Tag Archives: Australian Government

energy data

Energy data assets platform to drive decision-makers

Main image: Dr Nariman Mahdavi Mazdeh is part of the research team centralising Australia’s energy data into the NEAR Program. (Image credit: CSIRO)

Launched on 21 February, the National Energy Analytics and Research ( Program brings together energy data assets from numerous sectors in a convenient, publicly-available resource. The federally-funded platform, accessible at near.csiro.au, is a collaboration between CSIRO, the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and brings together comprehensive information, including energy consumption patterns, demographics, building characteristics, appliance uptake, weather statistics, and more.

Currently, this type of data is held by numerous parties, formatted to different standards and access is often restricted. Research scientist Dr Nariman Mahdavi Mazdeh describes the energy data platform as “a one stop shop” for researchers and decision-makers. NEAR hosts data collected from across Australia (from sources such as AEMO, network distributors, energy retailers, smart meter data and energy consumers) and new research outputs that draw upon that data to answer some of the energy sector’s most pressing questions.

CSIRO project leader Dr Adam Berry says that the aim of NEAR is to make energy decision-making easier. “If you have a complex problem in the energy space and need data, you can discover research we’ve been conducting or data sets to conduct your own research,” says Dr Berry.

Some of the energy challenges the data will help address include:

  • Key drivers of energy consumption in Australian households.
  • How energy use has changed Australia-wide over the last decade.
  • National and regional opportunities to develop demand response programs.
  • Identifying risks in periods of system stress.
  • Planning grid upgrades and the integration of renewables.
  • The impact of retail energy tariffs on vulnerable and low-income consumers.

energy data

NEAR infographic (Image credit: CSIRO)

Effective demand response will save on network infrastructure costs, which will translate to lower electricity prices. “The research we’re trying to do contributes to how we can manage energy usage to benefit both the network and consumers,” says Dr Mazdeh.

Dr Berry is enthusiastic about the NEAR Program’s potential to help vulnerable consumers. “Low income households typically have fewer levers to pull in terms of access to distributed renewable energy and they are potentially more exposed to the pressures of cost,” he says. NEAR data is being used to investigate the impacts of retail energy tariffs, particularly in vulnerable consumer sectors. An

NEAR data has already been used in an ACCC Inquiry into retail electricity prices. One of the outcomes of that Inquiry was the development of a reference price, which assists consumers with finding the best deal across energy retailers.

“Who we are as modern Australian energy consumers is changing rapidly, and this is at the heart of the NEAR Program,” says Dr Berry. “We need to make the right decisions to contribute to an effective electricity system.”

For more on CSIRO energy research, read about the CSIRO Energise app here. Research based on surveying the app will also appear on the NEAR platform.

Larissa Fedunik

public policy

Evidence-based public policy needs engineers

Engineers need to be at the top table too, says Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre.

McIntyre told create it is important that governments of all persuasions move away from populist policy based on opinion rather than fact.

“There’s a trend around the world towards popularism. I don’t think that’s a constructive way for Australia or the world to move forward when there are so many challenging issues facing us,” he said.

“That’s where scientists and engineers will play a role – in supporting governments in proper policy based upon evidence.”

And there are indications that both of the major parties are willing to listen. The Federal Government has recently announced a new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which they say will help science and technology gain a stronger voice in the policy process.

For its part, Labor has promised to establish a Prime Minister’s Science and Innovation Council and launch a $1 million inquiry into science and research, if it wins come election time.

McIntyre supports these moves to strengthen the avenues for scientific advice, and looks forward to seeing the detail of how they will be applied. He also believes engineers need to be represented on bodies such as the NSTC to expand theory and research to deployment of practical solutions for the community.

“Where the rubber hits the road is through engineering,” he explained.

Trailing our global competitors

Another Labor election promise is to boost research funding to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030. This has been welcomed by Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson, who said Australia must keep pacewith the investments of leading world nations to remain competitive.

McIntyre agreed, pointing out that Australia’s level of research and development funding is below the OECD total of 2.3 per cent of GDP.

“We’re trailing our international competitors … As a modern community, we need to continually invest in R&D,” he said, adding that the level of funding Labor is proposing will require both public and private sector investment.

According to the latest available OECD data (from 2016), Australia’s R&D spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen below China, Slovenia and the Netherlands, although it is still slightly above the UK and Canada.

Engineering thinking is critical

McIntyre said some governments have already engaged chief scientists and engineers to help inform evidence-based policy.

