Australia’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 is “not enough” to underwrite the nation’s fledgling renewable hydrogen industry – or to avert dangerous climate change – a senior executive of Fortescue Future Industries has warned.
Speaking at the Australian Energy Week in Melbourne on Wednesday, FFI’s director of East Australia and NZ Aotearoa, Felicity Underhill, said it was “refreshing” to have a prime minister that spoke about “renewable and green hydrogen, as opposed to just ‘clean’ .”
But Underhill says that she is not yet convinced that there is political consensus, across the parties or even within the Albanese government, that Australia is really serious about net zero by 2050.
“And even more importantly,” she added, “I don’t think that 50 net zero by 2050 is good enough.
“It’s not actually going to get us to where we really need to go,” Underhill told the audience at a panel session at the AEW Hydrogen stream.
“I’m doing everything I can… (to) make sure we’ll have enough green hydrogen, but at the same time I’m looking for my apocalypse-ready home that I can hide in as the… as sea levels rise.
“So we actually need to do more. And I don’t think it’s a matter of current banking policies. They’re not enough to get us there.”
Underhill is not alone in this view. Numerous reports – including this one from Australian-based Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration – have stressed that the Paris climate goals require much more urgent, near-term action.
The Breakthrough paper, for example, argues that shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.
FFI, the renewable hydrogen focused offshoot of Fortsecus Metals Group, is all about setting ambitious targets – not least its goal to deliver 15 million tonnes of green hydrogen production a year by 2030.
That goal, according to FFI’s head in NSW Joshua Moran, will require some 150GW of hydrogen electrolysers and 450GW of renewable capacity, namely wind and solar.
So it’s not surprising that FFI might hope for some more ambition from Australia’s top policy makers, and a tougher stance on fossil fuels.
“The crisis that we’re facing right now is because we have not taken into account all of the costs associated from continuing to use fossil fuels,” Underhill told the conference.
“Over the last, you know, however many years if we’ve needed them, they’ve created great economic growth, but that’s come at a cost. And we are not calculating that cost.
“And when we say things like, coal is cheaper, oil is cheaper, diesel is cheaper. It’s not. It is not cheaper for our children, for our grandchildren. It’s not cheaper for this land.
“We need to get ourselves off that to find a way that we can use renewable resources instead and actually take into account full lifecycle costs.”
Origin Energy’s general manager of future fuels, Elise Ring, said what the industry was seeing in other countries was that policy settings were playing a key role in influencing hydrogen uptake.
“You know, they’re very specific on what hydrogen they will take that it does need to be green and that it does actually need to time match, so when you’ve got clear policy settings, you can work within those boundaries,” Ring told the conference.
“It’s a global game that we’re in,” added Underhill, “and so if we’re looking to export [renewable hydrogen] from Australia we are going to be competing with exports from the US and from other countries, which have different regulatory environments with different incentives.
“The incentives sort of per kilogram for green hydrogen that are coming out of the US are incredible …and will make it very hard to compete on cost where we are here in in Australia today, so we do need to keep an eye on that, I think.”