Australia is at a crossroads. Billions of dollars will be spent in the coming months to reboot our economy. Much of it will be spent on jobs-rich infrastructure projects.
This means we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set a direction for Australia’s future development. Do we want to double-down on a non-competitive, energy-intensive economy that relies on volatile fuel imports? Or will we move towards self-reliance by electrifying our infrastructure and powering it all with cheap, reliable and efficient renewables sourced in Australia.
That is why Australia should enact a bold Million Jobs Plan that will modernise and electrify our infrastructure, setting Australia up for the next 50 years of abundance and decarbonising our economy in the process.
The leading principal behind a strong stimulus program is that it should create jobs and not be wasteful. Ideally it would bring forward spending that would have happened anyway and encourage private sector investment.
Renewables are already the cheapest form of energy. With Australia’s vast renewable resource, there is little doubt that they will power the majority of our activities by 2050. Accelerating that transition is our pathway to prosperity and international competitiveness and therefore the greatest opportunity for stimulus spending.
The biggest blocker currently holding us back is our out-dated transmission network. 10 new transmission lines across the country would unlock renewable energy zones and create thousands of jobs. In parallel we could fast-track renewable energy construction in those zones, with the tens of thousands of regional jobs that come with them.
Some of this cheap renewable energy could be used in homes, which together with a bold home retrofit plan would create millions of electrified ‘zero energy bill’ homes.
This initiative alone could create over 300,000 jobs, let alone the manufacturing demand for retrofit products and a large-scale training program. Even better it will pay itself back through the reduction in the cost of living for millions of Australians; reducing some of the income pressures many are under.
Australia’s industrial base is out-dated, inefficient and dirty. We were already on the brink of losing our aluminium industry before the crisis. Using stimulus spending to electrify industry will pay huge dividends, create new markets and realise the vision of Australia becoming the natural home for energy-intensive manufacturing.
Our aluminium smelters can be upgraded to flexibly ramp up or down to run off renewables, giving them extra sources of revenue and guaranteeing long-term security for their workers. Green steel produced with hydrogen is fast becoming a worldwide race with many countries investing in new infrastructure. Why should Australia be left behind when we can have access to the world’s cheapest hydrogen?
An accelerated rollout of electrified transport infrastructure will prepare us to take advantage of cheap electricity to move us around. Electric vehicle charging infrastructure will help people feel more confident about making the leap to electric cars.
Electrified bus fleets can be built in factories around Australia, getting thousands of people back to work and when rolled-out, help maintain the cleaner air we are experiencing during the lockdown.
Australia has a once in a lifetime opportunity to do what it takes to face our future from a position of strength. We can create millions of jobs, increase our resilience, modernise our infrastructure and decarbonise our economy. Let’s not miss our chance.
Eytan Lenko is Chair and acting CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, an Australian-based, internationally recognised, non-profit energy solutions think tank. This was a summary of a presentation he made at the Stimulus Summit about the BZE Million Jobs Plan.