What do Sydney Water, an enviro-tech company and a renewable energy company have in common? They’re all working to contribute to creating a more resilient and renewable future.
From unprecedented levels of natural disasters to skyrocketing energy prices, climate change is undoubtedly impacting business, industry and global markets – and organisations have a critical role in addressing these challenges.
Associate Professor Kingsley Fong, School of Banking and Finance, UNSW Business School, says the time to act is now.
“We are at a threshold of some of the environmental and social boundaries of current global socioeconomic systems. We have exponential growth in populations and resource consumption, which is not sustainable in the long run,” says Associate Professor Fong.
While the race to net zero is vital for businesses and governments, Charles Agnew, Head of Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation at Sydney Water, said we must also grapple with Climate Change Adaptation as some of this is baked in.
“Planning for how we adapt to a changing climate will also make our systems resilient and deliver value for customers,” he says.
Sydney Water, Evergen and Windlab are three very different organisations. Yet they each have a role to play in creating a more resilient and renewable future.
Here's what each organisation is doing to get there.
Climate change has a significant impact on a resilient water supply. Australia experienced one of the worst droughts in history from 2017 to 2020, draining 50% of Sydney’s Warragamba Dam’s capacity in just two and a half years. Devastating bushfires were then followed closely by floods, which moved ash into the catchment, impacting water quality.
At Sydney Water, Charles Agnew’s role is heavily focused on helping the company mitigate and adapt to climate change. This includes everything from delivering on the UN sustainable development goals to taking food waste as a potential way of generating energy from wastewater treatment.
“A resilient organisation is one that can adapt and learn from a range of shocks. The challenges we have stared down in the last few years make us better prepared for what the future holds”.
Sydney Water has also set an ambitious target of net zero carbon emissions across the business by 2030 – and across its supply chain by 2040. While Agnew has many initiatives in the process to reach this goal, he’s very excited about the organisation’s opportunity to embrace the circular economy.
The company has a history of turning biosolids into soil condition products and recycling the gas produced by its wastewater treatment process to generate electricity – which helps run its treatment plant. And now it’s partnering with Jemena to put the excess supply of biogas to good use.
“It's about understanding that the waste we collect can be used to generate all kinds of valuable resources such as biosolids, and to produce biogas,” he explains.
“We’re partnering with Jemena to take some of that gas and pass it to households in Sydney. In 2023 we'll start to provide gas to six and a half thousand households.”
And while contributing to the circular economy is a significant benefit of the partnership, it will also serve as the foundation for how operations like these may be expanded in the future.
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As the push toward the transition to renewable energy increases, more of the journey’s challenges are coming to the surface. From materials science and carbon capture to politics and manufacturing, the barriers to a smooth transition are significant.
“Transition can be volatile,” says Ben Hutt, CEO and Managing Director of software company Evergen, AGSM MBA 2006.
“We’re seeing this deployment of renewables, but there are lots of little obstacles in the way of it going as fast as we would like. Things like unexpected breakages cause volatility, which in some cases causes bad outcomes for the system or bad outcomes for half of the market. We need more resilience.”
And that’s what Evergen is working towards – reducing fragility and facilitating the transition to a resilient, renewable, decentralised energy system to accelerate the adoption of renewable resources and technologies. And reducing our reliance on coal-fired power in the process.
“There’s lots of different types of decentralised energy participants, but our focus is on coordinating and controlling them for lots of different stakeholders. And, ultimately improving people’s return on investment in renewable technologies so people invest more in them,” Hutt explains.
Through its software, Evergen has been working to make using renewable energy easier, more affordable and more efficient. It connects energy-related devices through the internet, allowing key elements of the energy chain – such as solar farms and residential solar batteries – to communicate with each other.
“When you connect these things you can really choose when people pull energy from the grid or when they send it back. You end up with a more decentralised network than what we have now, which is one coal-fired power station pushing energy out in one direction to 400,000 homes,” says Hutt.
One of the largest connectors of energy devices in Australia, with operations in Latin America and Europe, Evergen is changing the landscape in renewable energy around the world.
Helping organisations to optimise solar batteries, stabilise grids, test and develop Virtual Power Plants to maximize grid efficiency and reduce costs for customers and much more.
While Hutt is working on making the shift to renewable energy more robust, Nicole Makin, General Manager People and Culture at Windlab, is building a strong workforce of talented leaders to drive the most sophisticated clean energy projects in Australia.
Born out of the CSIRO, Windlab played a foundational role in creating Australia’s wind industry. For the past twenty years, the company has applied its world-leading technology and globally recognised expertise to find, develop and operate Australia’s top-performing renewable energy projects.
Over the past two years, Windlab’s own commitment to decarbonisation has been met by that of governments and the general population, sparking a major growth spurt for the company.
“There’s a huge push to deliver renewable energy projects at scale to decarbonise the energy market, secure reliable energy supply for Australian homes and businesses and put downward pressure on power prices for consumers,” Makin says.
It takes a group of extremely talented professionals to bring these projects to life, and it was important for Makin to ensure that Windlab’s team members were supported during this growth phase. This would not only bolster the success of each project but help retain staff in what is an extremely competitive talent market.
“From a development perspective, we were pretty good on the technical skills. But we really needed team members to develop management and leadership skills, because they may have never been exposed to these skillsets previously.”
Windlab has partnered with AGSM to offer leaders at all levels the opportunity to complete a selection of AGSM’s Executive Education programs. After extremely positive feedback from the first group who completed the Emerging Leaders Program, Makin is confident that leaders of all levels will benefit from AGSM’s innovative offering.
This investment in people will allow Windlab to achieve even more in the world of renewable energy, strengthening the sector and its capability to make an impact in the race against further climate change.
AGSM @UNSW Business School’s role is to ensure leaders are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to respond dynamically, creatively and respectfully to deep and complex issues such as climate change.
That’s why AGSM is the first business school in Australia to offer a fully-integrated global Responsible Management curriculum throughout all its MBA programs. Its Short Courses also focus on strategic and adaptive leadership to help people lead through disruption and rapid change.
AGSM also recently established the Academy of Adaptive Leadership at UNSW. Partnering with global founders and leading experts, the Academy provides an adaptive leadership one-stop shop to meet the needs of private, public and civil society sectors – from research and teaching to curriculum development and bespoke training options.
While climate change is an incredibly complex issue to solve, all organisations can take action – whether that’s becoming part of the circular economy, tapping into new technology or arming leaders with the skills to know where to start and how to effect change.