The NSTC will be chaired by Commonwealth Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who is an engineer. Finkel is a Fellow of Engineers Australia and this year’s recipient of the country’s top engineering award: the Peter Nicol Russell Career Achievement Memorial Medal.

Several state governments also have expert advisors. NSW established a combined Chief Scientist and Engineer position a decade ago. This role is currently filled by roboticist Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, who is also an Engineers Australia fellow.

Earlier this year, the Victorian Government followed suit, appointing its first Chief Engineer – Dr Collette Burke – to provide guidance on the state’s infrastructure boom. The ACT has also announced a permanent chief engineer position, with public servant George Tomlins as the interim incumbent. The permanent position is expected to be filled early next year.

McIntyre said he would like to see more state governments appoint chief engineers and scientists. He is also an advocate for having engineers at the “top table” in government advisory boards to lend analytical and critical thinking skills to policy discussions.

While he believes dedicated chief engineer roles are ideal, McIntyre supports combined scientist and engineer positions where budgetary or political concerns make this a more pragmatic approach.

“The critical thing to my mind is there is an opportunity to channel engineering thinking and the concerns of engineers through a senior person at the table in government,” McIntyre said.

This article was originally published on create as “Election time: Evidence-based policy needs engineers to be at the table”.

STEM education banner

Invest in qualified teachers for STEM education

CEO of Science & Technology Australia (STA), Ms Kylie Walker, said two decades of declines in high school maths and science results and enrolments were a significant risk to Australia’s future capability and prosperity.

“Intermediate and advanced maths enrolments are most worrying, with declines from 54 per cent in 1992, to 36 per cent in 2012,” Ms Walker said.

“We already have skilled workforce deficits in some areas of technology, and we know the major growth in future jobs will be in science, technology, engineering and maths: we need to support teachers with the right skills to prepare our students for the jobs of tomorrow.

“We hope Minister Birmingham’s commitment to developing teacher skills extends to encouraging and incentivising universities to attract more students to undergraduate science and maths degrees.”

Minister for Education and Training, Senator Simon Birmingham, this morning said around 20% of STEM teachers are teaching outside of their area expertise, noting that the Government wanted to ensure that universities are training future secondary teachers in science and mathematics.

“Many of our member organisations have been calling for urgent action to address the decline for some time,” Ms Walker said.

“Unfortunately, though, current caps on funding for undergraduate degrees pose significant challenges to building a STEM-qualified education workforce.

“STEM degrees are important to securing Australia’s prosperity, and though they are costly to deliver, they will pay dividends,” she said.

“The solution is twofold: have skilled teachers inspire students to develop a passion for STEM from an early age, and invest in universities to attract these students to pursue a degree in STEM.”

First published by Science & Technology Australia
Australian Mining

Improving funding for mining and exploration companies

Following some key conversations at Science meets Parliament last year (2017), the Managing Director of gemaker, Natalie Chapman, was better able to engage and work with MPs to improve funding access for small Australian mining and exploration companies.

Australian company Alkane Resources was seeking Government export investment for the $1b state-significant Dubbo Project which will provide new age metals for vital modern technology including electric cars and wind turbines.

Australia’s export credit agency, Efic – which can finance projects such as this – was constrained by its mandate, which prevented Australian junior miners and explorers from accessing vital support.

Following day one of Science meets Parliament; Natalie said she had gained deeper insights into how to better grow and leverage wider support for policy change.

“I picked up some useful connections and tips on how to tailor my message based on the Parliamentarians’ drivers and the timing of parliamentary processes” said Natalie.

“I was also able to share learnings from my own work by engaging in useful discussions with Members of Parliament who wanted to know why research commercialisation wasn’t working as well as it could be in Australia.”

Meetings were held with the local member for Parkes, Mark Coulton MP, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo MP and the NSW Department of Industry and Department of Resources and Energy to outline the issues for small mining and exploration companies.

In September 2017, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo MP announced the funding obstacle for these Australian companies was removed.

With the mandate amended, Alkane Resources is now eligible to apply for funding for the Dubbo Project which will create hundreds of jobs in rural NSW and hundreds of millions of dollars in export revenue.

First published by Science & Technology Australia

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How can governments assist businesses

Keys to success in a disruptive environment

Governments promote and invest in science and technology to drive productivity for growth and jobs in the longer term. In this context, digital technologies have been the most profound enablers of the modern era.

