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Business envoy

Putting the green in the green and gold

The Airport Economist Climate Innovation episode

Tim Harcourt

Australia has been hit by a lot of external shocks lately – from the drought, to the devastating summer bushfires and then COVID-19. It’s been a time of survival and resilience. But as we recover, it has been fascinating to witness the fantastic work being undertaken in Australia in clean energy, green building and other areas of climate innovation in order to get our economy going again in an environmentally sustainable fashion.

Accordingly, we are now producing a new episode of The Airport Economist TV series to highlight the climate innovation and environmental entrepreneurship of the Australian business community. Kindly supported by DFAT’s Climate Innovation and Investment section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, The Airport Economist episode will talk to companies in all emerging sectors of climate innovation.

We talk to the companies that are powering the nation with renewable energy and the companies who can get us around with clean transport. We also talk to the people who are providing the investment in green technology and building a whole new global supply chain for clean energy.

But first, let’s see how Australia has developed this green capability and where the commercial potential lies to put the green back in the green and gold.

The Big Picture

For a long time, Australia has been at the cutting edge of global development in renewable energy, exemplified by the development of solar cells at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in the 1980s, now with 100 GW installed globally.

With investments from Australia’s Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to support the Australian Government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), large scale wind and solar is now economically competitive in Australia.

Australia is also at the leading edge globally in integrating distributed and variable renewable energy in the National Grid – the world’s longest (and skinniest – much like the map of Chile!)

Powering the nation with renewables

In Australia, we like to do things big so by working with our international technology partners. We’ve developed the world’s biggest battery and the world’s largest virtual power station.

Australian clean technologies from companies like Evergen, PowerLedger and Reposit are creating a new class of energy producers – ‘prosumers’ – a person who consumes and produces a product. With one in four Australian households having rooftop solar, Australian technology companies are empowering households to take advantage of high prices on the wholesale electricity market.

Australian technology companies like NOJA Power, Redflow and Tritium have been at the forefront of supplying advanced manufactured products around the world to support renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Clean Transport

Australian researchers are exploring the cutting edge of electrifying air and ground transport, with Melbourne one of three global test cities for Uber Air from mid-2021.

Many Australians are already powering their electric cars with electricity from their own rooftop solar panels.

Meanwhile, Australian company SEA Electric has been making inroads in electrification of light commercial vehicles and rigid trucks, including through a strong business relationship with IKEA which is keen to ensure the last mile of their supply chain operations is clean.

Clean Finance

ARENA and CEFC have led the way in funding projects to bring down the cost of renewables and pivot Australia towards a clean energy future.

Australia’s financial institutions have quietly been working away on recommendations to establish Australia as a clean finance hub in the Indo-Pacific region. This will help ensure we have the financial infrastructure to deal with the transition to renewable energy.

Technicians at the CCS facility on Barrow Island, Western Australia. Image courtesy of Chevron.

Big End of Town

We’ve shown how Australian ingenuity is managing the transition to a low emissions economy.

But what about the big end of town?

Australia’s miners like Fortescue and Rio Tinto are all building solar farms to power their mine sites, reducing their dependence on diesel and gas.

Our companies are even thinking through the whole supply chain and restructuring their business models towards a clean and green future.

For example, Woodside is working with companies in Japan to look at the large-scale supply of ammonia for co-firing in thermal coal plants and Chevron has the world’s largest LNG carbon capture and storage facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

And of course, in South Australia’s Iron Triangle, UK entrepreneur Sanjeev Gupta aims to make the Whyalla Steel Works carbon neutral by 2030.

It’s good to see so many exporters prepared to put the green back in the green and gold for the benefit of Australia…and the planet.

Tim Harcourt is the J.W.Nevile Fellow in Economics, UNSW and Host of The Airport Economist

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