What Tuesday’s federal budget must deliver for renewable energy

Australia does not have the capital or the skills to build everything everywhere all at once, and this is where national co-ordination becomes critical.

Australia does not have the capital or the skills to build everything everywhere all at once, and this is where national co-ordination becomes critical. Photo: Getty

The recent announcement of a Future Made In Australia Act could be the key to reinvigorating Australia’s regional economies.

Governments around the world are resurrecting industrial policy in response to the need to decarbonise, geopolitical tensions and energy security concerns.

The US’s Inflation Reduction Act, subsidies for green industry that amounts to over a trillion dollars, joins China, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Canada’s efforts to secure a piece of these lucrative new markets.

Tuesday’s budget will be our own response to this new economic paradigm.

We have had a taste of what it might look like, with the $1 billion Solar Sunshot and $2 billion Hydrogen Headstart programs. However, we can achieve much more for our regions with smart clean-tech supply chain support.

Beyond Zero Emissions is a climate solutions think tank and our work with industry has shown the scale of Australia’s economic opportunity to capitalise on the clean energy transition.

Our new report Make It Here: Building Australia’s Clean Industrial Future finds that Australia could generate $215 billion in new revenue and create over 50,000 ongoing jobs by 2035 through strategic investment at key points in the supply chains for solar, wind, batteries, heat pumps, and commercial electric vehicles.

This is about expanding existing capability along these supply chains and supporting existing manufacturers to scale their clean technologies and commodities to meet domestic demand.

However, Australia does not have the capital or the skills to build everything everywhere all at once, and this is where national co-ordination becomes critical.

A Future Made In Australia will be a future made in the regions.

The symbolism of the Solar Sunshot’s first recipient, SunDrive, building its factory on the site of the old Liddell coal station in the Hunter was lost on few.

But beyond symbolism, the existing infrastructure of the Liddell site made it the logical spot to locate energy-intensive solar manufacturing.

Next week’s federal budget needs to deliver targeted regulatory support across the five key supply chains to secure onshore manufacturing capability.

Notably, we need to see equity investment in the battery supply chain so it extends from minerals mining in regional Western Australia to manufacturers in regional Queensland and New South Wales.

We can dig and ship it, or we can build on local innovation and grow a supply chain that spans the whole nation and delivers critical renewable energy storage.

A National Clean Industry Infrastructure plan is needed to ensure an equitable and co-ordinated economic and energy transformation for Australia.

Regional Australia will be the biggest winner, with the majority of the 50,000 new jobs created set to be in Australia’s existing industrial heartlands such as Kwinana, WA, the Hunter Valley, NSW, and Townsville or Gladstone, Queensland.

We should have national infrastructure priorities for industry growth, and support to achieve decarbonisation targets, like accelerated renewable energy via transmission and distribution upgrades; supply chain logistics including upgrades to national port capability and major road and rail transport corridors, as well as the development of a truly circular economy for when these technologies reach end of life.

Australians will be best served by increased support for clean technologies and cheaper renewable energy, creating more jobs and economic value – not supporting future investment in fossil fuels as suggested by Thursday’s announcement of a Future Gas Strategy.

There is a limited window for Australia to capture gains from the coming wave of clean technology deployment. Governments around the world are spending hundreds of billions to crowd in trillions of private investment.

If the government gets it right, a Future Made In Australia will catalyse a manufacturing renaissance in our regions, and lay the foundation for the renewable energy superpower we have the potential to be.

Heidi Lee is CEO of independent climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions. 

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