Many of the impacts of digital technologies have been positive, replacing unsafe or low value work with the creation of adjacent higher-value jobs. However, many firms have failed to understand the impact of digital technologies on their core business. In most cases, businesses have been “disrupted” by new products and services that customers prefer.

Industries that are most ripe for disruption are those that have neglected to invest in the relationship with their customer base. This is why major corporates are investing in digital transformation strategies – to improve service and build customer loyalty in a society where a greater set of options are increasingly available to the consumer through digital services.

At the same time, governments are seeking to engage with citizens in more effective ways. Great economic gains can be made by better coordination of public services and this is typically achieved through the use of digital services.

How can governments assist businesses to prepare for change?

Traditionally, government innovation policies have focused on inputs (science and technology) and government levers (infrastructure, skills, regulation), rather than improving awareness that innovation is a dynamic feedback process driven by the customer and enabled by technology.

Repositioning innovation as a strategic response to a change in customers needs (or wants) will be important in raising the innovation performance and resilience of all businesses across the economy. 

A heightened level of understanding of how customer demand will drive uptake of technology will also be important at the individual level as machine learning and artificial intelligence start to impact highly skilled professions. The proposition from some thought leaders in our community – that jobs in the economy may undergo major shifts every 5–10 years – is plausible. We need to prepare our workforce with the capability for such a scenario, even if we are not certain when it may arise.

Central to such preparation is lifting the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) proficiency of our society. This is why Federal and State Governments have a particular focus on STEM education.

In parallel, governments are acutely aware that rapid technological change can have social and ethical implications that need to be understood and managed as best we can. There is no question that the “future of work” will be a hot topic in 2017 and one that will require the input of a broad section of the community.

Dr Amanda Caples

Lead Scientist, Victoria

Read next: Director of the Psychology Network, Professor Joachim Diederich, explores the artificially intelligent psychology services that are available anytime, everywhere.

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More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Women in STEM Thought Leadership Series here.

commercialisation

Commercialisation boost for businesses

The Turnbull Government has announced that twenty businesses across Australia will be offered $11.3 million in Entrepreneurs’ Programme grants to help boost commercialisation and break into new international markets.

A 3-D printed jaw joint replacement, termite-proof building materials and a safer way to store grain outdoors are amongst the diverse products and services that will be fast-tracked.

The grants range from $213,000 to $1 million and are matched dollar-for-dollar by recipients.

So far, the Government has invested $78.1 million since commencement of this initiative – helping 146 Australian businesses to get their products off the ground.

The grants help businesses to undertake development and commercialisation activities like product trials, licensing, and manufacturing scale-up—essential and often challenging steps in taking new products to market.

Projects supported by today’s grant offers will address problems and meet needs in key industries including food and agribusiness, mining, advanced manufacturing and medical technologies.

The 20 projects to receive commercialisation support include:

  • a safer, cheaper and more efficient outdoor grain storage solution for the agricultural industry
  • recycling technology for fats, oils and greases from restaurants that will save money and reduce pollution
  • a lighter, stronger and more flexible concrete product
  • an anti-theft automated security system for the retail fuel industry
  • a cheaper, faster and safer decontamination process for mine drainage
  • smaller, cheaper and more patient-friendly MRI technology used for medical diagnostics
  • a 3-D printed medical device for jaw joint replacements that reduces surgery risk and improves patient quality-of-life
  • insect and termite-proof expansion joint foam for the building industry, combining a two-step process into a single product.

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme commercialisation grants help Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and small and medium businesses find commercialisation solutions.

It aims to:

• accelerate the commercialisation of novel intellectual property in the form of new products, processes and services;
• support new businesses based on novel intellectual property with high growth potential; and
• generate greater commercial and economic returns from both public and private sector research and facilitate investment to drive business growth and competitiveness.

This information was first shared by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science on 17 August 2016.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef cleanup

In 2015, the Australian and Queensland governments agreed on targets to greatly reduce the sediment and nutrient pollutants flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef.

What we do on land has a real impact out on the reef: sediments can smother the corals, while high nutrient levels help to trigger more regular and larger outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish. This damage leaves the Great Barrier Reef even more vulnerable to climate change, storms, cyclones and other impacts.

Dealing with water quality alone isn’t enough to protect the reef, as many others have pointed out before. But it is an essential ingredient in making it more resilient.

The water quality targets call for sediment runoff to be reduced by up to 50% below 2009 levels by 2025, and for nitrogen levels to be cut by up to 80% over the same period. But so far, detailed information about the costs of achieving these targets has not been available.

