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Australia: replacing despair and denial with action and optimism


Australia’s relatively new federal government continues to roll out progressive policies and emissions targets that accelerate the uptake of renewables and boost confidence in the sector. And it’s being widely lauded for introducing more climate friendly policies in six months than its archaic predecessor of the past 120 months.

Image: At a packed-out SEC Summit, Federal Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen emphasised the importance of lifting the mix of renewable energy in Australia’s market to 82 per cent by 2030

Simply put by SEC chief executive John Grimes, “We have replaced a decade of despair, exasperation, denial and inaction with hope, optimism and action.”

State governments are in lock step with the federal government and Energy ministers are now meeting on a regular basis to step out pathways to decarbonisation.

Late last year at a Smart Energy Council Summit Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen said “probably the most important” achievement was the endorsement from State and Territory Energy Ministers to establish a Capacity Investment Scheme (CIS).

The scheme provides the national framework needed to drive new renewable dispatchable capacity to ensure Australian households and businesses can “count on the increasingly renewable energy they use being available when they need it”, he said, adding “By accelerating new investment, this scheme will encourage the ideal mix of storage and renewable technologies needed in the system over the coming decade.”

Importantly, the Capacity Investment Scheme is slated to unlock 6GW of renewable energy and $10bn investment, help drive the net zero economy and shore up Australia’s ongoing supply of cheap, renewable, domestically produced energy, regardless of global conditions.

“Effectively this is a national storage target underpinned by a policy regime,” the Minister said; music to the ears of the Smart Energy Council which has strongly advocated for a Renewable Energy Storage Target and welcomes the CIS as a “massive win” for renewables, environment and society in general as it paves the way for electrification of everything.

Another important development is the likelihood, at long last, of vehicle emission standards as seen in Europe and elsewhere but – shock horror – not implemented in Australia as yet and which, shamefully, is home to one the world’s most polluting road transport fleets.

Perhaps Australia’s progressive federal government might also one day shift its attention to the merits of a look-alike Inflation Reduction Act which in the USA has already triggered trillions of dollars in green investment in US industries.

Rewiring Australia / electrification of homes

The Smart Energy Council has partnered with Rewiring Australia whose mission is to

amplify messages around the wealth of economic, social and environmental benefits of powering the nation with zero emissions electricity.

Rewiring Australia is the brainchild of well-known engineer and entrepreneur Dr Saul Griffith who also founded Rewiring America and worked closely with the Whitehouse and US Senate to help deliver President Biden's ambitious climate outcomes.

There's no ceiling to what we can achieve through widespread electrification; from innovative energy policy solutions to adapting cutting-edge science for the Australian market, Saul says.

His words are echoed by SEC’s John Grimes who says "Rewiring Australia's influence in shaping energy policy will see thousands of households electrified, bills slashed and takes Australia a step closer to meeting its emissions targets… we're on the precipice of delivering some monumental wins.”

The partnership enables a powerful force in advocating for a rapid, and smart transition to renewable energy generation and several Independent MPs are key supporters calling for a target for household batteries, saying if one in five houses with rooftop PV installed a battery, Australia would boast 6GW storage, a large proportion of the 20GW needed by 2030.

Looking further ahead, the storage capacity of the 20 million or so car batteries will be essential to grid stability.

The vital role – roles – of electric vehicles was illuminated in the SEC’s recent Batteries on Wheels summit.

Batteries on Wheels aka electric vehicles

The SEC Summit attracted key regulators and innovators, including visionary start-ups that are retrofitting ‘utes’ (utility vehicles make up a large proportion of Australia’s fleet) and equipping trucks with ‘side batteries’ without messing with the original equipment manufacturer.

“We can convert diesel to battery, we can do it here in Australia to support local manufacturing” said a Janus co-founder of the Janus conversion module.

Bus depots too have been earmarked for transition to electrified, zero emissions transport; it’s the tip of the iceberg and part of a raft of action including the federal government’s stated ambition to transform the commonwealth fleet to zero emissions.

Transport emissions account for a hefty 18.6% of the national tally, second only to energy generation, yet just 3.39% of all new cars sold today are EVs. Australia needs to hit sales of 100pc EVs by 2035 to reach its target of net zero emissions by 2050. Prohibitive costs and lack of ready supply are the primary stumbling blocks in EV uptake but the intention is there, surveys indicate strong consumer interest in future ownership of an electric vehicle.

The federal government’s Driving the Nation plan will see more fast chargers on highways and an EV car discount which will help drive sales.

Solar panel waste and Stewardship

Australia might boast the highest per capita uptake of rooftop PV but it’s also looking down the barrel of five million modules reaching their end of life in five years. As put by John Grimes: “There’s a tsunami of waste coming down“.

The Smart Energy Council is embarking on a series of initiatives to address the looming issue in a bid to shore up responsible collection, disposal, recycling and repurposing of solar panels. 

Sun Cable linking Australia to SE Asia

Readers may be familiar with what’s touted one of the world’s largest renewable energy export projects: the A$30 billion plan for a 12,000 hectare solar farm in the county’s north together with a 40GWh battery for electricity storage and an undersea cable stretching  4,000 kilometres to Singapore to supply 15% of the island nation’s electricity.

The two self-made titans of industry driving the mega project (and who have each already committed up to $50 million) have been unable to reach full agreement on the direction of the much talked-about project, which recently entered voluntary administration.

But it’s not the end of the road for the mighty plant; Sun Cable management remains optimistic the project will proceed; we wait and see what fresh talks deliver.

Sun Cable is not unlike the Xlinks project that will deliver solar energy generated in Morocco all the way to England.

Smart Energy Council’s Climate Action summit – stay tuned

With its leading role in Australia’s energy transition, the SEC is staging a Climate Action Summit in late January to highlight the economic and employment opportunities arising from action on climate change and environmental, private and public benefits.

Captains of industry and commerce (and a couple of Ambassadors) will be joining regulators, financiers, asset managers, investors and more at the Summit which will address opportunities in renewable hydrogen and ammonia, steel and aluminium, and electrification of heavy transport.

January 2023

Smart Energy Council Chief Executive John Grimes, President Steve Blume