Australia wants to become a renewable energy superpower. Can it?

Australia wants to become a renewable energy superpower. Can it?

Hannah Ritchie,BBC News, Sydney

BBC Maia Schweizer BBC

A vast facility housing a scientific breakthrough is hidden among heavy bushland in the southern suburbs of Sydney.

The Asian company SunDrive Solar uses a brand-new, top-secret method to claim to have solved” a very high value problem” in this area.

Its huge development? Finding a way to change solar cells ‘ silver with metal, which was originally believed to be difficult.

” Gold is expensive, scarce and socially disastrous, and it limits how many solar can be rolled out around the globe”, explains chief commercial officer Maia Schweizer.

” Brass is also highly in demand, but it’s 1, 000 days more numerous, and 100 days lower value”.

The start-up is one of the beneficiaries of the government’s Coming Made in Australia program, a collection of policies that invest in local alternative industries to make the nation a “renewable energy superpower.”

But some experts question whether the$ A22.7bn ($ 15bn, £11.8bn ) package, which comprises tax incentives, loans, and kick- starter grants- is enough to meet those lofty ambitions.

And according to climate scientists, Australia must cease selling fossil fuels if it wants to be a significant participant in the net-zero change.

Australia’s market has long been powered by its natural sources, such as coal, oil and iron ore.

However, its essential minerals are exported raw and refined abroad, most of which are used to support important lower emissions technologies.

Australia has earned a reputation as the world’s rock thanks to its dig-and-ship model of trade, which has also resulted in significant loss of significant change farther up the supply chain.

One indication of lithium-based batteries that store solar energy and power electric cars is used.

Despite being responsible for more than half of the world’s supply, Australia captures just 0.5% of the global $57bn lithium battery market, according to the country’s national science agency.

The Coming Made in Australia plan, which was officially announced in April, aims to change that by providing tax breaks and money to businesses that process crucial minerals at home.

Doing so, the state argues, is a national surveillance concern, as countries examine their business dependence on Beijing, and seem to protect themselves against supply chain shocks.

” This is not old- made isolationism or protectionism – it is the new opposition”, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, when announcing the program.

” We need to aim higher, be strong, and create large, to match the size of the option in front of us”.

Alpha HPA Rob Williamson at work at Alpha HPAAlpha HPA

Alpha HPA, based in Queensland, is one of the businesses that the government has chosen to carry out its perspective.

Similar to SunDrive, it sees itself as a industry because it can produce high-quality aluminum items that are used in applications like semiconductors and iPhones with less carbon footprint than their outside competitors.

One of the largest aluminium factories in the world is being built close to the coastal town of Gladstone, thanks to a$ 400 million federal loan, according to the company’s claim that it will result in hundreds of local jobs.

According to Alpha HPA’s chief operating officer Rob Williamson, there is still skepticism about whether Australia may produce goods, given that the company has historically outsourced its manufacturing to China.

” Anybody that puts forward the case that we do n’t have people in this country to do]this work ] is just not trying”, he adds.

SunDrive is on a similar trip.

Without government aid, Ms Schweizer says, the firm might have moved abroad.

Rather, it wants to turn one of the nation’s oldest coal power plants into a large solar panel manufacturing gateway.

Currently, one in three Australian households have solar panels, the highest rate in the world, and yet only 1% are made locally – with China responsible for more than 80% of global production.

” Every one material that you need to create a solar panel, we’ve got one of the best three resources in the world”, Ms Schweizer explains.

” Then there’s the possibility of the finish- to- finish value chain coming inland in Australia for the first time, which is very, very exciting”.

The Made in Australia pledge has won the support of the country’s biggest renewable energy industry trade bodies, who say the investments could be “game changing”.

” It’s a great option for us to be an exporter of climate solutions to the world instead of climate issues”, John Grimes, who heads the Smart Energy Council, says.

But some climate experts warn it is being “severely undermined” by the government’s recent decision to champion gas until 2050 and beyond despite global calls to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

” We’re sending a genuinely mixed information to traders”, says Polly Hemming, the chairman of the Australia Institute’s environment and energy project.

Alpha HPA Alpha HPA production facility Alpha HPA

” This state has continued to review fresh gas and coal projects- it’s flown to Japan, India, Korea, and Vietnam to secure long- word markets for gas and coal.

” If we really wanted to be a green energy superpower, we would n’t be relentlessly pursuing customers for our fossil fuels,” she says.

One of the nation’s leading climate scientists agrees.

According to Prof. Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics and author of numerous UN climate change reports,” there is a very deep contradiction at the heart of the two policies.”

” The Future Made in Australia]plan ] is playing second fiddle to the government’s gas strategy.”

To understand how, Ms Hemming says you need to” follow the money”.

According to an analysis from her thinktank, last year alone, state and federal governments spent A$ 14.5bn subsidising fossil fuel use across Australia, and that sum is only expected to balloon, according to budget estimates.

By contrast, she says the A$13.7bn set aside to process critical minerals and incubate Australia’s nascent green hydrogen industry “isn’t real money”.

That’s because it will take the form of tax breaks over the course of a decade, which can only be cashed in on production starting from 2027 – a model which policymakers say will ensure taxpayers’ money is not wasted.

However, none of the green hydrogen projects are finished, many of which are being led by the nation’s largest mining and energy companies. If there is a change in the government, the incentives could be eliminated before they become effective.

It’s like I have a healthy eating and junk food policy in place at the same time in my house and tell my kids,” You can have$ 10 a week now if you keep eating junk food,” she says.

” Or,’ I’ll give you$ 2 in 2027 if you switch to broccoli’. What do you think they are going to prioritise?”

Given that the green hydrogen industry is still in its early stages and full of unknowns, some energy experts have also doubted the business justification for it.

Others worry that it will slow down climate action and derail investment away from renewable energy sources that have already proven their worth.

However, Mr. Grimes claims that green hydrogen will play a crucial role in” sliming emissions” from Australia’s carbon-intensive mining sector as businesses look for cheap green fuel to keep running their businesses.

And bigger picture, he argues that the government’s new green investments should be assessed as” a milestone first step “rather than an end point.

The government is aware that Australia could become the Kodak economy of the future: a big deal one day and completely irrelevant the next if it does n’t move beyond its coal, gas, and iron ore exports soon.

Getty Images Iron ore being loaded at a mine in Western AustraliaGetty Images

Not just Australia is trying to be the engine room of the new green economy, but it is also looking to.

Dozens of nations are putting forward ambitious proposals, such as the European Union’s Green Deal or America’s gargantuan Inflation Reduction Act.

According to the International Energy Agency, policymakers have invested over A$ 2tn in clean energy initiatives globally since 2020.

But Australia has some compelling natural advantages, such as enviable wind and solar capabilities, stores of critical minerals and rare earths, and a strong mining infrastructure network that can be repurposed.

All the experts the BBC spoke with agreed that if used correctly, it has every chance of securing its position as a crucial green trading partner among allies.

Getting there though, they say, will require even greater investment – particularly in research and development, which is currently at 30-year lows.

And they’ve warned that the government ca n’t afford to stutter on a topic that Mr. Albanese himself has addressed head on.

” We have to get cracking. We have unlimited potential, but we do not have unlimited time.

” If we do n’t seize this moment, it will pass. If we do n’t take this chance, we wo n’t get another. If we do n’t act to shape the future, the future will shape us”.