Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Heidi Lee appeared on Sky News Australia on Monday to discuss the economic opportunity of Australia’s renewable energy resources and ensuring the country sets itself up to be a winner in the global race to a low-emissions economy.
Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Australia: A new report has found that we do not need to rely on coal-fired power to keep electricity bills down, saying eliminating coal within 20 years would not significantly increase the risk of blackouts or price spikes. The new modelling has been done by Tony Wood and James Ha at the Grattan Institute. To discuss it, I’m joined by Heidi Lee, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions. Heidi, thanks very much for your time. What do you make of this report? As I understand it, your argument is that we shouldn’t get hung up on whether it’s 50%, 90% renewables – that misses the point somewhat.
Heidi Lee, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions: That’s absolutely right. Thanks for having me here today. We think this report demonstrates one of the big opportunities that are still left here on the table for Australia to take up. While some people are talking about how can we get to 100% renewables what we’re missing is the conversation about how can we use our renewable energy resources to make sure that we’re winners in a global race to a low emissions economy. It’s great to see that there’s no impact on power prices of going most of the way there now but the real conversation that needs to be had is about the opportunity ahead.
Kieran: In terms of exports, so your argument is to grow, essentially, the electricity pie to the extent that we then start exporting the energy supply.
Heidi: That’s absolutely right. So our research last year looked at a five-year economic outlook for Australia’s economy. We looked across seven different sectors and found that there were over 1.8 million jobs available in investing in renewable energy and clean technology. Now, some of those jobs are based on building out new renewables, but a lot more of them are based on what we can do once we have affordable and reliable renewable energy. So we’re looking at the Australian manufacturing sector as one of the main winners in a move to 100% renewable energy, and – as you say – a far bigger amount of electricity in the grid than what we have today.
Kieran: What do you say to the criticism? It’s a repeated criticism when it comes to renewables that it’s not dispatchable? And you still need the traditional energy sources to provide that dispatchable, reliable power, that storage capacity is not yet there. What’s your argument in response to that in terms of this period of transition?
Heidi: Well, one of the reasons why the manufacturing sector is such a solid investment for Australia is that it can provide some of those reliability services as well. When you look at the grid alone, and you just look at power stations and transmission lines and our batteries that we can use to be able to distribute affordable and reliable renewable energy, what you’re also missing out is that a lot of our factories could be dialled up and down to meet the energy needs of the grid and actually help to stabilize it.
This is what you see overseas in countries with more advanced manufacturing sectors than what we have in Australia, where some manufacturers are making more money out of turning down or turning off the factory when there’s a greater demand on the grid elsewhere. So that’s one of the opportunities that we have here is not to just look at the grid as a standalone problem and solution but actually to look at our energy services as part of that energy solution storage.
Heidi Lee on Sky News Australia