential and huge opportunities for New South Wales in a low carbon global economy. So, governments are not alone in acting on climate change, businesses are already taking action. And there is every reason to think that action will continue to grow.


And Linda referenced what's happening internationally. You know, this week alone, we've seen Japan and South Korea both commit to net zero emissions by 2050. And, you know, whether you believe in climate change or not, you can believe in capitalism and the markets that Australia sells its goods and services to will be looking for different types of products, and we're really well placed to provide them and continue to be a prosperous trading nation.

Globally, 995 businesses have signed up to the United Nations race to zero campaign. That's committing to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. And when you add together all of those who have committed to net zero; corporate and non-corporate, it accounts for more than 50% of global GDP, and around 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions.

So, there are billions of dollars of capital looking to make those commitments a reality. My mission is to bring that investment into New South Wales; to decarbonise our economy, and to galvanise our economic recovery. New opportunities, absolutely inconceivable today will emerge over the next decade.

The researchers that we've heard from today are at the vanguard of those opportunities. You know, I want to acknowledge the amazing work of Anita, Tanya and also, my wonderful friend, Dr. Thomas Maschmeyer. And Thomas, thank you so much, I worked very closely with him as the Minister for Innovation. And I'm just so inspired by your work now as the Minister for Energy.

You know, we've got some of the best researchers anywhere in the world and you know, we as government, we as community need to support them in helping ensure that we're able to solve these problems, not just for us, as Australians, the problems that we want to help. We want our researches, our academics to help the rest of the world also decarbonise.

So, we've got some of the most incredible renewable energy resources you'll find anywhere on the planet. And we have some of the most advanced researchers working on alternative energy technologies. So decarbonising the economy is going to require a redesign of most sectors within it. Energy supply and industrial processes, the cars, trucks and buses that we move in, and the houses and buildings that we live and work in.

The developments outlined today, have the potential to deliver on that transformation and in turn, help us build a healthier environment, and a more prosperous future. So, Tanya, I really want to thank the team at Sydney University for all that they've achieved so far and urge them onto even greater discoveries in the future.

I mean, you know, it's not just the future of our planet that's at stake. It's the future of our economy, the type of jobs that our kids are going to have, the type of living standards that they're going to enjoy. My vision for New South Wales is for us to decarbonise in a way that will create those jobs, drive investment, and set us up to be an energy superpower.

And in doing so, we can also be an economic superpower. That's the type of state and country that I want to bequeath to my kids.

Thank you so much, Matt. It's so great to hear someone from government talking in terms of economic rationalism, rather than some form of ideology. The evidence is clear on so many fronts. So, really great hearing your talk now. I've got a number of questions here, which we've either received from people that were registering for this event, or also now on slido. So, I might start asking you a few of those. Anita I'm going to go to you first. So this this is a question I can imagine quite a few people have, it might be relevant to you, as well, Thomas, which is around the extraction of metals, you know, rare metals, rare earth extraction and the need to recycle these, you know, so what sort of impact do these new technologies that you've been describing, for example, have on the environment? And if they have any, you know, what can you do about it?

Maybe I'll go first. So, we've done some lifecycle analysis. And interesting enough, we found there's quite a direct correlation between manufacturing costs in life cycle and the environmental cost, it was a very interesting findings we find.

So, the inherent advantages of perovskite cell are the low cost. And when we look at the perovskite technology, compared to, for example, silicon; we found that the environmental cost is actually lower than we thought.

So, there are materials there that we thought is toxic, but it's actually the mining, often that sometimes is more toxic than the actual material itself. So, because we're able to make it into very thin films, so the material consumption is actually very low. So, at the end, what is the most sort of high cost material is actually the glass that you use, the substrate that you use?


Whatever you deposit the solar cell on? So yeah, when we develop the technology is very important that we look at the environmental costs involved in manufacturing those.

So, yes, anything that we can do to make it more environmentally friendly in the way we manufacture. And it makes it cheaper to do and, of course, the scale-up always makes it easier. Economies of scale always drive the cost down, and a smarter way of doing things as well.

Yeah, absolutely. Thomas, do you have any thoughts on that?

So, our battery is a zinc bromide battery. So, zinc is a building material, it's very well distributed all over the world, it's easy to get to, the mining processes are not particularly bad associated with that.

Zinc Oxide you can buy in the health food shop and gives you beautiful nails, and bromide, bromide is in seawater, it comes out in concentrated form from desalination plants, and is also in underwater brine lakes and in the Dead Sea.

So, it's not an issue for us. And the whole battery, in our case is recyclable. We got plastic carbon special soap for the gel. And then the zinc bromide, which is just a soapy solution at the end of the day, which we wash out. But very simple, very different for lithium ion batteries, with only 2% being recycled at the moment.

