On 18th March 2018, I came within a whisker of losing our family home when a bushfire hit my small coastal town of Tathra. My partner and I managed to save our house and our neighbours’, but so many other nearby homes went up in flames. It took months to clear the smoke from our lungs and longer to heal the scars in our community.
March 18th was the worst day of my life. But, if I needed anything to boost my passion for decarbonising our country’s energy industry, that was it.
Global decarbonisation is essential for our planet’s health. Australia can play a crucial role through electrification using renewable energy creation and storage systems and creating electro-fuels such as hydrogen and electro-methane. That’s why my business has always focused on helping forward-thinking companies achieve their long-term sustainability goals while benefiting regional communities and the nation.
NGH has been at the forefront of the renewable energy sector since 1992 when I launched the consultancy. Working in hydro-electricity was our starting point. The technology was well established, and although Australia is one of the world’s driest countries, some areas have significant rainfall and waterways. So, for the next 12 years, NGH assisted with the environmental approvals required for much of the maintenance and extension work around the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme.
In 2004 we featured a tongue-in-cheek article on our website’s home page: “NGH Gets Approval For Australia’s Highest Building.” The building in question was a toilet block at Rawon’s Pass at an elevation of 2,125 metres just under the summit of our highest mountain – Mt. Kosciuszko. That humorous article grabbed a developer’s attention and became our segue into the fledgling wind-farm industry. As you can imagine, when your small company gets an opportunity to approve a 15-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm, it’s very, very exciting.
In 2004, renewable energy was a boutique industry. Very few big businesses could risk going out on a limb, this was a real advantage for our small growing consultancy. But for us, the stakes were high with no guarantee of a payoff of focusing on the renewable industry.
Since then, NGH has gained 150+ employees and worked on 65+ significant projects, such as the 2009 Solar Flagships program, where we achieved approvals for four solar farms. We’ve done the heavy lifting to support developers in New South Wales, Queensland, and now Victoria to deliver thousands of Mega Watts of wind, solar and hydro infrastructure.
NGH has always been at the industry’s pointy end, helping developers gain approvals for new technologies. Wind and solar energy have become more mainstream, and decarbonisation technology is focused on introducing more BESS (Battery Energy Storage Systems), pumped hydro and hydrogen technology. We work with the companies developing Australia’s future, helping them gain the environmental and other approvals they need to take the next step.
Additionally, I believe we have helped lay the foundations for the renewable industry to evolve and develop by pushing the boundaries so that our applications and submissions have helped improve the assessment process for renewable energy projects in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. And we have demonstrated that companies like ours can establish and grow in regional Australia and don’t need to centralise in the most prominent urban centres.
Although we have large offices in cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, renewable energy infrastructure is developed in regional Australia. Having a presence in our regions allows our thriving regional offices to understand the challenges and wants of smaller communities, and how they are affected by the development of these large infrastructure projects.
In the past, renewable energy developments’ impacts on rural areas were sometimes overlooked. But in 2023, our developers understand that wind and solar farms and transmission lines have fundamental influences on our communities as well as our cultural heritage and biodiversity. NGH strives to negotiate win-win partnerships and solutions for local communities, our cultural heritage, sensitive habitats, and renewable energy development companies through our planning approvals process.
Our regional focus continues to be a key component of our business, especially considering that I dared to set up a consulting company in a small town in the remote Bega Valley. That was no mean feat as back in 1992, there were enormous logistical challenges. Dial-up internet meant that online research was slow, cumbersome and almost non-existent. Instead, I had two choices to undertake research; either pay a researcher to do it for me to drive 3 hours to the National Library in Canberra and do the research myself.
Not anymore. Now, we can do anything from everywhere, and NGH is very proud of our regional Bega Valley heritage!
In many ways, the future is bright for renewable energy. We are creating an industry critical to our GDP. While wind, solar, batteries and hydro are mainstream, some of our energy solutions are still under development and some are unlikely to yet exist. Australia’s energy future must still be defined, understood, and activated, and as a result it is the most exciting industry to be involved in.
Our nation is currently grappling with the enormity of the change needed for our energy generation, where electrification is a crucial step in our contribution to the decarbonisation of our planet. The task is truly staggering, and I believe that Australians aren’t yet aware of the magnitude required.
Hydrogen, for example, has enormous potential to provide clean energy. This potential is demonstrated in work recently completed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Scaling Green Hydrogen. The CRC has a vision of seeing 1000 gigawatts of installed electrolysis to deliver green hydrogen at competitive costs for domestic and export customers by 2040. To achieve this, we will require up to three times capacity of renewable energy infrastructure (around 3000 GW).
To put that into perspective, one very large offshore wind farm may have a capacity of 10 GW. This would be less than 1% of energy demand to meet this goal.
That should not be a cause for despair. The world needs solutions, and Australia has the potential to be world-class in the sector if we work towards that together. The benefits could be staggering.
Heavy investment and continued commitment to renewable energy will create many jobs. Our air quality will improve as we move to clean fuels, and the regions will benefit as we build more and more carefully considered energy plants and electricity storage centres.
I believe that the decarbonisation and electrification of our nation will be a catalyst for the democratisation of our energy industry. Many of us can generate electricity at our homes and workplaces for our own use and as export to the energy grid. As opportunities continue to arise, as technologies and our connectivity improve there is growing potential for us all to be involved in our energy transition. This can be achieved through solar roof panels, microgrids, batteries and possibly as shareholders in renewable energy developments.
Finally, we must ramp up our renewable energy creation and storage facilities to secure our energy future in a decarbonised world. Right now, we’re in danger of leaving it too late.
NGH’s path is inextricably entwined with that of the Australian renewable energy sector, and we’ve both come a long way in 30-odd years. Australia’s greatest challenges lie in moving forward, accepting, and adapting to the significant community impacts and benefits of total electrification. I can’t pretend it will be easy, but I believe it’s our nation’s only chance for long term health and prosperity.