Both the Australian and Queensland governments have committed more funding to improve water quality on the reef. In addition, the Queensland government established the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, a panel of 21 experts from science, industry, conservation and government, led by Queensland Chief Scientist Geoff Garrett and funded by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

New work commissioned by the taskforce now gives us an idea of the likely cost of meeting those reef water quality targets.

This groundbreaking study, which drew on the expertise of water quality researchers, economists and “paddock to reef” modellers, has found that investing A$8.2 billion would get us to those targets by the 2025 deadline, albeit with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics.

That A$8.2 billion cost is half the size of the estimates of between A$16 billion and A$17 billion discussed in a draft-for-comment report produced in May 2016, which were reported by the ABC and other media.

Those draft figures did not take into account the reductions in pollution already achieved between 2009 and 2013. They also included full steps of measures that then exceeded the targets. A full review process identified these, and now this modelling gives a more accurate estimate of what it would cost to deliver the targets using the knowledge and technology available today.

A future for farming

Importantly, the research confirms that a well-managed agricultural sector can continue to coexist with a healthy reef through improvements to land management practices.

Even more heartening is the report’s finding that we can get halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets by spending around A$600 million in the most cost-effective areas. This is very important because prioritising these areas enables significant improvement while allowing time to focus on finding solutions that will more cost-effectively close the remaining gap.

Among those priority solutions are improving land and farm management practices, such as adopting best management practices among cane growers to reduce fertiliser loss, and in grazing to reduce soil loss.

While these actions have been the focus of many water quality programs to date, much more can be done. For example, we can have a significant impact on pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef water catchments by achieving much higher levels of adoption and larger improvements to practices such as maintaining grass cover in grazing areas and reducing and better targeting fertiliser use in cane and other cropping settings. These activities will be a focus of the two major integrated projects that will result from the taskforce’s recommendations.

A new agenda

The new study, produced by environmental consultancy Alluvium and a range of other researchers (and for which I was one of the external peer reviewers), is significant because nothing on this scale involving the Great Barrier Reef and policy costings has been done before.

Guidelines already released by the taskforce tell us a lot about what we need to do to protect the reef. Each of its ten recommendations now has formal government agreement and implementation has begun.

Alluvium’s consultants and other experts who contributed to the study – including researchers from CQ University and James Cook University – were asked to investigate how much could be achieved, and at what price, by action in the following seven areas:

  1. Land management practice change for cane and grazing
  2. Improved irrigation practices
  3. Gully remediation
  4. Streambank repair
  5. Wetland construction
  6. Changes to land use
  7. Urban stormwater management

Those seven areas for potential action were chosen on the basis of modelling data and expert opinion as the most feasible to achieve the level of change required to achieve the targets. By modelling the cost of delivering these areas and the change to nutrient and sediments entering the reef, the consultants were able to identify which activities were cheapest through to the most expensive across five catchment areas (Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary).

Alluvium’s study confirmed the water science taskforce’s recommendation that investing in some catchments and activities along the Great Barrier Reef is likely to prove more valuable than in others, in both an environmental and economic sense.

Some actions have much lower costs and are more certain; these should be implemented first. Other actions are much more expensive. Of the total A$8.2 billion cost of meeting the targets, two-thirds (A$5.59 billion) could be spent on addressing gully remediation in just one water catchment (the Fitzroy region). Projects with such high costs are impractical and highly unlikely to be implemented at the scale required.

The Alluvium study suggests we would be wise not to invest too heavily in some costly repair measures such as wetland construction for nutrient removal just yet – at least until we have exhausted all of the cheaper options, tried to find other cost-effective ways of reaching the targets, and encouraged innovative landholders and other entrepreneurs to try their hand at finding ways to reduce costs.

The value of a healthier Great Barrier Reef

The A$8.2 billion funding requirement between now and 2025 is large, but let’s look at it in context. It’s still significantly less than the A$13 billion that the Australian government is investing in the Murray-Darling Basin.

It would also be an important investment in protecting the more than A$5 billion a year that the reef generates for the Australian economy and for Queensland communities.

The immediate focus should be on better allocating available funds and looking for more effective solutions to meet the targets to protect the reef. More work is still needed to ensure we do so.

