The Morrison government will strip funding from an Australian-German research collaboration charged with mapping a pathway for the countries to transition to a zero emissions energy system.
The unexpected move undermines recent announcements from the Morrison government that it will focus on the development of a ‘technology roadmap’ as an alternative to increasing national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, cutting funding to research that would inform what such a roadmap could look like.
As reported by the Guardian, the Morrison government will renege on the commitment to fund the research, originally instigated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, ceasing government funding of the collaboration two years early.
The Energy Transition Hub was launched by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Angela Merkel in 2017, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, and was supposed to run until 2022. The axing of funding is expected to deprive the research collaboration of approximately $2 million in funding.
The federal government was to provide $4 million over a five-year period, contributing to the $20 million overall budget of the Hub.
To date, the Hub has published a range of research papers exploring the impact of different policy mechanisms on the electricity sector, provided substantial submissions to the design of the National Energy Guarantee and supported the development of the popular OpenNEM platform, that provides an accessible portal for real-time data from the National Electricity Market.
The funding cut follows a speech by federal energy minister Angus Taylor during which the he outlined further details of the government’s proposed ‘technology roadmap’ for new energy technologies.
Taylor used the speech to detail how the Morrison government would shift its focus to emerging technologies, saying that support for new technologies like hydrogen fuels and carbon capture and storage were more important than providing additional support for already commercially viable technologies like wind and solar generation.
But a week later, the Morrison government has undermined its own messaging by cutting funding that sought to directly answer the question of which types of technologies and how regulatory systems should be reformed to support a transition to a new low emissions energy system.
The reasons for the funding cuts remain uncertain, but a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that there was the potential for the funds to be redirected to other collaborations between Australia and Germany in clean energy technology development.
“The objectives of the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub were to strengthen Australia’s bilateral relationship with Germany and to better coordinate investments in research into energy transition,” a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
“Funding was sourced from DFAT’s bilateral program for cooperation with Germany. Remaining funding will be reallocated to support our strategic priorities with Germany and other European partners more effectively, including potential collaboration with Germany on hydrogen.”
The Energy Transition Hub is a collaboration between Australian universities The University of Melbourne and The Australian National University, and German research institutions that included the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Münster University’s Centre of Applied Economic Research, and the Mercator Research Institute of Global Commons and Climate Change.
The Hub had also established a number of collaborative partnerships with other research institutions and universities in both Australia and Germany, including the University of Technology Sydney, RMIT University, Murdoch University, Monash University and the University of Tasmania.
The Hub focused on four areas key to a transition to a low carbon economy, including the design of energy market reforms and regulations, the technical challenges of transitioning to a high-renewables electricity supply, the deployment of negative emissions technologies and identifying export opportunities.
The most recent published work by the Energy Transition Hub examined how Australia could co-operate with Indonesia on the regional development of new renewable energy projects and how the Australian economy could benefit by capturing some of this emerging market.
Germany is significantly more progressed in the transition to renewables and reducing emissions across its economy compared to Australia. By 2019, Germany’s electricity grid was supplied by more than 40 per cent from renewable energy sources, predominantly from wind and solar projects.
Germany had also cut its national greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30 per cent since 1990, albeit short of its goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.
By comparison, Australia was expected to reach 27 per cent renewable electricity in 2020 and has succeeded in reducing its national emissions by just 12 per cent from 1990 levels.
Australian greenhouse gas emissions have flatlined under successive Coalition governments, and are just 1 per cent below 2013 levels when the Abbott government was first elected.
The chair of the research hub is Australian economist professor Ross Garnaut, with the Hub’s co-directors being Associate Professor Malte Meinshausen of the University of Melbourne and professor Frank Jotzo of the Australian National University.
The directors of the Energy Transition Hub are currently reviewing the next steps for the collaboration and will provide further comment when a way forward is known.