Global Dimension: Researcher Hao Tan says China's moves in the energy sector will significantly shape the world in a number of dimensions.

Global Dimension: Researcher Hao Tan says China's moves in the energy sector will significantly shape the world in a number of dimensions.

Knowledge is power in the energy sector

Will renewables replace fossil fuels? University of Newcastle Associate Professor Hao Tan has dug deep into the research


Will the Hunter become home to a renewable energy industrial precinct?


Renewable energy could replace most fossil-fuel powered electricity within 50 years, University of Newcastle Associate Professor Hao Tan says.

Dr Tan, an international business and energy researcher, said it was technically feasible to replace "at least a majority of fossil fuels - say 80 per cent - with renewables".

The dominance of renewables is expected to come "much sooner in electricity" than other sectors that use fossil fuels.

But depending on different models and scenarios, Dr Tan said most fossil fuels could be replaced "within this century".

Dr Tan said Australia could learn from South Korea's approach to renewable energy.

"The South Korean government is responding to the [COVID] crisis with significant stimulus spending on green energy technologies.

"South Korea has used the crisis to build political consensus and mobilise resources for addressing some long-term structural problems facing the economy and the environment."

The so-called "Korean New Deal" was a good example of the leadership needed.

It makes clear preference for energy technologies of the future - wind, solar, hydrogen, smart grids and electric vehicles.

"This perhaps reflects the long tradition of policy making in Korea and other East Asian countries, where energy policy goes hand-to-hand with industry policy.

"The objectives of these policies are not only for a better environment, but also to build competitive new industries for long-term economic growth."

Dr Tan said Australia's proposed $20 billion Sun Cable project sounds promising.

It aims to export solar power from the Northern Territory to Singapore, providing an alternative to "the export business of coal, iron ore and gas".

A high-voltage, 3000-kilometre underwater cable would link the Northern Territory to Singapore to export the energy.

Dr Tan said the cost of generating solar power is falling dramatically and the low cost of generating and transporting renewable power offered further advantage.

"Australia does have huge competitive advantages thanks to its abundant renewable energy resources - sun and wind," Dr Tao said.

The Sun Cable's investors include tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes and mining magnate Andrew Forrest.

Mr Cannon-Brookes, the Atlassian co-founder, said last year that Sun Cable seemed like a "completely batshit insane project", but the "engineering checks out".

Market forces alone aren't expected to be sufficient to make the project happen because most of the environmental costs of fossil fuels are not properly priced into Australian and international markets, Dr Tan said.

For Australia to become a serious global competitor, additional government support was needed to develop clean energy and related technologies for domestic and export markets.

As for China, Dr Tan said it was the "largest energy user and carbon emitter in the world".

"Certainly its moves in this area will significantly shape the world in a number of dimensions - energy systems, carbon emissions, geopolitics, industrial dynamics and technology competition."

China had an "appalling environmental scorecard 20 years ago", but had embraced a "global green shift" towards renewable energy.

On Prime Minister Scott Morrison's plan to boost the gas sector, Dr Tan said "it would be appropriate to position gas as a bridging fuel", mainly for a system to be "powered by renewable energy sources, as South Korea seemingly plans to do".

"Australia is already the largest gas producer in the world. Significant further investment in the area will risk creating a lock-in effect for the country's energy system.

"The energy infrastructure built on gas will make it difficult for the take-up of renewables in the next decades."

Dr Tan believes the path to energy security for Australia is manufactured energy, such as solar panels, wind turbines, electrolysers, batteries and smart grids.

These technologies, he said, can turn "infinite natural resources into energy, then store and distribute it to ensure stable supply".

The Newcastle Herald reported last week that climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions was pushing for the Hunter to be home to a "renewable energy industrial precinct". Sam Mella, of Beyond Zero Emissions, said such precincts would be "clean energy-powered manufacturing hubs", with access to renewable energy at a low, fixed cost.

The story Knowledge is power in the energy sector first appeared on Newcastle Herald.