100 per cent renewable energy is nothing, just a speed bump in the road ahead, says Oliver Yates

Toward 500 per cent renewable energy

Naysayers denounce 100 per cent renewable energy as unfeasible, too expensive, and too unreliable. But the reality is we can deliver sustainable reliable renewable energy cheaper than business as usual, says John Grimes of the Smart Energy Council, and there are many robust reports supporting the energy transition.

But how do we break the myth, the lie, that renewables are not reliable and too expensive – ideas that have not kept pace with technology and energy economics?

The pros of a supercharged renewable energy industry in Australia were thrashed out during last week’s Smart Energy Council 500 per cent Renewables webinar, with several hundred people tuning in to the big picture presented by Oliver Yates of Bronze Boar Investments, Vanessa Petrie of Beyond Zero Emissions and Michael Lord from the University of Melbourne.

John Grimes set the stage stating we need to think beyond stationary energy toward renewable energy electrification in other sectors of the economy – heavy industry and other big energy users – and further by tapping in to Australia’s natural competitive advantages in renewable energy resources. This, coupled with cheaper forms of harnessing, storing and dispatching to exporting industries, would establish Australia as an energy powerhouse.

“In the process this creates wealth for the Australian economy and boosts the balance of trade where we are exporting goods all derived from renewable energy,” he said.

“Renewables are cheaper [than fossil fuels] and can build and sustain a stronger economy in the future … we can develop more prosperous and better times that we live in today which is great news all around.”

Oliver Yates took the concept further saying “No longer is Australia headed for 100 per cent renewable energy, we will vastly overshoot it – I have been quoting 500 per cent and already others are talking about 800 per cent or even more.”

In an upbeat address he said “There are long term opportunities for growth, and it’s not about coal closures and job losses but job creation and reindustrialisation of Australia. 

“The long term cost advantage of renewable energy is clear. Under this scenario we see improved price points and visions of $35 to $40 MWh, we should all be proud and excited.

“Australia now has a nation making opportunity ahead of us and is now the best place in the world to undertake heavy industrial activity using renewable energy.”

He emphasised this is at a time in which climate change is not going away but rather damage is intensifying, with growing calls for swifter action.

“Renewable energy is the only acceptable way forward and countries including Australia will move faster to renewable power. Other countries will be compelled to either move heavy industry to the source of power or forced to import clean renewable energy.”

These are the right choices for Australians - moving renewables is expensive, and it is more efficient to transport products from Australia, especially those that are energy intensive.

For example as a self confessed “hydrogen junkie” the recent release of the Hydrogen Strategy presents lots of excitement, he said, but we need to understand the scale of renewables that would need to be built if we were to export one million tonnes of hydrogen: that would require 23 GW of additional renewables capacity.

The hydrogen strategy listed the main use of hydrogen as for ammonia, and each year Australia currently produces or imports 2.8 million tonnes of ammonia (which is about 20 per cent hydrogen by weight) so we need half a million tonnes of hydrogen in Australia, and replacing dirty fossil fuels requires another 11 GW.

Global demand for ammonia is heading toward 200 million tonnes, and that is all made with fossil fuel that can be replaced with renewable energy, Oliver Yates said.

He calculates 800 GW of renewable energy is needed to replace the global ammonia market powered by fossil fuels.

Half of the world’s ammonia is made in Asia which is poor in renewables resources.

“If we took 25 per cent of that market we would need to build renewables at the same rate that we did last year for the next ten years, and we would not have even started to replace the coal fleet.”

This is just one sector of the economy, Oliver Yates reminded those tuned in to the popular 500 per cent webinar, stressing the need to address zero emissions by 2050.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel discusses replacement of LNG, that would require another 800 per cent of renewable energy, “and we need a bucket load for ammonia, then we need to look at green steel … Australia is opening up and road ahead is clear, and 100 per cent renewable energy is nothing, just a speed bump in the road ahead. We are talking about a vastly different energy system

“Australia can and should be thinking about the need to reindustrialise, we need to bring the production of these heavy commodities back into Australia.”

He went on to outline the need for Australian states to create green industrial zones and becoming competitive using Power Purchase Agreements to lock in power contracts with major industrial users, and the means to transit all the power.

“Australia has an incredible opportunity in front of us we cannot miss out on. 500 per cent renewable energy is a walk in the prosperous park for Australians, we cannot let others slow us down.

“It’s in front of us – and an exciting time with it.”

The webinar also heard from Vanessa Petrie from Beyond Zero Emissions about how Australia could lead the world with a zero carbon cement industry in 10 years, as detailed in the report Rethinking Cement.

“Investors here and right across the world want to get out of (high risk) carbon and the use of renewable energy is very compelling in any industrial heat process from melting steel and all manufacturing processes involving food, chemicals, paper and pulp,” she said.  

Beyond Zero Emissions has conducted extensive research and produced several reports including Renewable Energy Exporting superpower; NT 10 GW vision

Electrifying industry; and the Beyond Zero Emissions’ Stationary Energy Plan (2010). Zero Carbon Factory is currently in development.

Read more at www.bze.org.au

Michael Lord from the Energy Transition Hub, University of Melbourne, wrapped up the webinar leading a discussion about zero emissions metals, noting emission intensive steel production causes 7 per cent of global emissions.

“We need a better way, that is to use renewables. We have metallic ores and are the number one exporter of bauxite, lithium, manganese, zinc, gold, titanium, rare earths and more.

“But what we do now is export rocks! Goods at the lowest point of their value chain. Steel increase in value five times and we can use hydrogen generated from renewable energy to process it and add significant value.”

Today’s global imperative to combat climate change and lower emissions is increasing the demand for low carbon metals, there will be a huge avalanche of demand, he said.

Already 600 publicly listed companies have set emissions reductions targets, including car makers VW and Toyota which have aspirations to reach zero emissions both before and after production.

Other big companies including Apple, said Michael Lord, want to source lower emissions metals and aluminum products and will be able to charge more.

Lots to mull over.

Tune in to the webinar recording available at www.smartenergy.org.au