Amazing. Alright, now I've had a few questions as well, probably for you, Linda, and I'm quite curious on this myself. So, one of the questions is around well, it's also relevant to you, Thomas, because asking about your batteries, and if you can install them in solar panels, and could you create a community grid?

And I know, it's something that I've thought about as well, Linda, you know, in terms of, say, my local neighbors, what opportunities are there at the local government level, to develop these community grids?

It's a great question. And it's surprisingly hard to do that, which is ridiculous and should be changed. So, I'll give you an example. In my electorate in the City of Sydney.

Tanya Fiedler 
I'm not sure if Thomas agrees, I saw him shaking his head.

Look, we had a good go with Lake Macquarie Council. But I'll let Linda...

You can do it. But it should be easier. And if you live in a kind of house near Sydney University, that's a row of terraces, then you're in a heritage conservation area.

And in the City of Sydney, for example, if you want to put a solar panel on a north facing frontage of your terrace, you're actually banned from doing that under our planning rules. Now, that's something I'm definitely trying to change.

But I give that as an example, to show you that there's lots of different regulations at a local, state and federal level that get in the way of these kinds of activities. So all of these things need to be changed, but it definitely can be done and as I said, these localised energy systems that can distribute energy at the Council's now; the City of Sydney and a range of other councils are now seeking to procure all our energy - 100% renewable from these big regional solar farms.

Thomas again is involved in some of those. These are really effective ways to ensure that a big organisation like a council, with big energy bill can change the way that we get our energy.

You can also do this increasingly at a household level, there's lots of interesting new co-ops that are setting up energy buying so that if you live in the inner west of Sydney, you can buy your energy from some of these solar farms in a co-op group and get a good price and also create the create the energy that's renewable.

Thomas will have some other practical examples. But it's too hard at the moment to do that is the message. It should be much easier because it's definitely the future.

Yes, I mean, my contribution is that it's very easy to do from a technical point of view, and regulation is the hurdle. And in terms of batteries, our batteries are very safe. So, they can go into houses, they can go into walls, in fact, but the regulations don't allow you to do that.

So, we are treated as if we were another type of battery. Because we haven't been around for long enough, we haven't been tested for long enough for regulation to actually reflect our advantage. So, we have to find different use cases, which you know, take care of our advantage to then change the regulation and more difficult complex environment, especially city environments, to then be able to do what we could do anyway.

And regulation is always way way behind the technology. That's always for new technology a big problem.

Okay, so on that night, Matt, I've got a question for you. So, this, again, comes from one of the people when they were registering.

With federal government intent on supporting gas industry expansion, even to the extent of building a new gas power plant in New South Wales itself, how can the states and territories head this off? And then there was another question around, how will you go about gaining support from your colleagues and your peers.

As I said, in my speech, I mean, my approach to this issue is the economically rational one. And right now, the cheapest way to deliver energy to the families and businesses of New South Wales is not gas, it's not coal.

And it's certainly not nuclear, for the wingnuts that go on about nuclear, it's a combination of things. It's a combination of wind and solar and pumped hydro and batteries. And Thomas will tell us we'll get these battery costs right down the cost curve. So, it's only going to head in one way in terms of those technologies, which also happened to be clean, right?

Demand response, that's another great way to ensure that we can deliver low cost solutions, low cost energy to families and businesses in this state. In terms of gas, and, you know, the construction of pumped hydro projects, they take a long time, we've got Snowy 2.0, and there's a lot of delivery risk around that project.

You know, they tell me, it's gonna be ready by 2026-2027. So, there's definitely a role for gas to play until we install that large scale, sort of capacity into the grid to firm up our renewables. But let's not forget that gas is a really expensive way to deliver electricity. Most gas used in New South Wales is not done for the purposes of creating electricity, it's done for feedstock for industrial purposes. And there will still be a role to play for gas, for industry for a while to come. But as part of the energy mix, the clock's ticking on gas. It's expensive.

There are newer technologies that are coming on and smashing the economics of it. So, I mean, my view is that government doesn't need to do a lot. These market forces will solve this problem for us. New technology will solve this problem for us.

We're already seeing it. Just like those market forces and international forces are going to dictate what happens to coal mining jobs, or LNG exports. It's got nothing to do with domestic government policy. It's got everything to do with international market forces.

They're moving and all I'm saying is, we should be looking to move with it to take advantage of these enormous opportunities that are emerging.

Yeah, thank you. I'm sure you've got a few of us here that would agree with you. We will now go to Thomas. We've got another question here around your batteries. Can they be used for electric vehicles?

Right. So unfortunately, lithium and carbon, a lot lighter than zinc and bromine, so we're really good for stationary and we are half the weight of lead acid for the same amount of energy and a little bit smaller, but we cannot compete on weight or volume with lithium ion technology.

