Sanjeev Gupta, the UK-based steel billionaire with plans to create a “solar-based” manufacturing economy in Australia, and build electric cars, is now backing a push to bring the Formula-E electric racing series to South Australia.
The push for the Formula E Grand Prix is being led by Adelaide-based tech entrepreneur (and occasional RenewEconomy contributor) Valdis Dunis, who wants to add the city to next year’s Formula E season, replacing the Formula 1 Grand Prix that was lost to Melbourne.
Dunis says bringing a Formula-E race to the city could bring in as much as $100 million to the local economy, and promote the use of electric vehicles.
“It’s good for the economy, and it’s good for the planet, and it’s what I like doing, promoting renewables,” Dunis tells RenewEconomy.
“We’ve pretty much won on electricity, we’ve just got to tidy up at the edges, and now the new battle is on electric vehicles and transport.
“Some people say electric vehicles are slow and boring. If we can bring Formula-E to Adelaide we can raise the awareness and the sexiness of the electric car.”
He says it could be timed to coincide with the Darwin to Adelaide solar car challenge.
The support of Gupta is critical, given his deep pockets and the potential synergy with an EV manufacturing facility he wants to build in Australia, and his commitment to large-scale solar and storage to provide cheap and reliable clean energy to the country’s manufacturing base.
Writing in the Adelaide Advertiser, Gupta said having the Formula E Grand Prix would “align perfectly” with the state’s passion for motor sport and renewable energy.
Gupta said this would tie in with new industries, including the manufacture of electric vehicles .
“This would also require an educational system that supports and promotes this innovation to ensure South Australia is well equipped to play a leading role in these industries of the future,” Gupta writes.
South Australia is already sourcing half of its electricity supply from wind and solar, and with the addition of a suite of new projects under construction, and Gupta’s plans to power the Whyalla steelworks and provide power to five other big industrial users, it will likely reach more than 70 per cent, even before the 2025 target of the former Labor government.
This has turned attention to transport, which now accounts for around 46 per cent of the state’s emissions. The prominent role of renewables makes the emissions advantage of EVs clear.
Dunis says a meeting was first held with Gupta three weeks ago, and said he readily embraced the idea. Adelaide mayor Martin Haase, former Australian Formula 1 boss Mal Hemmerling, and representatives of Formula E were also involved.
Meetings have also been held with the new Liberal state government and Dunis was confident of a positive response.
Tourism minister David Ridgeway had actually visited the Formula E people in London several years ago, although Ridgeway’s comments to the Adelaide Advertiser were not exactly enthusiastic:
“While we would never say never to the event, currently there’s no appetite for another street circuit race in Adelaide,” Ridgeway was quoted as saying. Adelaide also hosts the Adelaide 500 road car race.
Formula E was established in 2014 and already attracts major car brands such as Audi, Jaguar and Renault, and numerous other lesser known brands.
Dunis noted that it also had serious support from the private industry, and power companies and telco companies in particular.
He says the races in Hong Kong, Japan and were supported by Li Ka Shing, who is a major shareholder in SA Power Networks, the monopoly distributed network in the state.
Documents supporting the bid say broadcasting has already reached 194 countries, over 4.5 billion social media impressions, with China one of the biggest fans (1.2 billion for HK’s races).
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to recharge South Australia further … as also the leader in sustainable 21st century transportation.”
The current 12-race series includes races in Europe, Latin America, Morocco, Hong Kong (twice) and New York.