9 November 2022

Australia clean energy stars shine on global climate stage

At the heart of the ‘official’ zone of the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt this week, some of Australia’s best and brightest will be showcasing their cutting-edge technologies and demonstrating why the Indo–Pacific region is a magnet for around 80 per cent of global private investment in clean energy.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this year described the transition to clean energy as the “low-hanging fruit” of climate action. Investors globally are taking notice, with clean energy investment growing at an average annual rate of 12 per cent since 2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

On Friday, the Australia Pavilion at COP27 will host some of the rising stars of Australia’s zero-emissions manufacturing industry in the Beyond Zero Emissions Cleantech Hub. Innovative companies include solar project deployment specialist 5B, energy software company SwitchDin, green technology company Sunshine Hydro Pty Ltd, printed solar panel manufacturer Kardinia Energy and the First Nations Clean Energy Network, among others.

“This showcase is an announcement to political leaders and the international community that Australian cleantech is open for business,” says Beyond Zero Emissions Chief Strategy Officer Sanaya Khisty.

Khisty says Australia has the chance to become a green exports powerhouse through the development of renewable energy precincts and projects – a view shared by the IEA, which predicts in its latest World Energy Outlook that Australia will be the largest net exporter of low-emissions hydrogen by 2050.

“Here at COP27, we’re providing a glimpse into a bright future for Australian [cleantech] manufacturing,” says Khisty. “This is a A$333 billion opportunity that will set Australia up to prosper as the global economy decarbonises.”

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Already seizing this opportunity is the A$30 billion Sun Cable Australia–Asia PowerLink venture – the world’s largest renewable energy infrastructure project being built in a remote area of the Northern Territory.

When completed in 2027, the massive solar farm and battery storage facility will be the world’s first intercontinental power grid, connecting Australia to Singapore to supply 24/7 renewable power via more than 5,000 kilometres of overhead and subsea electricity cables.

“We’re going through a global energy transition and a lot of that enhancement is coming from Australia,” says Sun Cable co-founder and CEO David Griffin. “There are large pools of capital in Australia that are very keen to invest, so it’s really exciting – it’s a great time to be in this industry.”

Griffin describes the 2020s’ global energy transition as “absolutely extraordinary”. “So, if you want to be part of that, being in Australia is a great location,” he adds.

Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) head of Global Growth Julie Shuttleworth points to Australia’s enormous competitive advantages, including its “huge solar resources and huge wind resources” right across the country. “We are also close to markets in Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia – they are huge energy consumers and they’re trying to decarbonise,” she says. “We can transport our sun and our wind to countries that don’t have the ability to decarbonise for themselves.”

FFI is constructing a A$1 billion manufacturing plant in northern Australia to make hydrogen electrolysers – a project that is expected to more than double current global production of green hydrogen. “We have a national hydrogen strategy, which is fantastic,” says Shuttleworth. “What we are developing are practical, implementable solutions to actually show that [decarbonisation] can be done.”

Battery storage is another rapidly growing sector in Australia’s clean energy industry, with global independent research company Rystad Energy reporting that Australia’s battery capacity is set to double by the end of this year. This follows earlier figures from energy market analyst Cornwall Insight Australia that showed Australia’s battery energy storage pipeline had grown enormously from 7GW in 2020 to more than 26GW by the end of 2021.

Queensland-headquartered battery technology company NOVONIX is one of many Australian operators driving the rapid growth in this sector. A developer and supplier of high-performance materials for the global lithium-ion battery industry, Novonix recently saw its shares surge after revealing it was in discussions with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a US$150 million grant to fund expanded production.

Australian financial services group Macquarie Group has also recently announced that its Green Investment Group will launch a global platform – Eku Energy – to develop and own battery energy storage assets. “Battery storage is critical to maximising the role for renewables in our energy mix by enabling the delivery of dispatchable clean energy,” says Eku Energy’s interim CEO Chris Morrison.

With generous R&D funding and tailored incentives for businesses and investors, Australian governments at both federal and state level are playing their part to ensure Australia harnesses its natural attributes and keeps ahead of the clean energy curve – likewise, partnerships with Australia’s world-leading research institutions, such as the University of Melbourne’s Energy Institute.

The Australian Government’s recent Budget October 2022–23 announcements included record funding of A$25 billion for clean energy and renewables, backing the Government’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The new Powering Australia plan is focused on projects that reduce emissions by boosting renewable energy – creating significant opportunities for investment. Projects under the plan include Rewiring the Nation, which aims to modernise Australia’s electricity grid, and the Driving the Nation Fund to help reduce transport emissions.

The Government has also signed landmark agreements with Singapore and Japan to promote clean energy collaboration across borders.

In his recently published book The Superpower Transformation, Australian economist Ross Garnaut points to a range of factors that give Australia a unique competitive edge in the race to decarbonise the planet. As well as its “unparalleled” renewable resources, he says Australia has the scientific skills needed to develop new technologies and is better placed than any other country to prosper from clean energy.

“Australia has the potential to be an economic superpower of the future post-carbon world,” concludes Garnaut.