However, I'm working on a lithium sulphur battery which is eight times more energy dense than current lithium ion technology. That will be suite in any car, drone or airplane.

So that’s the next cab off the rank. There's another question here, it could be relevant for all three of you, I'm not quite sure who's best to answer this. And it's around demand side management.

Well, actually, let's take this out of the question first. So, in terms of the penetration of renewables in the grid, and, how that affects grid stability. Has that been an issue and any projects that you have been involved with? And if so, how have you come to solve those problems?

So, there's a we're making new batteries. So therefore, we're still working out, you know, the appropriate size of our production capability. But overall, I gas peaking plans, which is what's been talked about, their economics are shot because batteries take over from that.

So, gas power peaking plans tend to be making most of their money during peak demand, well, batteries can take care of that, really. And during a windy day or a sunny day, there is no need for that in the first place. So good stability with sufficient batteries around is actually not a problem and the investment desire is there.

So it's really around having predictable policies, so that if I'm putting in, you know, 100 million or so, into a battery, I'm not getting suddenly a government subsidised gas or coal fired power station that rips my economics out, because they don't have to compete on the market, they get a guaranteed lump of money for a lump of coal. So that's really the key issue.

So, it's a regulation issues, a policy issue. It's not a technology issue. It's not a financial issue it’s not a time issue. It's a furphy to say that the grid is going to be not stable enough. No, no, the solutions are there, the finances are there, the will is there. Policy framework and protecting existing stakeholders, which is associated with a policy framework, that needs to be rethought.

Thank you, Thomas, you wanted to say something there didn't you, Linda?

Yes, just that, I think is the case that I hear constantly, that the structure of our grid is a barrier, as Thomas has just outlined. But that's not from a scientific or an engineering point of view.

It's from a policy point of view, and that it's so important to get that very consistent policy framework that is bipartisan. It's so important to get a policy framework that as Thomas's is consistent, doesn't change. That's a long-term agenda.

And then the only reason I guess I would disagree with Matt about the need for government intervention, given the market signals are heading in the right direction, in terms of heading for renewables and reducing our reliance on you know, other kinds of energy is to support those people who will be done out of a job as a result of this.

Because only when you bring that transition along with the energy transition that we need, do you actually get a just environmental outcome instead of just an environmental outcome that's not just for people.

So, to give further local example, all the southern Sydney councils have worked together to ensure that all the glass that we pick up from people's bins when they recycle, is shipped hopefully in the near future, to the Hunter Valley. And a recycling factory will be set up to turn that glass into materials that we buy back to as councils use for our road base, and our footpaths.

So, this is a truly circular economy. And will employ people in the Hunter that are transitioning away from coal fire power jobs.

Yeah, that's a fantastic demonstration as Thomas was indicating as well with his batteries, the way in which you can restructure existing industries, you know, allows for that sort of flow of resources.

Yeah, so in fact, batteries are not just for solar storage, it can be used to stabilise the grid as well. Yeah, batteries in South America, Australia, are being used to for voltage control.

Tanya Fiedler 
Repeated question that I keep getting out on slido is where can I get my hands on Gelion batteries or on perovskite cells. So just before we go

2022 – Gelion is not yet in the market, okay.

You can get your hands on perovskite yourselves, but they're smaller. Okay.

Well, we've only got five minutes left. So, I was thinking before we go, could you tell us a little bit the three of you each about something, you know, just in in one or two minutes, something that you're doing that you're just about to get started on. So, what are your next steps? What are the next things you want to get your teeth into?

LINDA SCOTT  I can start with that we've just launched our annual call out for our Local Government NSW research fund. So, we're hoping that we'll get lots of applications; this year, we're focusing on an outcome where it adds to a net zero target.

So, it's all about action on climate change. So, for those of you out there, who are researchers get in touch with the local government, try to partner with them, put in an application and try and get some of this funding.

And at a local level, I'm very, very focused on helping the City of Sydney community. So again, we know that our office blocks and our apartments are some of the biggest emitters, we've got this new tool, as I said, to measure the impact of those changes. So, we want to help strata communities understand how they can modify their buildings and save themselves lots of money, and we can measure the emissions changes.

And this is going to lead to some of the biggest changes, we think in community emissions to help with those split incentives.


So, as I said, are we looking at stacking multiple layers of solar cells on top of each other, to double and triple the efficiencies.

And also, we are doing quite a lot of torturing of solar cells to make sure that if people do get their hands on the solar cells that there will last long, or they will be able to use them for long periods of time. And they don't need to, you know, have to worry about changing them and reinstalling them.


I already mentioned the lithium sulphur. So, the second project is to make ammonia out of humid air and sunlight effectively. So, we're just using solar cells to provide electricity.

And then we can make ammonia, we're doing that with  more than 70% of efficiency, so really efficient. And ammonia production is 4 - 6% of the world's co2 emissions. So, if we can get the renewable path for that, that's really huge.

