Dispatch from Dubai: ARENA CEO Darren Miller shares his day at COP28

Energy is the theme at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai – we talked with ARENA CEO Darren Miller about Australia’s leadership in renewables and why knowledge sharing is so important.

What was the highlight of your day at COP28 today? 

I met Al Gore who is one of my heroes in this whole space. We obviously all know him as the former US Vice President of the United States, as well as for his climate activism and as the creator of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006).  

For me, his ability to communicate and influence has had a huge impact on the climate space dating right back to 2006 when An Inconvenient Truth first screened. 

We shook hands and I thanked him for everything he’s done. Particularly his support for ARENA nine years ago as part of a visit to Parliament. His vocal support for the agency at that time helped affirm ARENA’s ongoing role in the Australian transition and has helped us get to where we are today. I told him that in the years that followed, ARENA has grown from strength to strength. And of course, I got an obligatory selfie. 

ARENA CEO Darren Miller with former US Vice President Al Gore

What events have you taken part in today? 

I joined a really interesting round table discussion facilitated by ENGIE the French renewables company who have just opened new permanent offices in the Green Zone of Expo City here in Dubai. 

David Cullerier, who is the Head of Business Development at ENGIE, brought a range of stakeholders together for a discussion about battery storage. 

It’s one of those rare things that COP provides is a meeting place for really interesting and world leading experts in their fields in various areas. You could never have this conversation with this group of people in the normal course of business. 

Sitting there we had David himself – an expert in these types of technologies from a developer perspective. Also part of the discussion were Ammar Zwawi, Vice President of IPP Projects Development for the Saudi Power Procurement Company; Andy Biffen, Executive Director of Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC); and Julia Souder, CEO of Long Duration Energy Storage Council. It was fascinating to have people of this stature looking at battery storage from various angles and their own economic perspectives. 

Australia has a valuable role to play, and it was clear to me and those around the table that Australia is far ahead of many of these countries. Not in the technology per se but the implementation in a real life grid experiencing the ups and downs and pros and cons of that technology. 

It’s well established that Australia leads the space in things like solar PV and battery storage and I had a lot to add to the conversation around how you can develop these projects, the innovations around smart inverters, the grant funding that needs to come in to support them and how it can diminish over time – all aspects that ARENA is looking at. 

We must realise that Australia has a leadership position here and we have a responsibility to share this knowledge more broadly so that countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and ENGIE though their global network can see how these things work and implement that overseas. 

Any surprises or insights you came across today? 

I learnt quite a bit on a technical level in today’s roundtable about battery storage from Wim Alen, Chief of Strategy & Business Development at ENGIE. He talked about the technical limitations of lithium ion in high temperatures, how we should be concerned about the operating cycles of batteries and how recharging a battery once per day versus twice per day has a high impact on its degradation profile. It made me realise that there are people with deep technical expertise we rely on to share their knowledge so we can understand how this technology works.  

I also got quite a bit out of events at the Australian Pavilion. I’m on record talking about a 700% renewable energy future but research from ANU shows a 2700% renewable energy future, so 27x more electricity than we make and use today. This is an opportunity for Australia – it’s an ambitious target but aim for the stars and hit the moon.  

What can we expect from technology in the future? 

It seems daunting but technology has an amazing ability to surprise us. You couldn’t predict where we’d be today 10 years ago so we shouldn’t assume what 10 years in the future will look. 

Take the young entrepreneur I met yesterday who’s developing a new kind of conductor for transmitting electricity which he says can use the existing transmission infrastructure, reconductor them and get three times the existing capacity.  

We sit here thinking we must build ten thousand kilometres of new transmission lines but maybe there’s a technical solution out there that means we don’t have to do quite so much. Maybe we can use our existing infrastructure better with new technology. That’s the reason why I love start ups: they think outside the box and can come up with these new ideas that blow the world away. 

Tell me about the difference between the Green Zone and Blue Zone at COP28.  

At the Glasgow and Egypt COP conferences I didn’t get to the Green Zone (open to the public) because the Blue Zone (official COP delegation) was more frenetic with constant activity and action pulling you into conversations or events. 

This COP has felt calm and more like a university campus with each country having its own little building on campus within the Blue Zone. 

This time round, we’re also pretty close to the Green Zone which is great – it was a bit of a hike at previous COPs so I’ve had more ability to access the opportunity to participate in events in the Green Zone. 

It strikes me the Green Zone feels a bit more real. It’s where real entrepreneurs and businesses are showing their wares and inventions and conversations are a bit more organic. There are a lot of different people in the same place – it’s less formal.