Australia Needs To Lead With A Solar Project Like Desertec
THE German industrial giant Siemens is urging Australia to build a massive renewable energy network to rival that of the Desertec project that will harness solar energy in northern Africa and deliver it to consumers in Europe. Siemens’ own push into green technology came in 2005 after the board analysed the global “mega-trends” and how the company might be placed in 50 years. Siemens Joe Kaeser says: “The push to sustainability is real. It is not a fashion.”
Giles Parkinson in his Green Chip column in The Australia (5 April 2010):
THE German industrial giant Siemens is urging Australia to build a massive renewable energy network to rival that of the Desertec project that will harness solar energy in northern Africa and deliver it to consumers in Europe.
Siemens — along with Deutsche Bank, Munich Re, ABB, and utility groups E.ON and RWE, among others — has been one of the driving forces behind the $700 billion Desertec concept and the creation of energy “super-highways”.
Siemens is active in Australia and has made four separate applications under the Australian government’s Solar Flagships program, which aims to build two large-scale solar energy facilities by 2015. But chief financial officer Joe Kaeser believes Australia should be much more ambitious and consider its own “Austral-tec” project.
“Australia has everything it needs,” Kaeser says, adding that Siemens has already held some preliminary discussions with the government and other corporates. “Australia should be in the lead (in solar energy) and showing the world how it works. If you source solar energy for nothing, and sell natural resources to other countries, it makes for a powerful business case.”
Siemens is Europe’s largest engineering group and is leading the push into green technology, from where it now sources some $25bn of annual revenues — nearly one quarter of its global revenues.
Kaeser says Siemens’ push into green technology came in 2005 after the board analysed the global “mega-trends” and how the company might be placed in 50 years. “The push to sustainability is real. It is not a fashion.”
Kaeser says Siemens’ hunger for innovation is borne from need. Europe does not enjoy the rate of economic growth of China, or the natural resources of Australia. “Our natural resource is know-how.” It spends $1bn on green-tech R&D each year.
But Kaeser says the massive redistribution of wealth from new technologies, and the transformation of desolate solar-rich areas such as the Sahara into “economic treasures”, will be fiercely resisted and the transition will not be easy.
“There is a lot of economic power behind the current technologies, behind coal-fired power plants, and the factories that produce CO2,” he says. “These markets are threatened by a paradigm shift, and that can cause social problems. That is why the government needs to lead the way.”
He points to the experience of Denmark, which was burned by the oil crisis in the 1970s and supported massive investment in wind technology, where it now leads the world. He also points to Singapore, which with few natural resources in now turning itself into a “Smart City”.
Carbon capture a `diversion’
ANOTHER to support a more vigorous push into renewables is professor Stefaan Simons, one of the world’s leading experts in low-carbon technologies. Professor Simons addressed a Santos-sponsored event in Adelaide last week. His message is that the focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a “dangerous diversion” that is stalling the transition to renewable energy sources and a highly efficient, low-carbon energy system.
Professor Simons is a specialist in the chemical engineering at the University College London and director of its Centre for CO2 Technology. He is currently on a global research fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering that includes time at Australia’s Co-operative Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, which is leading research into CCS.
However, he says CCS research (which accounts for more than half of the funds promised by the Australian government for clean energy technologies) is soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better applied in securing a low carbon future. He says CO2 capture is not fit for post-combustion at a large scale — and therefore most existing fossil fuel plants — but the real problem lies in technical and legal issues around storage. There will be a role for CCS, he says, but not as broad as its supporters make out.
“I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether large-scale deployment of CCS makes sense and whether we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source, or use these fossil resources to produce higher value forms of energy and chemicals.
“We could then replace fossil-fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources, at the same time reducing the need for CCS. We also need to mature our thinking, our innovation and our chemical industry so that CO2 becomes a valuable resource, rather than a waste product in need of disposal.”
This, Professor Simons says, could provide an opportunity for Australia to use its expertise in coal and gas to lead in the development of to new and existing chemicals from CO2 so that CO2 becomes a valuable feedstock rather than a waste product. “It needs new business models, and policy and market support. If the coal and gas industries do not change, where will they fit into a renewable energy-driven society?”