And why is ammonium important? 70 percent of your nitrogen atoms inside your body come from the Haber-Bosch process, which is this particular process? So, we want to change that and want to make all of us more renewable than we are now.

Well, we have actually got time just for one more thing. So, Linda, I just want to check that the grants that you mentioned, because we probably having quite a few researchers listening on today, could you just say again, where we can get information on that?

Absolutely. Just head to the Local Government NSW website, and there's a section there detailing our Research and Innovation Fund, which is now open. And you need a council to partner with though.

Okay, all right. Sounds great. Okay, well, we're pretty much at the end of this session. I hope everyone's enjoyed themselves.

And I'd like very, very much to thank our panelists, Anita, Linda and Thomas, for joining us. And of course, Matt as well, and the audience for listening in. I'm sorry, we couldn't get to all of the questions.

Thanks for listening to the Sydney Ideas podcast. For more information head to

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Finally, we want to acknowledge that this podcast was made in Sydney which sits on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. It is upon their ancestral lands at the University of Sydney is built.

The speakers

Anita Ho-Baillie is the John Hooke Chair of Nanoscience at the University of Sydney. She completed her Bachelor of Engineering degree on a Co-op scholarship and her PhD at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2005. Anita has worked at British Aerospace, Alcatel Australia, Pacific Solar and Solar Sailor. She is also an Adjunct Professor at UNSW.

Her research interest is to engineer materials and devices at nanoscale for integrating solar cells onto all kinds of surfaces generating clean energy. A highly cited researcher, she has been identified as one of the leaders in advancing perovskite solar cells. She is well known in the media for her building integrated photovoltaics research and her achievements in setting solar cell energy efficiency world records in various categories placing her research at the forefront internationally.

Matt Kean is the Minister for Energy and Environment and Member for Hornsby. As a keen promoter of innovative technology and its power to improve the economy, Matt is committed to highlighting the ways innovative technology and thinking can improve quality of life, as well as the NSW economy.

In 2011, Matt became the youngest member of the NSW Legislative Assembly when he was elected Member for Hornsby. Within a year, he was elected to chair the NSW Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on the Office of the Valuer General. Under his stewardship, the committee recommended radical changes to the system of land valuation in NSW to make it fairer for home owners.

In 2017 Matt was elevated to the NSW Cabinet as the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation. Matt has always seen himself as a champion of the little guy and this role gives him an opportunity to put this passion into practice in his electorate and across the state. As minister, he is responsible for a diverse range of issues with a portfolio that includes consumer protection, workplace safety, and innovation.

Thomas Maschmeyer is Professor of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, serves as Founding Director of the Laboratory of Advanced Catalysis for Sustainability (School of Chemistry), and is Executive Chairman of Gelion Technologies. For three years until March 2017 he also served as Founding Director of the University’s new $150m Australian Institute of Nanoscale Science and Technology (AINST, now “Sydney Nano”).

In 2019 he received an honorary doctorate from the Universities of Ca’Foscari Venice and Trieste in recognition of his scientific and societal contributions in chemistry. He is founder of Gelion Technologies (2015), a new high-performance battery university spin-out and co-founder of the low carbon/renewables Licella Holdings Ltd (2007). Licella currently operates three joint ventures (in Canada, Centree – with Canfor Pulp; in Europe, Mura – with Armstrong Energy; and in Australia, iQRenew – with Stop Waste) and is valued at $232m based on the latest equity raise. He is the Principle Technology Advisor of all these entities. 

He has received many awards, most recently, the Contribution to Economic Development Award from the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies (2019); the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Innovation and Science (2018); and the RACI R.K. Murphy Medal for Industrial Chemistry (2018).

Linda Scott (B.Sc. (Psych.), GAICD, JP) is a City of Sydney Councillor, first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. She is also the elected President of Local Government NSW and a committed advocate for the public good.

Linda is a strong advocate for local government, and works to ensure councils across NSW are given the tools and support to invest in the areas that matter to their communities. Linda is currently a Board member of the NSW Environmental Trust, the NSW Public Service Medal Committee and the Australian Local Government Association. 

A strong supporter for reforming the Australian Labor Party, Linda won Labor's first ever community preselection, where over 4,000 people elected her to the Labor's candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney in the 2012 NSW Local Government Elections. Linda is also the Deputy Chair of Labor's Sustainable Communities Committee.

Tanya Fiedler is a lecturer in the Discipline of Accounting. Tanya completed her PhD at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Tanya's research is deeply interdisciplinary, her interests concerned with the ways in which engineering, actuarial science and climate science integrate into work practices, business strategy and accounting.

Prior to her academic career, Tanya worked as a consultant for Energetics, a specialist climate, carbon and energy consultancy.

Event image: Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

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