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Preparing Australia to be a clean energy powerhouse – shipping wind and sunshine!

How does Australia go from using renewable energy to help power the domestic economy to being the clean energy supplier of choice for the Asia-Pacific region?

That is the challenge that a dedicated group of researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have set themselves as part of the Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific Grand Challenge in which the university is investing $10 million from 2019 to 2023.

The Grand Challenge recognises that Australia is a renewable-energy powerhouse and a resource-rich nation, whose immediate neighbours in the Indo-Pacific will account for two-thirds of the world's energy demand growth in the coming decades.

The ANU Energy Change Institute (ECI) which created the Grand Challenge is also seeking to advance renewable energy systems in Australia – and potentially share those learnings across the Asia-Pacific.

A research leader from another ECI program – the ANU Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program – Dr Marnie Shaw, has demonstrated that community batteries can provide storage for customers in potentially a cheaper way because of economies of scale. They can also provide the kind of support for the grid that we increasingly need as we are adding more and more solar generation from our rooftops.

Researchers are exploring opportunities to export Australian grid management technology to developing countries such as Vietnam, capitalising on a rapid uptake of rooftop solar.

Within the metallurgical side of the Grand Challenge program, researchers are looking at how Australia can process iron ore and other metals using renewable energy to export 'green' metals.

Underpinning the technical aspects of the program is also a strong focus on research towards ensuring Indigenous Australians benefit from the development of large-scale wind and solar plants in Australia that power Australian clean energy exports. The Grand Challenge team is currently developing investor guidelines for large-scale renewable energy developments being built on Aboriginal land. An example of such a development is the Asian Renewable Energy project. This is helping to guide the development of the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project being developed on Nyangumarta land in the Pilbara by industry partner CWP Renewables. Once complete, this project will produce hydrogen to replace imported diesel in the Pilbara, and ammonia for export.

Ammonia is an industrial feedstock and has a mature supply chain. It can be produced from hydrogen by adding nitrogen from the air. There is growing interest within the Asia-Pacific, particularly in Japan, for ammonia to co-fire with coal in power stations to reduce emissions, and in Japan and Singapore as a replacement for marine oil in transcontinental shipping. The Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific Grand Challenge is looking at certification systems for ammonia to show that it has been created from renewable energy.

The Grand Challenge Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific was launched in 2019. The program is led by Professor Ken Baldwin, Director of the Energy Change Institute and has a truly interdisciplinary team. The project involves researchers from five of the ANU Colleges: Science, Asia and the Pacific, Law, Engineering and Computer Science, and Arts and Social Sciences.

AREH Traditional Owners, Nyangumarta people
AREH Traditional Owners, Nyangumarta people. Image credit: CWP Renewables
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