Picture the Future: Australia

Yesterday, on World Water Day, Siemens delivered a presentation outlining their technology blueprint for a cleaner, greener Australia.  Using Siemens technologies in the fields of water and energy, they have put together a “technology blueprint for energy and water sustainability in Australia by 2030.” Impressive stuff.  Most impressively, they claim that even: “current available technology, with some fuel switching, could reduce the emissions from the electricity sector by up to 30 percent”.  Over the period 2000 to 2050, Australia’s population is expected to grow by 75%. The challenge is to reduce emissions over the same time period by 60%. Siemens claim that this can be done with the right mix of technologies, and without purchasing CO2 certificates from offshore.

Now if we could only get governments to pay some real attention to this…


The issues

There are four Mega-trends in the world at the moment: Climate change, Demographic change, Urbanisation and Globalisation.  Energy is linked to all four, and water plays a role in two of the four.

Although we definitely have a number of crises on our hands in Australia, we sometimes forget that we are amazingly well-off compared to many parts of the world – for now.  We have plenty of water in Australia; it’s just not all in the right places.  We have excellent access to all known forms of energy; we are currently relying too much on coal & oil, the sources with the highest per capita emissions.  Our immediate survival is not under threat.  However, the time to act is now – before things get worse.  The “do nothing” option means that we can expect an increase in emissions of 50% over the same 50 year period.

We also often tend to see only the costs of the solutions. We need to remember that new technologies also create more jobs. There are sound economic reasons for changing the game. However, “changing our view of the future can be unsettling”. It would be much better for our economy to invest in technology rather than buying in offshore CO2 certificates!

What kind of future do you want?

Siemens have applied their “Picture the Future” innovation approach to these issues; this approach is:

Concept > Research > Scenario >Validation >Picture

The validation component is where they bring in partners, such as the CSIRO and university researchers – there were representatives from both of these presenting on the day.

Some of the key items presented were as follows:


  • Energy production in Australia is currently responsible for 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The blueprint calls for the electrification of all road transport (bad news for petrol-heads, perhaps).
  • We need to move to more renewable energy sources – for instance, geothermal has to become a major source of power generation.
  • We also need to improve distribution technology. High-voltage Direct Current (HVDC) is the power transmission technology of the future, & could allow power sales to Asia.
  • With the right technology, Australia’s daylight electricity demand could be met by a desert collector area of 30 x 30 km. Big, but a number that can be visualised!
  • Electricity price will increase by 30%; but if household power efficiency can improve by 30%, then it means no change.


  • Australia’s water use exceeded our natural supply in the mid-90s.
  • Some of our water assets were built in the 19th century – this is an industry that only changes slowly.
  • Change also requires major change in community values & expectations – how much recycled water can we accept in our supply?
  • Waste water “factories” can extract chemicals to produce fertiliser.
  • We can be more efficient – for instance, Sydney today uses the same total amount of water that was used in the 70s, but with 1 million more people.
  • Water usage reduction also reduces the power consumption required to distribute that water.
  • We need a target of 65% power reduction for desalination plants by 2030.
  • We need flexibility and adaptability – no single solution will meet all needs, and “formulaic approaches” are unsustainable.

How can it happen?

Now the tricky part. Siemens have “painted the picture” – the technology is here, but now it is “up to the legislators to determine how it can be managed and paid for”.  We need a better regulatory & legislative framework to make it happen. Do our governments have the will to do this? Siemens also suggest that the “power generators have to contribute”. 

Imposing a pricing regime alone should not be expected to change behaviour – it certainly hasn’t worked for petrol – we need other solutions. 

What can we do?

What can we each do to encourage real change? Can individuals make a difference?  For one thing, we need to tell our political parties that our voting depends on them taking the right steps.

The success of “Earth Hour” was quoted as an example of how rapidly people can become engaged in a change initiative.  Over just two years, Earth Hour has grown from just one city to over 4000 cities in 88 countries.  From the Earth Hour site:

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million homes and businesses turned their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries participating. Global landmarks such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The CN Tower in Toronto, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4,000 cities in 88 countries officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative.

* For more information, download the resources from Picture the Future here.

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