Dispatch from Dubai: Experts weigh in on the role of innovation

We’ve got to unlock our renewable energy force. It’s a beast we can awaken. 

That’s what Clean Energy Council Director of Decarbonisation Policy Anna Freeman told the crowd gathered at Dubai’s World Expo City.

As the sun set on the 8th day of COP28, a star-studded lineup took to the stage at the Australia Pavilion to discuss the role of innovation in delivering Australia’s net zero and renewable energy superpower ambitions.

The panel was hosted by ARENA in the conference’s Blue Zone, the home to official delegations and national pavilions. .

With world leaders meeting to set the agenda for the next year of climate action, attention is inevitably drawn to which players contribute the most to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen opened the discussion, arguing that Australia has a significant role to play despite accounting for only around 1% of global emissions.

The Hon Chris Bowen MP, Darren Miller and Sir Alok Sharma at the event.
The Hon Chris Bowen MP, Darren Miller and Sir Alok Sharma at the event.

“We were 1% of the troops in WWII,” Minister Bowen told the conference.

“They counted, it mattered. Everything matters in this important transformation. But I do accept that what’s even more important is our role in helping the rest of the world decarbonise.

“More sunlight hits our country than any other country in the world. Together with our above average wind resources, that makes us the most blessed country in the world for renewables.”

The lessons Australia is learning as we harness these resources are proving valuable globally, according to Anna Freeman. And the world is watching.

One of the exciting things that is happening in Australia at the moment, and where we really are at the cutting edge, is on integration of large amounts of variable renewables into the grid,” Ms Freeman said.

“[Australia] has had to confront some challenges, probably at the leading edge that many other countries haven’t necessarily had to grapple with.”

Representing the innovators was Richard Payne from RayGen, one of Australia’s most promising cleantech startup companies demonstrating the journey new ideas take from the lab to market.

“I think it’s worthwhile just to highlight the importance of ARENA during [RayGen’s] journey,” Payne told the panel.

“In fact, many of those international investors that we’ve secured have actually said to us ‘how can we replicate the ARENA model in our own countries?’”

“Because ARENA has brought deep expertise, and they brought a lot of confidence to private investors to come behind the company to deliver the technology.”

With ARENA’s support, RayGen has commissioned the first commercial scale demonstration of its dispatchable solar and storage technology, with preliminary design work beginning on a 115 MW / 1.2 GWh deployment.

Sir Alok Sharma speaking at the ARENA COP28 panel, alongside Darren Miller, Anna Freeman, Richard Liebreich and Richard Payne.
Sir Alok Sharma speaking at the ARENA COP28 panel.

Also joining the panel was former UK Energy Minister Sir Alok Sharma. Dubbed “Sir COP” by Australia’s Minister Bowen, Sir Alok was the President for COP26 in Glasgow.

“I think COP26 was what many people described as the first business COP and I was very proud of that,” Sir Alok reflected.

“For me it was crucial that alongside these important but frankly sometimes opaque negotiations playing with words, actually the businesses community which is having to deliver this… It was very important to have that.”

“We’ve got this here [in Dubai], the business community is here in spades.”

With the clock ticking down for Australia and other states to meet their 2030 emissions reduction targets, a sense of urgency has pervaded throughout the conference.

“2030 is tomorrow,” cautioned Michael Liebreich of BloombergNEF.

“In 2018 I wrote a piece called ‘Two business cycles ‘til 2030.’ Because really when you’re doing a business you have to make a decision, you build a factory, you do some stuff you launch a product… that’s five or six years.”

“Back then you had maybe two goes at it, if you screw up you get one more go. We are now one business cycle, there is one opportunity.”

Anna Freeman concluded the panel with a note of optimism.

“Look, I’m excited. I’m excited about the next six years. I mean, we have to be.

“And we have to have some real urgency. Every time I come to a COP I go back with a sense of ‘how do we convey the sense of urgency that we have to do what we need to do?’”

“That’s what makes me get out of bed every day and I think that’s what makes most people that come along to COP get out of bed every day.”

A recording of the event is available to watch: