Australian business urged to join global embrace of 100% renewables

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More than 150 global companies with combined demand nearly as big as Australia’s main grid have committed to 100% renewable energy supply. But none from Australia – yet.

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Australian companies are being urged to join the global embrace of going 100 per cent renewable energy – setting a benchmark that leaves state and national targets trailing in their wake.

Since the launch of RE100 four years ago, a total of 154 global companies – including many of the biggest in the world and with a combined electricity demand nearly as big as Australia’s main grid – have committed to sourcing the equivalent of their entire demand through 100 per cent renewables.

Nearly three-quarters of them have operations in Australia, including the likes of Mars, Fujitsu and Carlton United Breweries (owned by InBev), but now Australian based companies are being urged to do the same.

Sam Kimmins, the head of the program for the Climate Group, says the idea was introduced in 2014 because it was thought it could help change the conversation around big business, renewable energy and climate action.

At first, it was seen as an opportunity for companies to be seen to be dong the right thing, and ticking the box on corporate social responsibility (CSR), but now it has a much more powerful driver – saving money through cheaper power from wind and solar.

Kimmins told RenewEconomy in an interview on Wednesday – before presenting to 38 Australian companies at the Arup headquarters in Sydney – that the combined annual electricity demand of the RE100 members is now 184TWh, just a little short of the total annual demand of Australia’s main grid, the National Electricity Market.

“Last year …. the most important reason for buying renewable electricity and being a member of RE 100 was the economics of renewable electricity,” Kimmins said.

“We are really here on a fact-finding mission to understand the needs of Australian companies, and what role RE100 can play.”

Many Australian corporates have already turned to wind and solar to supply at least a part of their electricity needs with cheaper renewables, including the likes of Bluescope, Telstra and CC Amatil, and manufacturers like Nectar Farms and others.

Sanjeev Gupta is looking to build more than 1GW of solar and storage to supply cheaper renewables to his Whyalla steel-works and other big energy users in South Australia, and is looking to expand that program to “solarise the economy” to other states.

Emerging retailers likes Flow Power are also connecting big business with renewable energy supplies, and has so far contracted part of the output of four wind and solar farms across the country to meet the growing demand.

“The reason we are seeing this transition and change in approach is because of the declines in the cot of renewables. Solar has come down 80 per cent  in the past 7 years, Kimmins said.

“So if you smart energy buyer – you will look at cost of a power purchase agreement, and you will look to buy the cheapest. And that is turning out to be renewables. That’s what Mars did in Australia, because it is saving money.

Mars has committed to supplying the equivalent of all its electricity needs from its six processing plants in Australia, and has signed up to the new Kiamal solar farm in Victoria.

“We don’t yet have an Australian member of RE100 …. but the renewable potential in Australia is enormous.

“Corporates want to buy renewables at scale in Australia. There are quite a few myths around them – that they are expensive, that no one wants them, that they are foisted on them by greenies and odd people who like wind turbines and solar.

“The reality is that there is a huge market for renewables.” He also noted that the members of RE100 are well run companies that outperformed their peers in terms of net margins and earnings before interest and tax.

“These are smart companies, they know where the future lies …. and they gearing every part of the organisation towards achieving it.”

Interestingly, the meeting occurred as a coalition of business groups, utilities, consumers and advocates called on the Coalition government to respond to the IPCC report on climate change and take action of emissions and try to frame a credible policy.

Even Australian company directory have, finally and for the first time, nominate climate change as the number one issue they want prime minister Scott Morrison to address.

And 24 leading doctors led by Fiona Stanley and Peter Doherty published an open letter in  Lancet describing the Australian Government’s dismissal of the latest IPCC report on climate change as “unacceptable”.

“We are dismayed by the implications of our government’s ongoing stance to disregard the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists,” the doctors said.  “Directors get it about climate change. It’s real. The scientists are unequivocal in their advice. And we’re conscious of the need for action,” the directors said.

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