Tasmania's iconic hydropower system, past, present and future

09 October 2020

Evangelista Albertini, CEO Hydro Tasmania


Just as past generations built Tasmania’s iconic hydropower schemes we rely on for renewable energy today, the Battery of the Nation concept, when fully realised, will be a lasting legacy we leave for the generations of Tasmanians that follow us.


Tasmania’s history of hydropower development has made our state a global leader in renewable energy. Irrespective of where I have been in the world, in energy and engineering circles ‘the hydro’ is known and admired, and seen as an example of what a renewable energy future looks like in practice.


The building of the iconic hydro schemes saw numerous audacious achievements, many engineering firsts in fact, and required a vast amount of infrastructure to be built in hostile conditions. Like any history as long as ours there have also been challenges along the way, however what resulted is a rich legacy of knowledge and experience that continues to deliver enormous benefits for Tasmania today.


Meadowbank Dam, at Meadowbank Power Station, spilling water


Tasmania’s renewable goal to reach ‘200 per cent of our current needs by 2040’ signals the start of another exciting chapter. Like the past construction of the hydro schemes, energy can be the vehicle for transforming the economic prosperity of our state.


As the new CEO of Hydro Tasmania it’s an honour to have stewardship of this iconic business at such a pivotal and exciting time. Hydro Tasmania has a key role to play in supporting large scale adoption of renewable energy in this country. Hydro generation compliments other renewables, such as wind and solar, as it is dispatchable and able to ramp up and down quickly. Coupled with our deep storage capability, we can provide firm and reliable energy as intermittent forms increasingly penetrate the grid. More interconnection between Tasmania and mainland Australia is the key to unlocking this capability.


This is why there is such strong Tasmanian and Australian government support for Marinus Link. The business case is clear about the project’s benefits, that’s why the market experts – the Australian Energy Market Operator – have Marinus Link as an important part of the long term plan. There’s the immediate jobs and investment that will assist our state’s short-to-medium term economic recovery. Then there is the jobs and economic activity created by the wind generation construction projects that Marinus Link enables. This build out of large scale wind generation then triggers the construction of a pumped hydro station to firm all of this additional intermittent wind generation. That in turn brings the benefits of trading more clean energy into the National Electricity Market and supports new industries like hydrogen. Like the hydropower scheme construction of old, we stand on the cusp of renewable energy once again being a transformative force in Tasmania.


Why am I so confident of this? While I’m new to the CEO role, I’m a familiar face at Hydro Tasmania. I was most recently Chief Asset Management and Investment Officer, overseeing a team of passionate and talented engineers and tradespersons that deliver over $100m of capital works annually. Before that I served as Chief Operations Officer for nine years. I admit I also have a sentimental fondness for ‘the Hydro’ as I commenced my working life here as a young trainee way back in 1982 and was able to leverage the exceptional training I was provided in a variety of roles throughout Australia and overseas before returning to Tassie with my wife Ruth to start our family.


As the son of a migrant father and growing up with the descendants of European migrants who worked on the construction of the hydro schemes, I am proud to lead an organisation that has played such a positive role in the lives of so many Tasmanians and the Tasmanian immigrants whose hard work resulted in the business I now have the privilege to lead.


Aerial photo of Tarraleah Power Station, with the switchyard in front of the station and penstocks running down the hill. Next to the power station is the Nive River.


I've seen major achievements in my time with Hydro Tasmania, from the development of Australia’s first major wind farm, to the delivery of world-leading research and projects in climate science, to the development of highly innovative power grids on King and Flinders islands that have enabled record levels of ‘non-synchronous generation’ – meaning the islands have run on only renewable energy for extended periods of time.


There have been challenges too. Periods of significant drought, bushfires and floods threatening power generation infrastructure. My team formulated the physical generation response to the energy security challenge of 2015-16 where we built several diesel power stations in quick time to ensure the state’s continued supply of reliable electricity. Though it was tough, I’ve never been prouder of the team that do the work to ensure Tasmanian’s lights stay on.


The current employees and those that came before us are the reason Tasmania continues to punch above its weight globally in terms of renewable energy production and leads the way in facilitating the transition to the clean energy future.


In envisaging and achieving anything of consequence, it is unrealistic to expect that everything always goes right, and we should be mature enough to acknowledge mistakes, be open to constructive criticism and be committed to learning from the past. However we should also continually aspire to advance and stride purposefully to achieve new exciting goals. We are ready to deliver the Battery of the Nation, playing our part in achieving Tasmania’s bold vision for renewable energy. This is what our state, the country and the planet require. All of us in the electricity supply industry need to roll up our sleeves and make this vision a reality.


At Hydro Tasmania we are stewards of an incredible legacy and we are committed to build on this and hand it over to the next generation in even better shape.


This opinion piece first appeared in The Mercury on Friday 9 October 2020.


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