If we start by targeting the most cost-effective A$1 billion-worth of measures, that should get us more than halfway towards achieving the 2025 targets. The challenge now is to develop new ideas and solutions to deliver those expensive last steps in improving water quality. The Alluvium report provides a valuable tool long-term to ensure the most cost-effective interventions are chosen to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

– John Rolfe

This article was first published by The Conversation on 12 April 2016. Read the original article here

Data driven communities

Featured image above: the AURIN Map implements a geospatial map publicly available online. Credit: Dr Serryn Eagelson, AURIN

Ildefons Cerdà coined the term ‘urbanisation’ during his Eixample (‘expansion’) plan for Barcelona, which almost quadrupled the size of the city in the mid-19th century.

Cerdà’s revolutionary scientific approach calculated the air and light inhabitants needed, occupations of the population and the services they might need. His legacy remains, with Barcelona’s characteristic long wide avenues arranged in a grid pattern around octagonal blocks offering the inhabitants a city in which they can live a longer and healthier life.

Since Cerdà’s time, urban areas have come a long way in how they are planned and improved, but even today disparities are rife in terms of how ‘liveable’ different areas are. “Liveability is something that I’ve been working on most recently,” says Dr Serryn Eagelson, Data, Business and Applications Manager for the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN).

Eagelson describes her work in finding new datasets as a bit like being a gold prospector. “It encompasses walkability, obesity, clean air, clean water – everything that relates to what you need in order to live well.”

In collaboration with more than 60 institutions and data providers, the $24 million AURIN initiative, funded by the Australian Government and led by The University of Melbourne, tackles liveability and urbanisation using a robust research data approach, providing easy access to over 2,000 datasets organised by geographic areas. AURIN highlights the current state of Australia’s cities and towns and offers the data needed to improve them.

“We have provided AURIN Map to give communities the opportunity to have a look at research output,” says Eagelson. Normally hidden away from public eyes, the information in the AURIN Map can be viewed over the internet and gives communities an unprecedented opportunity to visualise and compare the datasets on urban infrastructure they need to lobby councils and government for improvements in their area.

Recently, AURIN has teamed up with PwC Australia – the largest professional services company in the world – to pool skills, tools and data. “We’re also working with PwC in developing new products,” adds Eagelson. “It’s quite complicated but PwC’s knowledge is giving us new insights into how data can be used for economic policy.”

The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) also has strong links with AURIN, having undertaken a number of joint projects on topics such as how ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods are, which can then be used to plan things like public transport accessibility (even down to where train station entrances and exits should be located); urban employment clusters, which can aid decision-making on the location of businesses; and disaster management, where the collaborators developed a proof-of-concept intelligent Disaster Decision Support System (iDDSS) to provide critical visual information during natural disasters like floods or bushfires.

“I’m probably most excited by a project releasing the National Health Service Directory – a very rich dataset that we’ve never had access to before,” says Eagelson. “It even includes the languages spoken by people who run those services, and that data’s now being used to look at migrants to Australia, where they move from suburb to suburb, and how their special health needs can be best catered for – so this information has a big public health benefit.”

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service in May 2016. Read the original article here.

university research

$1.5 billion in funding for university research

More than $1.5 billion will be available over four years to support Australia’s world-class university research following the introduction of new laws into Parliament today.

Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham said the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 would guarantee $1.538.9 million for university research programmes funded through the Australian Research Council (ARC) from 2015 through to 2019.

“Up to $748.3 million in ARC grants will be available in the 2017–18 financial year, while up to $739.6 million will be available in 2018–19,”says Birmingham.

“This legislation secures funding for the Future Fellowships programme after the previous Labor Government left a funding cliff that provided zero dollars for a Future Fellows Scheme from 2015 onwards.”

“High quality research can help save lives, protect the environment, raise living standards for people around the world, create business opportunities and efficiencies, and drive the innovation and creativity needed for the jobs of the future.”

Birmingham says the new legislation also honoured Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to NZ Prime Minister John Key in Auckland last week to extend Australia’s student loans scheme to New Zealand citizens who have been long-term residents of this country since childhood.

“If the Bill is passed this year, an estimated 2600 New Zealanders will be eligible for loans to help them study at university, or for higher level vocational education and training qualifications, in 2016,” Birmingham says.

The Bill follows legislation currently before the Parliament which allows data sharing between Australia and New Zealand to support the Australian Government’s requirement for anyone who moves overseas to continue to pay back their Australian student loan just as they would if they lived in Australia.

The Bill will also make Torrens University Australia eligible for research block grant funding, placing it on an equal footing for university research funding as other Australian private universities, and recognise Ballarat University’s name change to Federation University.

– Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training

This article was originally published on 22 October in a media release by the Department of Education and Training Media Centre. Read the original article here.