Visioning The Future: Mega Clean Energy Parks

If the USA, UK, Europe, and increasingly China, see the low carbon and environmental goods and services sector as the basis of the world’s next great technology and economic era – why is Australia not yet planning to be among the leaders in creating new wealth and millions of new jobs by embracing transition to new markets served by new industries? The question is asked and the visionary answer supplied for abc carbon express by Fiona Wain, CEO of Environment Business Australia.

By 2030 Australia could be developing into a regional hub for minerals processing and heavy manufacturing at ‘mega clean energy parks’. That is the scale of green energy that solar thermal, geothermal, marine and wind energy could provide if supported by innovative policy at all three levels of Government.

With HVDC grids and smart connectors these mega parks could provide baseload electricity around the country – and even to Asia.

Drawing down the overload of atmospheric CO2 will be key in the shorter-term to tackling climate change and the converging threats of food and fuel security. A carbon biosequestration program using soils, crops, rangeland, native vegetation and forests to draw down legacy carbon in the atmosphere would help replenish soil carbon and nutrient levels while adding value to farmers and agricultural communities.

And the biofuel opportunities abound if we use waste CO2 from power plants as feedstock. Liquid fuels could be produced at industrial scale – synthesised by algae. This ‘next generation’ of biofuels would not compete with the food chain or further deplete soil nutrient levels.

‘Green cities’ should have all buildings at high energy efficiency standards. Public transport operating as an efficiency centre (and not an inefficient profit centre) would be complemented by an electric vehicle mobility system for private car use.

Energy to fuel the electric vehicles could increasingly come from local supply of renewable energy and co-generation systems or from the ‘mega parks’. Adding further value, the batteries on wheels could download renewable energy back into the grid at times of peak demand.

All these ideas and more are feasible and the technology already exists. The Catch 22 is scaling them up sufficiently to bring them down the cost curve – and of course scaling them up quickly enough to ensure that Australia is not left behind. This requires a new policy framework – institutional reform will be key to catalyse public and private sector investment. It is time for policy innovation to match technology’s evolution.

And the cost? Well how much do we plan on spending over the next 20 years on basic infrastructure, built environment, food supply, energy security, etc? Let’s make sure that spend is invested in desirable lifecycle outcomes by including – and comparing – capex investment; efficiencies generated by expenditure into operational improvements and avoiding collateral damage; new value-adding to current sectors of the economy; and most importantly, strategic planning to take advantage of new markets and new industries that are emerging the new jobs that will be created.

The lack of foresight shown by climate change sceptics, denialists and contrarians is chilling – that mainstream media outlets use it as fodder for ‘debate’ is absurd. We humans may be resilient but we rely entirely on eco-system services to support us. There is a speed of climate change we do not want to unleash, because there is no technology, no infrastructure, no amount of money that would be capable of replicating the way we live.

A true debate about how to make industrial and economic transition is welcome as we face converging threats of food security, desertification, fuel security and ocean acidification alongside climate change. Our efforts should focus on prosperity without collateral damage to communities, the environment, economies, and global security. “Balance” is not about trying to present a contrarian case as an equal voice, it is about harnessing vision to create the future we want – and avoid the outcomes we do not want.

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