Is Australia Dropping the Race for a Clear Power Breakthrough?

Regardless of a powerful monitor document on renewables innovation, Australia could also be operating out of time to turn into a clear vitality export powerhouse — and additional funding for homegrown innovation is now in jeopardy.

The funds for the Australian Renewable Power Company (ARENA), Australia’s flagship vitality innovation funding physique, is ready to expire this yr, and the present administration has but to substantiate that extra cash can be allotted.

Australia’s ruling Liberal Celebration has tried to get rid of ARENA within the current previous. Whereas the vitality company seems to take pleasure in broad cross-party help, it stays to be seen the place the coal-loving Liberals’ priorities will lie in a post-COVID-19 financial system. Concern over the way forward for ARENA led progressive suppose tank The Australia Institute to challenge a paper in January calling for the pressing approval of laws to increase the company’s funding.

Whereas ARENA’s grant-making funding formally ends in mid-2022, the character of vitality mission planning means the company will successfully stop making new investments this yr, mentioned the Australia Institute’s paper.

ARENA’s supporters say continued funding can be key to serving to Australia decarbonize its grid through the Paris Local weather Settlement interval, to say nothing of cashing in on the rising world marketplace for clear vitality applied sciences. Corporations in Australia are pursuing a sequence of massive bets in rising vitality markets corresponding to long-duration storage and inexperienced hydrogen.

Cynics would possibly counter that fostering clear vitality innovation hasn’t been Australia’s drawback — it’s getting these concepts to market. Thus far, ARENA has supported 538 tasks with AUD $1.58 billion (USD $1.08 billion) in grant funding since 2012.

Alongside the company, a physique referred to as the Clear Power Finance Company (CEFC) is chargeable for investing AUD $10 billion (USD $6.9 billion) in clear vitality tasks, and as of the tip of final yr had mobilized an extra AUD $26 billion (USD $18 billion) in personal capital.

The CEFC has backed a spread of applied sciences, together with electrical automobile charging infrastructure, battery storage, light-weight carbon fiber wheels that scale back emissions, and sensible vitality methods, govt director Monique Miller mentioned in an electronic mail.

But whereas Australia has produced quite a few novel vitality applied sciences, the nation has been notably unsuccessful at constructing an export trade out of them, trade figures say. And it is an issue with an extended historical past.

Overcoming ‘cultural cringe’ issue

Two generally cited examples of Australian vitality innovation got here out of the College of New South Wales within the 1980s: the vanadium redox circulation battery and Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell (PERC) photo voltaic expertise. Each have been commercialized around the globe — simply not by Australian firms. Australia’s promising UltraBattery expertise was purchased up by a U.S. firm in 2010 and Australian CSP expertise developer Ausra was bought to French vitality large Areva the identical yr.

“The problem for Australia, which has been properly documented, is the transition from profitable R&D to profitable industrial enterprise,” mentioned Will Mosley, head of enterprise growth at Victoria-based RayGen Assets, which is touting a novel photo voltaic era expertise.

“Although we’ve a powerful R&D pipeline, there’s a breakdown — pushed by investor threat urge for food and lack of obtainable capital — to supporting commercialization of the R&D breakthroughs,” Mosley instructed Greentech Media.

RayGen is an instance of an modern Australian clear vitality firm. Its expertise borrows parts of concentrated PV, power-tower CSP and steam-based thermal storage, and it has a producing facility that may produce 25 megawatts of capability per yr.

ARENA-backed ReyGen says its system can ship 750 kilowatts of energy per sq. meter of plant house, with a 32 % system effectivity and 10 hours of storage. The corporate has a Three-megawatt plant in operation and a Four-megawatt mission within the works.

However Mosley mentioned profitable enterprise in Australia is not straightforward for homegrown firms. “It’s truly simpler to lift cash in Australia as a international firm,” he mentioned. “The joke is, ‘It’s best to inform us you’re a German expertise agency.’”

This ‘cultural cringe’ issue places Australian vitality innovators at an obstacle whereas international firms, corresponding to Fluence, Hydrostor or Tesla, proudly announce reference tasks within the nation.

Blended alerts on the highway forward

The query now’s how a lot Australian firms will profit because the nation units its sights on a decarbonized vitality sector.

Final month, the federal authorities opened session on a expertise funding roadmap that includes greater than 140 potential decarbonization applied sciences. The administration hopes to cut back this record right down to 5 – 6 main contenders, mentioned Jill Cainey, basic supervisor of networks at Power Networks Australia, an trade physique representing electrical energy and gasoline community operators.

“Throughout the discussions on the roadmap, Australia was described by one participant — not the Authorities — as a ‘expertise taker’ relatively than a expertise maker,” Cainey mentioned in an electronic mail interview. “I feel that is broadly true.”

The excellent news for ARENA is that the position of the company is highlighted all through the federal government doc. Observers really feel it could be politically difficult to axe the physique. The evaluation by The Australia Institute means that actual animosity in direction of ARENA was confined to the transient management of former Liberal prime minister and local weather skeptic Tony Abbott.

Towards this, nevertheless, Australian funding into large-scale renewable vitality fell 60 % from 2018 to 2019, dampening the outlook for expertise commercialization. And though the federal government has pledged to evaluate funding for ARENA primarily based on the end result of the expertise roadmap session, time is operating out for the company.

“Successfully from the tip of this month, ARENA will not have the ability to present any additional grants,” mentioned Cainey.

That’s a fear for firms corresponding to RayGen and thermal storage innovator 1414 Levels, which this month acknowledged challenges in scaling up.

Getting Australian cleantech into the broader world will doubtless require a mindset shift away from cultural cringe, however with out primary funding the nation gained’t even be within the race. “It is a difficult second for the innovation ecosystem,” mentioned Mosley.  

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