The manufacturing multiplier of BZE’s Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts


Tomorrow, Tuesday 20 April, begins a series of free, virtual industry briefings by climate-change-solutions think tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), aimed at gathering a critical mass of renewable energy and zero-emissions-minded companies to coalesce around Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts — first ports of call, The Hunter and Gladstone regions.

In 2020, BZE brought its intelligence to bear on the Million Jobs Plan, which CEO Heidi Lee says has been quietly influencing government initiatives behind the scenes; the Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts (REIP) campaign seeks to now focus government attention on the infrastructure needed to electrify manufacturing with clean, renewable energy.

In its pre-budget submission to the Federal Government in February this year, BZE wrote, “REIPs will support the development of advanced manufacturing clusters powered by low-cost renewable energy.” It calculated that REIPs in five locations (Hunter, Gladstone, Darwin, Collie in Western Australia, and Bell Bay in Tasmania) would secure 46,500 jobs and create an additional 46,500 jobs.

In the first instance, BZE is seeking expressions of interest from companies in The Hunter and Gladstone regions in plugging into the metaphorical renewable-energy power boards in these regions that will provide reliable renewable energy, green industrial process heat and district green hydrogen solutions.

“The Precincts are a 10-year vision,” Lee tells pv magazine Australia, “and capacity will come on in stages.”

Expressions of interest from big hitters such as would-be green-steel manufacturers and battery makers, to data centres, down to small manufacturers will demonstrate an ecosystem of participation — “its strength will be in its diversity”, says Lee.

Industry leaders already on board

In The Hunter region, foundation enthusiasts for the REIP concept include Ampcontrol which provides electrical, electronic and control solutions for mining, renewables and industrial applications; innovative virtual-power-plant and microgrid technology provider, SwitchDin; 3ME which designs and supplies battery systems for challenging conditions such as mining, military and marine; Diffuse Energy small wind turbine manufacturers; and Molycop, a worldwide supplier of mining consumables and services.

Says Michael Parker, Executive General Manager and President of Molycop Australasia, “Molycop is committed to further reducing the carbon emissions associated with our products and operations and Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts will help us achieve that.”

Such companies are already clustered around Newcastle, the research and education capital of The Hunter region, also because of its transport links, export opportunities and skilled workforce.

Lee adds its proximity to budding Renewable Energy Zones, such as NSW’s first-planned 3GW Central West Orana REZ and the most recently announced Hunter-Central Coast REZ, to The Hunter’s many attractions for manufacturers.

The solar-to-hydrogen promise

Gladstone is also well endowed with port facilities, access to the Central Queensland Renewable Energy Zone, an education hub in the form of Central Queensland University, a large, skilled, technically capable workforce, and diverse and established industries including alumina processing.

Alpha HPA, for example, is developing a high-purity aluminium plant which will supply products to the global clean energy and mobility sectors, and has committed to using sustainable electricity to power its plant.

The coastal region has also become the home of choice to several green hydrogen and green-chemical projects, including Eco Energy World’s $500 million solar-to-hydrogen plant; and Sumitomo’s plans for a plant that will initially produce 250-300 tonnes of hydrogen a year with the intention to scale up production.

Lee says that although green hydrogen “doesn’t stack up yet, we think it will be online, and under $2/kg as targeted by the Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap in less than 10 years, but what you need is the infrastructure piece to come ahead of it, so that the investment in that green hydrogen isn’t also carrying unnecessary costs from infrastructure that could be shared and used to benefit a whole lot of other processes”.

Critical mass of interest

The REIP concept is about gathering intentions so that the Federal Government recognises the need to do what it does best, connecting the cross-state-border dots.

“There are buckets of money available at the state level if you want to do some energy efficiency stuff in your factory,” says Lee. “There’s even some Federal money available.” 

But, she argues, “Until regions and precincts are provided with appropriate infrastructure for manufacturers to use vastly more electricity than they currently do, you won’t see these big ideas take place.”

BZE is seeking a national statement of intent from the Federal Government on “what the country’s manufacturing sector will look like”, followed by action on financing infrastructure that cuts across jurisdictions: “the Feds can make a better go of it than state bodies trying to coordinate”, she says.

Carbon borders (just saying)

BZE’s outlook is relentlessly optimistic. Its so far successful strategies have focused on opportunities for Australian workers and businesses, but Lee acknowledges that there will be a downside to not acting.

She says the country must capitalise on growing global demand for zero-carbon products and the Federal Government must position Australia as a global leader in zero-carbon sustainable manufacturing, or it will miss out.

“Australia isn’t decarbonising very fast, but overseas more than half the world is already engaged in coordinated actions.”

BZE’s Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts pre-budget submission gives the UK’s low-carbon Industrial Clusters strategy as an example of how the Old Dart is targeting zero-carbon manufacturing via a two-stage competition that offers £170 million in assistance — call it prize money — through its multi-billion pound Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Benefits within a year

Companies that express interest in participating in REIPs in Australia should start to see benefits within 12 months, says Lee. BZE will support them to apply for existing funding, while also coordinating group contracts for renewable energy, and for other connections as needed, to avoid each individual company devoting resources to decarbonising.

“The biggest gains will come when you start connecting renewable energy directly to those precincts,” says Lee, or getting green hydrogen on tap. “But having certainty that it’s going to happen means these local economies will have more capacity to absorb jobs that might be coming offline in other sectors, such as coal.”

There’ll be more opportunities in constructing energy infrastructure and industrial buildings spaces for companies eager to join the low-cost-energy clusters.

Manufacturers of all ilks can learn more about the model for Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts proposed by BZE in industry briefings this month and throughout May, and/or register interest in participating.

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