Hunter Region sits on the fault line of renewable energy evolution and the traditional coal industry

If ever there was a moment in history that highlighted the tension between the promise of renewable energy and an entrenched reliance on the coal industry it is the Hunter Region in 2019. Read the article from Matt Kelly of the Newcastle Herald here 

While we hear daily about exciting advances in renewable energy - many of which are occurring in the Hunter - many residents still rely on the coal industry for financial security.

This point was spectacularly reinforced in the recent federal election where thousands of voters in the seat of Hunter voted against the Labor Party's perceived ambivalence towards the future of the coal industry.

The Hunter's coal industry still employs about 14,000 people. The industry also contributes about $1.5 billion in royalties to the state's coffers, hardly small change by any measure.

But the pace at which renewable energy is evolving as a viable alternative to coal cannot be denied.

The University of Newcastle is home to two cutting edge renewable energy research projects that will have a major impact on the generation and storage of energy in the near future.

Physicist Professor Paul Dastoor has created organic printed solar cells that are printed on a ultra-lightweight, laminate material, similar in texture and flexibility to a potato chip packet.

The material delivers unprecedented affordability at a production cost of less than $10 per square metre and can be applied to any surface.

Complementing this technology is the work of materials scientist Professor Erich Kisi whose team has spent the past eight years developing and refining a method of blending metals and non-metals into a form capable of releasing stored energy when heated.

In addition to providing an alternative fuel heat source for use in coal-fired power stations, the world-first technology can be used to provide power to remote communities and supply heat to industry.

Nearby the CSIRO Energy Centre at Mayfield West is doing leading edge research into new energy storage technologies. 

This work will play a key part in the development of next generation energy networks that can operate effectively on renewable energy sources while supporting the grid.

Elsewhere in the Hunter, major wind and solar power projects are working their way through the planning processes. Significantly some of these projects, such as the 55 megawatt solar field being built on a rehabilitated ash dam at Vales Point power station, are proposed on sites once used for coal mining or coal-fired power generation.

There is no doubt that coal will remain a major economic force in the Hunter's economy for many years to come. 

But equally it cannot be denied that we are approaching an era when our region will be powered by renewable energy technology.