Fthat rom The World Bank and International Energy Agency for The Reserve Bank of Australia itself and a number of national industry bodies the message is clear: our way out of the huge economic collapse triggered by Covid 19 – must place renewable energy and deconbalized communities at its center.
However, a business-as-usual approach to renewable energy development means that Australia will still lose the full benefits of the decarbonization of our economy. If we still rely on extended supply chains from the international market for components needed for wind, solar and other projects, skilled and long-lasting Australian work will be lost.
From components such as steel towers, nacelles and blades for wind turbines, transformers for electric substations and turbines and steel pipes for hydroelectric power, so much of the material needed for clean energy transitions is still imported into Australia.
Steel towers and blades for wind turbines routinely arrive at Australian ports from Vietnam, China, India or Europe. Electric transformers come from Japan, and the electrolysis of hydrogen needed to make this main export fuel in the future will arrive on our coasts from Britain, Germany or the United States.
It’s not as if the Australian economy is unable to produce many of these components. Australia’s sole domestic wind tower fabrication business, Keppel Prince in Portland, Victoria, excess demand with orders for Australian-made towers for projects in Victoria and elsewhere. At Wodonga, the Wilson Transformer Company has increased its apprenticeship to meet the demand for electric transformers for new solar agriculture and now integrates them with solar inverters in partnership with a large German company, SMA to enabling more efficient deployment in the development of new solar agriculture.
Australian technology company Extensive Solar developing concentrated solar power plants that are able to deliver the energy that can be sent which is stored in giant “thermal batteries” to the network. Now it is exploring how the thousands of mirrors, steel towers and thermal storage needed for its first commercial project can be produced or assembled locally.
The key to making this happen is to request local content as part of an updated, led recovery. Just hoping for benefits from short-term construction work, though worth it, isn’t good enough. Instead, we must also focus on deliberate mechanisms that require Australia to make it a major part of a clean energy-led economic recovery.
This means it requires local content for manufacturing and assembling clean energy technologies. Governments that purchase electricity from renewable energy plants must set ambitious and proactive local content provisions as qualification requirements for procurement. This can involve mandating Australian-made content in the manufacture of wind towers or in steel racks for the installation of solar panels and locally made transformers, batteries or transmission cables.
This approach has been successfully adopted for Reverse auction program conducted by the Victorian government and ACTs, which helped spur the expansion of apprentices and internships in the component manufacturing business, and has seen the old Ford car factory in Geelong recommended as a nacelle wind turbine assembly facility again. Any government-led renewable energy procurement in the future must routinely require a strong supply of local components or assembly specifications for the clean energy projects they contract.
Equally there is a growing role for the private sector. Through initiatives like RE100 and Center for Renewable Energy Business, many large companies now buy 100% clean energy as part of a broader decarbonization effort. In doing so they must also mandate strong local manufacturing requirements and respect commitments for community mutual benefits such as skills training, internships, investment in landscape restoration and biodiversity. The evaluation process for private and public sector clean energy procurement can do this through a methodology in their assessment that makes long-term local work and local content a priority.
Throughout Australia there is an abundance of undeveloped solar and wind resources in Australia Renewable Energy Zone identified by energy market operators gives us the potential for dozens, if not hundreds of gigawatts of new clean energy development. It is a pipeline for thousands of steel wind turbine towers alone. If clean energy is to be the driver of our economic recovery, we must move away from overseas supply chains and ensure the decarbonization of our economy creates long-term, skilled and sustainable Australian employment for the people.
• Simon Corbell is the chief advisor Energy Garden, a clean energy advisory business, and was previously Victoria’s renewable energy advisor and deputy chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory
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