Australia is a mess of contradictions, and nowhere more so than in the energy space.
As the world shifts towards serious action on climate change, our nation has been flagged as a bunch of heel-draggers, resolutely determined to do whatever it takes to squeeze the last few billions from the land’s fossil fuel reserves before it becomes too controversial to do so.
While federal ministers at the upper echelons of government flounder and fib their way through the tough questions — claiming to need to “see the plan” or use “tech not taxes” to deal with the issue — states are stepping up to the challenge.
For a few years now, South Australia has been championing solar with their 100 megawatt lithium-ion battery at Hornsdale Power Reserve, the largest in the world, allowing them to store renewable energy and inventively named ‘the big battery’. Last week SA hit 106% of state demand on sun power alone.
Recently, NSW also committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50% of 2005 levels by 2030. How this squares with a flurry of new coal mines the state has also greenlit in the past month alone is hard to see but it’s at least a cursory move in the right direction.
Now, the state has announced a $3 billion green hydrogen energy strategy which will see “hydrogen hubs” created across the state. It will see hydrogen jobs outstrip those of coal by 2050 and make the state a “global hydrogen superpower,” according to the NSW Premier.
The plan involves offering up to $3 billion in grants and waving fees and charges for hydrogen producers, which the government expects will attract between $80 and $270 billion in private investments.
These investments will largely be in the Hunter and Illawarra regions, currently the state’s capitals of coal production, and “pave the way for a net zero emissions future while driving economic growth”.
NSW Environment Minister and Treasurer Matt Kean said that NSW would become the “green energy capital of the world” and that pledged the Hunter and Illawarra regions would be future-proofed by the transition to clean energy.
The news comes as Queensland, Australia’s other major coal-producing region, is also gearing up to hop aboard the renewable energy express with a massive new green hydrogen plant.
Mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest announced that his company, Fortescue Future Industries, will build the world’s largest green energy plant in Central Queensland.
It’s a six-step plan, expected to cost a total of $1 billion, that will bring thousands of jobs to Queensland and is expected to eventually double the world’s production of this clean-burning fuel.
The first stage is a $115 million manufacturing facility in Aldoga, west of Gladstone, that will build green energy infrastructure and equipment.
“This is the future,” said Forrest. “We will not allow the world to keep on cooking — we will not allow our children to inherit a much-less stable environment.
“I’m convinced we have thousands of times more energy available than we’ll ever need.
“The world absolutely can — and, therefore, must — move on from a polluting future.”
Hydrogen is one of the most common and simple gasses in the universe. It’s found everywhere but it’s hard to distil into a pure form. The Adoga plant will manufacture electrolysises, used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can then go on to create and export the gas around the world.
When burnt, hydrogen creates pure H20, meaning there are no greenhouse gasses associated with it. If the plant is powered with renewable energy, it will have no impact on the climate and could help the world transition to clean energy sources.
The investment is set to make Queensland a “renewable energy superpower”.
It’s further proof that if the government isn’t willing to take the type of drastic action necessary to combat climate change and embrace a green future, then private industries and others – including, ironically, NewsCorp, who splashed the benefits of a ‘green and gold’ future across 16 newspapers on Monday — will.
Forrest, who is involved in both the NSW and QLD projects, said that “There will be no bigger industry than green hydrogen.”
“It will dwarf the scale of iron ore, it will dwarf the scale of coal, in Australia.”
He urged governments around the country to follow the lead of NSW and Queensland and get aboard the hydrogen bandwagon.
“Do not deny your voters, your constituents, their future,” he said.
“This is the start of the green, pollution-free industrial revolution.”