ANU set to provide blueprint for Australia’s renewable export industry

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Launched by Energy Minister the Hon Angus Taylor MP yesterday, the Australian National University’s (ANU) ANU Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia Pacific project will look to provide a roadmap for how Australia can install itself as the renewable energy powerhouse in the region.

With large-scale projects like the Pilbara’s Asian Renewable Energy Hub and the potential 10 GW Sun Cable project in the Northern Territory (NT) which would deliver 20% of Singapore’s electricity via submarine cables, Australia’s trade relationship with the Asia-Pacific is changing rapidly. The ANU’s research project is looking to bring together a range of research disciples to “future-proof” Australian global trade based on the nation’s abundant renewable energy.

The Project

Funded by the ANU’s Grand Challenges Scheme to the tune of $10 million, the project, which will run from 2019 to 2023, will look to underpin the development of major renewable export industries with a firm knowledge base. At the project’s conclusion it will hopefully provide technologies and policies that can be directly applied in the region and globally.

“In a rapidly decarbonising world, Australia needs to transform from exporting fossil fuels to exporting renewables,” said project lead Professor Ken Baldwin, “Iron ore and coal are our two biggest exports. But changes are already underway in the Asia-Pacific region and Australia will not be able to rely on traditional fossil fuel exports indefinitely.”

Perhaps even more pressingly, from a global perspective, Baldwin notes that the Asia-Pacific will, in the coming decades, drive two-thirds of the world’s energy demand, so not only is the potential of Australian renewable exports lucrative, but urgently necessary if the planet is to shift away from fossil fuels.

“In Australia’s northwest, we have some of the best solar and wind resources in the world,” said Baldwin, “located on ample land, largely Indigenous, and with low population density. Our program will create the knowledge to drive Australian zero-carbon exports of electricity, hydrogen fuels, products and capabilities.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC believes ANU can play a fundamental role in the challenge of meeting the world’s energy needs “while transitioning to a low carbon future,” noting that the challenge is also a great opportunity.

“We have world-class expertise in energy, the Asia-Pacific and Indigenous policy…The ANU Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific project is a powerful example of how energy change will transform Australia’s economy and exports for the better, while delivering major benefits for our nation, our region and the world.”

Feasibility of Australian Renewable Exports

Many are convinced by the seemingly fertile rational grounds for an extensive Australian renewable export industry. A new report by ACIL Allen Consulting commissioned by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) highlights Australia’s ample opportunities to establish a foothold in the growing hydrogen export market.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel is also a great believer that hydrogen will make Australia’s century. According to Finkel, also Chair of the Hydrogen Strategy Group, hydrogen’s time has come.

However, not everyone is convinced Australia has a golden ticket and a clear road to the chocolate factory. According to ANU Professor Andrew Blakers of the School of Engineering & Computer Science, there is good cause for scepticism as to whether Australia has the opportunity for a significant renewable export industry, especially in hydrogen.

While Blakers notes there is some potential for renewable exports to South East Asia, evidenced by the Sun Cable Project mentioned earlier, this potential is rather limited. Indonesia and Vietnam have good renewable resources and if SE Asian countries would require the importation of renewables they could get them from China far cheaper.

Blakers believes we underestimate just how geographically isolated and remote Australia is. China is far better positioned to major population centres and could easily outlay HVDC cables throughout all of East Asia with far less hassle than Australia could.

The Politics 

Energy Minister Angus Taylor launched the project yesterday in Canberra, though Taylor displayed no visible signs of disorientation he surely felt himself on unfamiliar ground in supporting a project that looks specifically to accelerate and underpin the energy transition to renewables.

In recent times Taylor and the Morrison Government have displayed about as much gumption for renewables as a Saudi prince suffering from sunstroke, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. At the Pacific Island Forum last month Morrison was outcasted by his fellow leaders for his staunch resistance to climate change policy.

One can only assume Taylor doesn’t much mind an ANU funded research project that will only require practical attention at a future date when the energy portfolio may well be out of his hands. It’s a win-win for Taylor, for if the project proves beneficial in the future he can claim it as his own, and yet the project has no impact upon his politics today.