The path to zero carbon

Last week marked the launch of the ANU Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific project which is labelled as redefining Australia’s trade relationship with the Asia-Pacific based on renewable energy, and contributing to reducing global emissions.

The research project will provide the knowledge base to underpin the development of major renewable energy export industries potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars from the ground up. It will also develop technologies and policies that can be applied in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.

The event saw independent MP Zali Steggall join Labor stalwart Pat Conroy and Smart Energy Council member Andrew Dickson of CWP Renewables gather with other prominent renewable energy campaigners at Parliament House Canberra.

The project was launched by Energy Minister Angus Taylor who took the opportunity, we hear, to present a history lesson about Australia’s position as a fossil fuel superpower.

Possibly a little off piste given the project provides a blueprint for Australia to gain supremacy as the region’s renewable energy powerhouse, that was spelt out by ANU speakers including the Vice Chancellor who promoted the spirit of the challenge and talked up Australia’s potential as the clean energy superpower of the future.

The project, an Australian-first, brings together a range of research disciplines at ANU to “future-proof” Australian global trade based on the nation’s abundant renewable energy.

ANU is investing $10 million in the project which runs from 2019 to 2023 and is funded by the ANU Grand Challenges scheme which invests in research to solve some of Australia and the world’s most pressing problems. 

Project lead Professor Ken Baldwin said: “In a rapidly decarbonising world, Australia needs to transform from exporting fossil fuels to exporting renewables.

“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.

“At the same time, the Asia-Pacific will drive two-thirds of the world’s energy demand in coming decades. So helping the region move to renewables is also an urgent challenge.”

He said the project will help Australia contribute to this challenge and demonstrate how abundant renewable energy can be harnessed to ensure we remain an energy export powerhouse.

“In Australia’s northwest, we have some of the best solar and wind resources in the world, 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.

“This could reduce global carbon emissions by the equivalent of more than three times Australia’s domestic emissions, as well as provide sustainable growth and development opportunities for Australia.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said:  “Energy is an important issue for all humans on this planet.

“Meeting the world’s energy needs while transitioning to a low carbon future is both a major challenge and opportunity.

“But this is a challenge we can rise to and ANU has a fundamental role to play.

 “We have world-class expertise in energy, the Asia-Pacific and Indigenous policy. This project combines this unrivalled expertise with ambition and vision. It will deliver targeted social, environmental, economic and technological outcomes with real impact.

“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.”

Melbourne University researcher Dylan McConnell agrees that Australia with its energy competitive advantage of wind and solar and “lots of space” can maintain its position as an energy “superpower” in a carbon-constrained world.

Australia promises massive but as yet untapped potential, and could run entirely on renewable electricity and produce double what it needs to create a massive green export industry by 2050.

Together with scientists working under the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub he has examined the economic opportunities of decarbonisation over the coming decades and concludes that with the right policy support, Australia could become a global leader in climate mitigation and the export of zero-carbon energy in the form of green hydrogen, green steel and products such as aluminium produced from green electricity.

Writing in The Guardian McConnell explained that under a “leadership and export” scenario, which assumed deep decarbonisation across sectors including electricity, transport and industry, renewables would produce 200 per cent of Australia’s domestic electricity demand and supply a large export market.

There would also be widespread electrification of transport, buildings, heat and industrial processes.

“A fundamental driver is the world essentially deciding to do something about climate change,” McConnell wrote. “The demand for hydrogen is essentially predicated on deep decarbonisation around the world and in Australia.”

Also with an eye on the future, ARENA is providing $460,500 in funding to the Australian Alliance for Energy Productivity (A2EP) to investigate opportunities for using renewables in process heating which accounts for the largest share of onsite energy use in Australian manufacturing.

Low temperature processes allegedly offer the greatest opportunity for displacing fossil fueled heat with renewably powered alternatives.

The $900,500 project has undertaken ten pre-feasibility studies at sites across four states, with five of the sites to be chosen to progress to a full feasibility study.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller says helping industry reduce emissions is the next challenge for renewable energy uptake in Australia and that “A2EP’s project aligns with what ARENA is aiming to achieve through its new investment priority in helping industry to reduce emissions by supplying case studies which can be replicated more widely.”