Six hundred and twenty-five billion dollars (US$432 billion) is the estimated cost of an ambitious plan to decarbonise Australia’s heavy industries in the next 30 years. Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has released a report (pdf) outlining the roadmap to reduce the country’s industry emissions by 92 percent in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report was a three-year project conducted under the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative, with the participation of some of the nation’s largest companies.
The report stated that the federal government and local businesses must invest an average of $20.8 billion a year in order to decarbonise the industry sector by 2050. Roughly two-thirds of this amount must be invested in Australia’s energy system, while the remaining amount must go toward the electrification of the most heavily polluting operations. To achieve this, the plan requires a massive lift in Australia’s electricity generation capacity. The report said around 600 terawatt-hours of electricity would be needed each year, which is equivalent to a two-fold increase in the country’s total current electricity generation. If Australia wants to establish new export markets for “green” iron and hydrogen, the demand for additional electricity would rise to 1,450 terawatt-hours per year. In addition, the plan also requires 260 gigawatts of renewable capacity to be added to the current power grid by 2050, of which 80 gigawatts will come from wind, 90 gigawatts from large-scale solar PV and 80 gigawatts from rooftop PV.
The report also highlighted the five industries–iron and steel, aluminium, other metals, chemicals, and liquefied natural gas–which account for 25 percent of Australia’s total emissions. The report said that over 1.3 million jobs could be generated between 2025 and 2050 through government and sector investments.
While acknowledging the challenging nature of the plan, the energy minister said it still needed to be carried out. “If it was easy, it would have been done by now,” Bowen said. “We’re talking about hard-to-abate sectors, hard-to-abate technologies. But it’s absolutely vital, and it can be done, as this report indicates.” Bowen also said the project would require an “all-in effort” while highlighting the job opportunities it could bring to the community. Monash University Chancellor Simon McKeon, who is also the chair of the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative, also emphasised the necessity of the project. “Action is needed now to lay the foundations, capitalise on the opportunities and avoid more costly emissions reduction measures in the future,” he said. Meanwhile, Lord Adair Turner, who has been an advisor to the project, talked about the changes Australia would undergo by achieving net zero emissions. “Australia’s economic future in a net-zero world is hugely positive and prosperous,” he said. “Blessed with abundant natural wind and solar resources, it can both decarbonise its own economy rapidly and become a major exporter of green hydrogen to countries across the world.”
The report’s launch comes as energy experts have raised concerns about energy production in Australia. In the past few years, many energy companies have announced plans to shut down coal and gas-fired power stations under political or economic pressures to transition to renewable energy. However, Mark Collette, the managing director of EnergyAustralia–a major electricity generator and energy retailer in the country– pointed out that the development of new renewable energy sources failed to catch up with the shutdown of traditional power plants across Australia. He warned that the national power grid could be at risk and called for some form of agreement between governments and energy companies that dictated the timing of the closure of fossil fuel generators to prevent shortfalls in generation capacity. Meanwhile, National MP and former minister David Gillespie said the country would be in a permanent state of adding more and more renewables to the grid if it continued to pursue its emissions targets. He noted it would cost Australia $1.27 trillion to achieve its 2050 net-zero emissions plan. This is a significant figure, given that Australia’s total GDP for 2021 was around US$1.55 trillion ($2.25 trillion).