NOT all that many years ago, efforts to promote Newcastle as an innovative energy capital were described by quizzical observers as ‘‘counter-intuitive’’.
The rationale for the promotion was that the city was perhaps the world’s biggest coal exporting port and the main urban centre in a region that hosted Australia’s two biggest power stations.
The Hunter produced most of the state’s power, had a university with strong expertise in energy-related disciplines and a vibrant manufacturing base with ample experience in the global marketplace.
Some sceptics, however, struggled to see past the city’s roots in coal and doubted the Hunter Region’s commitment to helping create and develop the energy sources of the future.
Those sceptics have been proven resoundingly wrong.
That is largely due to investment in the region by the federal government, with major backing for the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, the Newcastle-based Australian Solar Institute and the Smart Grid, Smart City program.
Contributions have also come from the state government and the bigger local governments – notably Newcastle and Lake Macquarie – have invested money and effort into lifting community awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency.
Against that background, news that researchers in the city may soon produce a commercially viable ‘‘solar paint’’ is welcome, but hardly a surprise.
Professor Paul Dastoor has been working on the idea for years, but it appears the concept may soon be ready to launch on to the market.
The product – semi-conducting polymers in a water-based paint – could turn every rooftop of every building into a self-contained photovoltaic power station. And with predicted prices per kilowatt-hour of available power well below present peak prices for electricity from fossil fuels, this could be a breakthrough with incalculable global implications.
Indeed, if the technology is as good as it sounds, the biggest challenge may prove to be ensuring the relevant patents stay in the hands of organisations with a genuine commitment to making them widely available.
Such considerations aside, the march of progress in energy research, even with only a fraction of the public subsidies routinely granted to fossil fuels, is so impressive that it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that energy delivery and the energy market will be transformed, whether incumbent market players like it or not.
Newcastle is playing an important role in that transformation.