University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Patricia M. Davidson

Placing the Illawarra at the forefront of Australia's clean energy future

Placing the Illawarra at the forefront of Australia's clean energy future

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson's speech to the Illawarra Clean Energy Summit and Expo

Today’s Illawarra Clean Energy Summit and Expo follows the very successful Illawarra Clean Energy Expo, hosted by Member for Cunningham Alison Byrnes, at Parliament House in March this year. During that event, we saw the innovative action being taken by Illawarra companies and the University to deliver a prosperous and decarbonised future for our region.

As I said then, it’s important that we have these opportunities to come together, share knowledge, and gain a deeper understanding of the expertise available in our community.

Today is also the perfect chance to network among those with shared interests and objectives – so many great ideas have been developed from a chance meeting.

Research and development in this sector is happening at a rapid pace, so we don’t want to miss any opportunities.

With this in mind, the University of Wollongong has a clear and unwavering dedication to placing the Illawarra at the forefront of Australia's clean energy future. We believe that this commitment is more critical than ever, considering the regional significance of energy transformation to the Illawarra.

Not only are we passionate about driving sustainable energy solutions, but we also recognise the vital role this work plays in supporting local employment and fostering positive community outcomes. After all, the Illawarra has always contributed significantly to national growth.

Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have a diverse group of experts joining us to shed light on the ground-breaking work happening in clean energy and manufacturing. This is a fantastic opportunity for all of us to gain better insights into the potential that lies ahead.

Our purpose

As an anchor institution that was born out of the Illawarra’s steel industry and immense community support, UOW is motivated to be a model of how universities give back to society.

We are vested in the region’s sustainability and success, so we continually help to redefine the image of the Illawarra through research, education, and industry and community engagement.

From our foundation, we have also been committed to the principles of equity, fairness and social justice. We aspire to enable a shift toward efficient and sustainable energy transformation that is fair and just for all.

All forecasts for the Illawarra point toward a future filled with green shoots. Innovation in clean energy and clean manufacturing is sprouting all around, promising our region a garden of opportunities with blossoming jobs and sustainable industries.

In line with this vision, our aspirations are clear. We are committed to supporting and nurturing local industries as they embark on a journey towards reduced emissions and sustainability.

By advancing cutting-edge technologies, we will lay the foundation for investments and job creation.

We are also fully committed to assisting existing workforces in acquiring the skills and expertise needed to transition to high-value jobs in the clean energy sector.

UOW is proud to have many longstanding partnerships across the Illawarra, including associations with Business Illawarra and BlueScope. These collaborations have fostered a strong nexus between the community and industry, driving our collective efforts towards a common goal.

This large-scale collaboration stands as the cornerstone of our vision to elevate the Illawarra's reputation as the leading hub for clean energy innovation.

Providing solutions through holistic research

At UOW, there is a wealth of ongoing work that significantly contributes to this transformative journey.

I’ve only been given 10 minutes to speak, so I’ll summarise as best I can.

At the heart of our work is the UOW Energy Futures Network. Within this, research includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • renewable energy systems and integration
  • sustainability, including building design
  • power quality and reliability
  • battery energy storage and management systems
  • infrastructure modelling and economics; and
  • R&D leading to a more hydrogen-intensive economy.

The Energy Futures Network unites a University-wide group of energy researchers, collaborating to foster a holistic energy research environment.

What sets UOW's research apart is our focus on the energy sector and industry, directly influencing the energy supply chain. This work is supported by extensive technical infrastructure … and, importantly, we have the unique expertise required to successfully maintain and operate this equipment.

It's this powerful combination of know-how and cutting-edge equipment that has paved the way for the successful commercialisation of innovations.  This includes the Hysata hydrogen electrolyser technology, which has the potential to significantly shift the economics of green hydrogen production.

Another example is the new form of highly conductive and processable graphene discovered by UOW electromaterials researchers. This innovation is now commercialised by Sicona, with the material being applied to lithium-ion batteries, enabling the advancement of electric mobility and efficient storage of renewable energy.

A network for cleaner, fairer and more reliable energy

UOW’s research encompasses deep knowledge of the many technologies involved in the energy sector, as well as the social effects of policy and technology changes, and the economic analyses needed to ensure cost-effective investment.

UOW is proud to collaborate with various stakeholders, including industry, research partners, governments, communities, and other universities, in a collective effort to drive research toward a cleaner, fairer, and more reliable energy future.

A number of our institutes, research facilities and centres are heavily involved in this work within our Energy Futures Network.

For example, the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials investigates battery design and management. SMART looks at infrastructure planning. The decarbonisation of networks is addressed by the Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre. The Australian Power Quality and Reliability Centre focuses on power systems and our Sustainable Buildings Research Centre drives innovation in the built environment.

These are environments where entrepreneurship and innovation can thrive so research can be rapidly translated.

For example UOW, with BlueScope and the Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre, are exploring potential pathways to decarbonise the steelmaking process. This collaborative project includes pilot-scale test work of biochar pneumatic conveying to explore pathways for more sustainable steel production.

All our work is supported by the technical infrastructure available at UOW. This includes electrical, gas, hydrogen and built environment test and measurement laboratories. There are also multiple hydrogen pipeline testing machines in our globally competitive laboratory.

Building a Skilled Clean Energy Workforce

We have the researchers; we have the facilities. The other vital component of a sustainable clean energy future is workforce development and education. We need the skills to support the growth of new businesses, as well as support existing businesses as they navigate changes to their operations.

UOW has a long tradition of educating graduates with the skills needed by local industries. As such, we are grateful to have received Federal funding for the Energy Futures Skills Centre. Here, courses will be designed and delivered to train and reskill the clean energy and clean manufacturing workforces of the future. This will be in partnership with TAFE NSW and industry stakeholders.

We are consistently hearing about the need for more electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and environmental scientists to deliver our clean energy future. By expanding our facilities, we will be able to continue to deliver high-calibre and highly valued STEM graduates for the region and for Australia. Immersing students in real-world and dynamic settings will better equip them to address future challenges.

The centre will also provide a community outreach and engagement program, making sure that the shift toward efficient and sustainable energy transformation involves everyone and is fair and just for all.

It’s important to have this investment in the Illawarra. We want to make sure the future is bright for everyone. Clean energy and clean manufacturing are about making sure no one is left behind.

UOW supporting the clean energy future

The Illawarra has always been at the forefront of driving national growth.

For almost 50 years, UOW has played a pivotal role in bolstering the resilience of our community, supporting workforces through periods of change.  Time and again, we have demonstrated that investing in higher education is synonymous with investing in the prosperity and growth of our community.

And now, the combined expertise of UOW and our valued partners empowers us to unlock Australia's clean energy potential and drive transformative change.

UOW’s support in this ambition extends across multiple fronts - from community engagement to education and training, supporting industry, and cutting-edge research.

Through the Energy Futures Network and the Energy Futures Skills Centre, we are equipping the workforce of the future with the skills and knowledge to embrace advanced technologies and innovative practices. We are also dedicated to supporting emerging businesses and transforming existing industries, ensuring no one is left behind in this sustainable energy transition.

Today's gathering emphasises the importance of teamwork in creating meaningful and lasting change. Together, we stand ready to meet international climate change obligations, while seizing new economic and trading opportunities for our region.

The Illawarra is poised to be a catalyst for Australia's clean energy future. I am confident that our region’s can-do attitude and our enduring partnerships will turn this shared vision into reality.