Australia could grow to become a global renewable energy giant, producing as much as ten times more electricity than is currently consumed, all from renewable sources, according to the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
In 2019, Miller told RenewEconomy’s Energy Insiders podcast that Australia could aim to produce much more electricity from renewable energy sources than is currently consumed in total in Australia – as much as 700 per cent renewable electricity, with the excess used to produce zero emissions fuels.
In a more recent speech to Australian Energy Week, and a subsequent post to LinkedIn, Miller upped the ante, saying Australia could be producing as much as ten times more renewable energy that is needed to meet local demand.
“We see a future where Australia produces thousands of terawatt hours of renewable electricity; five to ten times more than is supplied by our electricity system today,” Miller told the Australian Energy Week conference last week. (Australia currently consumes just over 200 TWh a year).
“This electricity will not only be used to provide zero emissions lighting, heating and cooling to our homes and businesses, but will be used to power our transport and heavy industry — either directly or through the production of hydrogen.
He said this electricity would be sourced from building new solar and wind, either connected to the country’s grids or off-grid in remote locations such as the massive Pilbara installations proposed by the likes of CWP and iron ore billionaire Andrew Forrest.
“With the right mix of storage and peaking technologies, transmission and interconnection, and demand side flexibility, we can get to a scale that allows Australia to transform our domestic economy and supply clean energy to other countries without the same natural resources.”
The concept of building additional renewable electricity capacity is based on the idea that Australia could become a net exporter of renewable energy, as well as converting large parts of the economy that currently consume fossil fuels to running on renewable electricity or renewable hydrogen.
By ‘overbuilding’ renewable energy capacity, it would also be possible to mitigate some of the challenges that relate to the variability to renewable electricity supplies, as there is a much higher likelihood that there will be sufficient electricity supplies to meet local needs, with industries like hydrogen production having an ability to reduce their demand in line with available supply.
Using renewable electricity to produce zero emissions hydrogen can provide a pathway for reducing emissions in otherwise hard to abate sectors, including manufacturing and transport.
“Australia is a relatively small steel producer with just 0.3 per cent of the world’s steel supply. However, Australia accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s iron ore production, the key ingredient in steel making,” Miller said.
“That’s a factor of 133 times difference in our role in the production of the raw material versus the finished product. Although the emissions associated with our iron ore are accounted for overseas where the steel mills are located, how these emissions are reduced is of strategic importance to Australia from both a risk and opportunity perspective.”
“Hydrogen produced from renewable sources is an emerging solution to strip out the oxygen atoms from iron ore and provide the pure iron required by modern electric arc furnaces to produce green steel.
Australia is viewed as a potential leader in the production of hydrogen given our vast amounts of sun, wind and land. If we can utilise these resources to upgrade our iron ore to Direct Reduced Iron we can make use of our abundant renewable resources, add value to the products we produce, create jobs, benefit our economy and help solve global emissions — all at the same time.”
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is tasked with providing funding to emerging renewable energy technologies and enabling technologies that support the market share of renewables to grow.
This includes a $103 million funding commitment to support three new renewable hydrogen production facilities – some of Australia’s first large-scale renewable hydrogen production projects.
Federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor recently moved to issue new regulations for ARENA to significantly expand its functions, to provide funding support for the government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, including support for carbon capture and storage projects and fossil hydrogen production.
The regulations are set to be opposed by the federal opposition, with shadow minister for climate and energy, Chris Bowen, describing the regulations as working to “dilute ARENA’s funding and expertise”.