Hydrogen fuel technology

Published on Mon 31 August 2020 6:21pm

In Australia, we have some of the best renewable energy conditions on the planet and we should be a top-of-the-tree, state-of-the-art player when it comes to green hydrogen, but, needless to say, that’s difficult when you have a government that underrates and undermines renewable energy at every turn

I’m glad to make a contribution tonight to the debate on this motion. I thank the member for Ryan for bringing it forward. It’s refreshing to see a member of the government from Queensland speak about the export and job-creation potential of new energy technologies, particularly those that support the rapid shift that we need towards renewable energy and related forms of zero-emission fuel. That’s in contrast, of course, to his colleague, Senator Canavan, from the other place, who in January last year described Labor’s promotion of an Australian hydrogen industry as snake oil and said that any large-scale production and export of hydrogen was probably decades away. Meanwhile, of course, countries like Japan, Germany and South Korea are busily forging down the hydrogen path.

In Australia, we have some of the best renewable energy conditions on the planet and we should be a top-of-the-tree, state-of-the-art player when it comes to green hydrogen, but, needless to say, that’s difficult when you have a government that underrates and undermines renewable energy at every turn, a government in denial about climate change, a government that has sought to weaken or dismantle features of Labor’s successful work in this space, like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The government has belatedly released its hydrogen strategy, but, let’s not forget, that comes after six years of doing very little—so little, in fact, that we still don’t have a national energy policy. That means we don’t have the clarity and certainty of a national framework to guide energy investment and emission reduction, and that means we have higher prices and falling investment. WhatHyrdp else don’t we have? We don’t have an updated Defence estate strategy, which should ensure that Defence planning and procurement make a contribution to new energy innovation, as happens in the United States. We also don’t have the final report of the review into Australia’s liquid fuel security, when making rapid progress towards electric and hydrogen vehicles would alleviate our terrible over-reliance on liquid fuels. The review’s interim report that was issued in May last year said:

Australia may be left behind as the world moves away from oil-based fuels to other forms of transport energy such as electricity and hydrogen.

The world is transitioning to other transport energy sources faster than Australia. To maintain reliable energy supply, particularly for transport, Australia needs to keep pace with global trends, otherwise we risk being left behind with aging infrastructure and potentially more limited supply of oil. Take-up of other sources of transport energy in Australia has been slower than in countries like New Zealand, Norway, Japan and China. In Australia, the market share of electric vehicles is less than one-seventh of the market share in the United States and Canada.

Hydrogen is significant, precisely because it offers a means of renewable energy storage that has particular value as a zero-emission transport fuel. That’s why Japan is working so hard to develop passenger vehicles that run on hydrogen, Norway is developing hydrogen ferries and Australian resources companies are making the shift as well. For example, Fortescue in my state has kicked off a first-of-its-kind project that will deploy 10 full sized hydrogen coaches at Christmas Creek to replace the existing fleet of diesel coaches by mid-2021. This will involve installing a hydrogen fuelling station that will be sustained by FMG’s 60-megawatt Chichester solar project and is supported with a grant from the WA government’s Renewable Hydrogen Fund. Taken together, these measures will reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent and displace 100 million litres of diesel each year. While we so often hear the lazy assertion that Australia’s export oriented industries, including in mining and resources, are dependent on conventional energy, the reality is these companies are moving to adopt renewable energy and storage technology as the foundation of their operations at a rapid rate. Why is that? It’s because they know the approach will guarantee them cheap energy that they control while making a contribution to reducing emissions.

Unlike the government, the Business Council of Australia supports the target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, as does every state in Australia. Both BHP and Rio Tinto have committed to achieving net zero within their own operations by 2050. It is this government, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison-dot-dot-dot government that is the outlier on this issue. I understand and endorse the member for Ryan’s enthusiasm for the CSIRO’s work on hydrogen in his electorate. It’s a shame the government has cut funding to the CSIRO. It is without question that Australia should be a leading exponent of the shift to hydrogen produced by renewable energy, but we have fallen behind the international pack through inaction and through policy neglect. State and local governments are forging ahead. Companies are forging ahead. It’s the Morrison government that is letting the side down.

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