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Saturday, November 26, 2022

50 Clean Tech Firms Call for Millions of New Solar Panels, Batteries in Ambitious 5-Year Net Zero Plan

Over 50 cleantech firms have outlined an ambitious five-year plan that they claim can cut emissions in Australia by 81 percent by 2030—a more ambitious target than the one set by the current Labor government.

On Nov. 24, global brands like Toshiba, Vestas, and Schneider Electric backed a new report from the Beyond Zero Emissions think tank claiming this target can be achieved with the accelerated rollout of six existing technologies: solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and electrolysers.

The initiative comes as the federal puts the pedal to the metal on its net-zero push.

What’s Needed in 5 Years?

The Beyond Zero Emissions report, Deploy (pdf), calls for a doubling of the solar panel rollout rate—Australia already has one of the world’s fastest take-ups of the technology—equating to an additional 17.7 million panels over five years.

Further, to decarbonise and electrify the public transport network, the rollout of electric vehicles and charging stations must be jump-started 14 times the current rate.

This will require an extra 1.4 million electric cars, 34,500 e-buses, 850,000 utes and vans, 115,000 trucks, 36,000 tractors, as well as 1.4 million charging stations (residential and public).

Heat pumps for residential and commercial water heaters, air conditioning, and industrial heating must be upped 37 times—overall requiring 13.5 million new units.

Lastly, the construction of wind turbines across the country must be quadrupled (an extra 6,000 wind turbines), while battery storage must be quintupled (6.4 million new units).

The think tank also said 3,000 new industrial-scale electrolysers should be built to help produce hydrogen.

All this is supposed to create 195,000 new jobs and generate around 64 gigawatts of renewable capacity and 13 gigawatts of energy storage.

How Much Will It Cost?

There was no clear estimate of the costs of the plan, with the report only noting that technology costs “will likely fall dramatically as demand grows.”

“The cost of solar, wind, and batteries continues to drop because of efficiency gains, economies of scale, wider public acceptance, more product variety, and increasing capacity.”

In August, a university partnership estimated Australia would need to invest around $100 billion (US$68 billion) a year to reach net-zero, and find an additional one million workers—the country’s current total labour force is 13,558,400.

Heidi Lee, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, said the plan was an “enormous opportunity” for Australian households and businesses.

“Overseas examples have shown us that ramping up deployment rates to these levels is entirely possible through aligning government and finance behind businesses that are set up to scale and deliver,” she said in a press release.

Risks and Concerns Abound

Schneider Electric’s Pacific President Gareth O’Reilly said increased automation and digitisation would lead to faster decarbonisation.

“Importantly, the best vector for energy efficiency and decarbonisation is electrification, which is also the easiest path to quick and effective outcomes,” he said. Yet some experts have warned such a move essentially leaves infrastructure and institutions more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Just a week earlier, hackers managed to gain control and post pornographic images on a digital billboard in Brisbane, Australia, for a few minutes, forcing the company to shut down its entire network.

In response to Australia’s rapid adoption of renewables—in line with the European Union and the United States—some experts have warned that the widespread adoption of these technologies is simply not worth the benefits it produces (which is fewer emissions compared to coal-fired power plants).

For instance, many key materials used in solar panels are produced in Xinjiang, China, where Uyghur forced labour is liberally deployed by the Chinese Communist Party. While the processing of critical minerals needed for batteries can often be a more energy-intensive process (often powered by fossil fuels) compared to traditional energy sources.

Further, many renewable technologies have significant drawbacks in their operation.

Hydrogen technology has yet to be deployed on an industry-wide scale and suffers from issues like extreme combustibility and difficulties with storage.

While simply replacing the capacity of fossil fuel generation with renewables is a huge challenge, with SnackBrand’s CEO revealing his company needed 250 acres of solar panels to get anywhere near replacing the business’s daily gas usage.

Questions also continue to be asked over how retired wind turbines, panels, and batteries will be disposed of, with many destined for landfills—these problems do not exist to the same extent with burning coal, gas, and operating nuclear energy.

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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected]

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