How to win the climate wars - Big entities lead the way

The Smart Energy Summit showcased the actions and ambitions of corporations that are leading the way in decarbonisation and influencing the broader debate. Among them well-known Atlassian chief Mike Cannon Brookes who says we need economic wins to move forward, and that  “The DNA of energy needs to change to exports, we need to unlock the mental models to try and think big.”

 

Speaking with Simon Holmes a Court at the Smart Energy Summit he gave an insight into his drive to develop the world’s biggest renewable power plant that would export energy to Asia, saying “Nothing in engineering says it can’t be built, theoretically it is all possible.”

 

The 20GW Sun Cable farm he is backing via his investment arm Grok Ventures is planned for completion by 2027. The plant is on a scale never seen before.

 

“Ten GW of solar power is ten times larger than the largest plant, and the 22GWh battery storage component would be 150 times that of Hornsdale,” he said. “Currently 1900km is currently the longest energy transmission line but the 3500 kilometre proposed to link the NT with Singapore would be much greater.”

 

Think that’s mind-boggling? There’s more.

 

The highly successful tech entrepreneur provided a glimpse of the relatively near future that will see self-driving cars transport people around cities. Hailed not by a wave or an arm but at the click of a smart phone, the Zoox ‘vehicles’ or ‘robo-taxis’ available on command could become mainstream in the future, says Cannon-Brookes who is backing the technology.

 

Like others at the Summit we had difficulty visualising just what the vehicle, or robot as Cannon Brookes calls it, will look like. A transformer? A shuttle?

 

We may not have to wait long to find out as it could be seen on the streets within two years, he says. The self-driving technology is currently being trialled in San Francisco and a Google search reveals the AI tracking technology that identifies people, cars, traffic lights zebra crossings to navigate through busy city streets.

 

True to the underlying mantras of entrepreneurs Cannon-Brookes “The concept of Zoox is finding the limitations of human thinking but will have massive outcomes. The ‘what if we are right’ is far more powerful than ‘what if we are wrong’.”

 

With a series of other ground-breaking ventures Cannon-Brookes is on a path to shape the future. But Simon Holmes a Court wondered about the ability or otherwise of the average person or business to change the narrative.

 

One suggestion on how to best achieve change is through choice of superannuation funds with their large pools of capital.

 

Simon's discussion with Mike Cannon-Brookes can be seen at https://vimeo.com/379184886

 

The Summit heard about the progressive path of CBUS superannuation from chief investment office Kristian Fok, who is on a mission to exercise the $54b investment portfolio for the best outcomes.

 

“This means taking into account long-term risks and sustainability and our fiduciary duties to provide the best returns,” he said. “That of course means we need to consider climate risks and opportunities, and support move to low carbon economy.”

 

Investment in infrastructure opportunities by the Construction and Building Unions Superannuation fund - one of Australia's largest - are up 2 per cent in the renewables sector over the next two years.

 

Noting the 94% drop in cost of PV panels since 2008 he said in the long-term this looks increasingly attractive for investors, but they want high returns.

 

And Kristian Fok had a warning: in the absence of federal government action in the sector, capital may flow offshore.

 

Prominent insurers are also shaping the future. At the Summit Pat Regan of QBE Insurance Group Limited, Australia's second largest global insurer after Insurance Australia Group, has joined RE100.

 

“QBE supports the global initiative RE100 to keep to below 2 degree warming.

 

 “We need to understand the risks of weather events to develop and acute understanding of the economic and social consequences,” he said, outlining QBE’s intent for full sourcing of renewable energy by 2025.

 

The insurer is already half way there, sourcing 50 per cent of its power from renewable resources.

 

QBE holds a $23 billion investment portfolio and plans to invest in renewables projects up to $1billion. The energy policy established in early 2019 includes no support for thermal coal industry by 2030, at the latest.

 

Further boosting its environment credentials, QBE has introduced a “Premiums for good” program that focuses on economic and social outcomes.

 

“This is what we as a responsible entity are driven by as we move toward a lower risk environment,” Regan said

 

Renewables advocate and Summit Chair Maria Atkinson commented “Leaders are here to inspire change” and among those were Jon Dee of RE100 who proudly reported that 219 Australian companies have now signed up to RE100 and are committed to source 100 per cent renewables.

 

Momentum continues, says Jon Dee, with Dexus recently joining the ranks. The Real Estate Investment Trust that manages a property portfolio valued at $31.8 billion invests only in Australia.

 

Dexus sits alongside banks Westpac, CB, NAB, ANZ, Bank of Australia and Macquarie Capital who are party to RE100.

 

IKEA is also committed. At the Summit Head of Sustainability Melissa Miller outlined the retail giant’s “People, plant and positive strategy” and the company’s aim, as party to RE100, to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy in all buildings and suppliers/service operations by 2025.

 

Telstra is also leading the field with a series of Power Purchase Agreements that facilitates almost one-third renewables consumption of 1.7 TWh.

 

But it’s not as simple as it sounds, said Energy executive director Ben Burge

 

“Closing on PPAs takes lots of skill, constructive risks, complex and detailed documents. But by joining a syndicate all benefit from scale and gain a good price

 

“As corporate businesses we have to tackle this,” he said, referring to the expertise in shaping PPAs now developed by the Telstra team.

 

The Summit also heard from newly minted RE100 member Macquarie Capital, with Division Director Brian Morris explaining the investment bank’s commitment to purchase all its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

 

Brian Morris emphasised the low cost of renewables which enhances the economic and environmental advantages.