Op-ed: Australia’s outsized role in the era of climate consequences

ARENA is running hard to fully realise the opportunity presented by Australia’s abundance of land, sun, wind, minerals and intellect, and the trust that other nations have in us.

In this extract from a speech delivered at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the establishment of ARENA, Chairman of the Board Justin Punch looks forward to the challenges the agency is facing.

It has been confronting to observe the weather events occurring across the world this year.

The Western US is the driest since the year 800. China has endured a heatwave some have called the most severe weather event anywhere, ever. There have been record floods in Pakistan, unthinkable temperatures in Europe, and of course a triple-dip La Nina in Australia, which has brought our own climate disaster in the form of record flooding.

In Arnhem Land, Traditional Owners I work with tell me it is becoming a harder place to live and work due to unbearable temperatures.

It is clear the world has now gone beyond the era of climate change forecasts and that we are now living in the era of consequences.

This reality frames not only the urgency of the work ARENA and the CEFC do, but it also underlines the visionary and innovative legislation that created these two agencies a decade ago, well before this reality was so confrontingly apparent.

We are here today to recognise the important work the two agencies have done over the past decade, thank and acknowledge those who created them (and those who saved them), and look with confidence to the next decade – the critical decade – during which these agencies will be called on to do even more to achieve their mission and the ambitious goals set by this government.

ARENA’s mission

ARENA was created with the objectives of improving the supply and competitiveness of renewable energy in Australia.

With the recent passing of the Climate Change Act, the Albanese government has also now added Australia’s new emissions reduction targets to these objectives, and our technology mandate has been extended to include energy efficiency and electrification technologies.

ARENA's 10th anniversary celebration brought together (L-R) ARENA CEO Darren Miller, Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Chris Bowen, ARENA Chairman of the Board Justin Punch.
ARENA’s 10th anniversary celebration brought together (L-R) ARENA CEO Darren Miller, Minister for Climate Change and Energy, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, ARENA Chairman of the Board Justin Punch.

Today ARENA is funding projects across a wide range of technologies and sectors that will contribute to both our 2030 and 2050 emissions goals.

In the nearer term, ARENA’s Large Scale Battery funding round will support gigawatts of battery storage – all with advanced inverter capability – which will support new renewable generation and give AEMO the crucial ability to run the grid safely and securely as coal generation is progressively retired over the coming decade.

We supported Australia’s first large scale solar farms, grid scale batteries and virtual power plants. Now we’re supporting Australia’s first commercial scale hydrogen electrolysers, first national EV charging networks, the first privately developed pumped hydro plant to be built in nearly 40 years and the first renewably powered mines.

These are just some of the projects that will have a material impact on Australia’s emission profile by 2030, directly, and through the follow-on projects they inspire.

Meeting the challenge

As we look beyond 2030, out towards 2050, we are turning our minds to decarbonising some of the hardest to abate sectors of heavy industry. We’ll continue to support Australia’s growing hydrogen economy, we’re making good progress on decarbonising alumina refining, and we are committed to the huge opportunity of green iron and green steel.

And with our landmark Solar 30-30-30 initiative we’re backing our world-leading solar scientists and engineers to create the next generation of solar PV, with the objective of driving down the cost of large scale solar to a third of its current price.

If we can achieve this cost reduction, we will lay the platform for a dramatic transformation of Australia’s industrial system and push renewable energy into the hardest-to-abate sectors and furthest corners of the energy transition.

It sets Australia up to fully realise the opportunity presented by our abundance of land, sun, wind, minerals and intellect, and the trust that other nations have in us, to create the new industries that will supply the world with the green energy, green minerals and materials so crucially needed by so many.

In the process we don’t just reduce Australia’s emissions, we also make a hugely outsized contribution to the world’s decarbonisation effort. Our vision is one of global emission reduction, through technology innovation, for the benefit of Australia.

We’re running hard at this vision. With the increased support of the Albanese government in the most recent budget, this year will represent the highest level of project approvals, and funds committed in the history of the agency, and we have almost a billion dollars of projects in the pipeline.

Past visionaries

That all of this is even possible is a tribute to the vision of those who saw what ARENA could be over a decade ago, and those who have worked hard to turn that vision into reality in the years since.

Founding ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht and former ARENA COO Nicola Morris
Founding ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht and former ARENA COO Nicola Morris

On that note may I finish by acknowledging the following people:

The original architects of both agencies – then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, then Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Industry and Innovation Greg Combet, as well as members of the then government, parliament, public service and civil society that helped establish ARENA.

The founding Board and management – Chair Greg Bourne, founding CEO Ivor Frischknecht, and the initial management team who worked so hard to create from nothing an agency of the quality and reputation of today, and the teams since then, in particular my predecessor Martijn Wilder.

Those who saved the agency in the period when then government sought to abolish it (there were many, and it is a complex and surprising honour roll).

Those in the recent Coalition government who moved beyond this period and refreshed ARENA’s funding in particular the current Shadow Treasurer, the Hon. Angus Taylor.

Fresh momentum

Finally, the current Albanese Government, including Minister for Climate Change & Energy the Hon. Chris Bowen and Assistant Minister Senator McAllister, for giving the sector fresh momentum, with a legislated target, clear intent and further funding to deliver ambitious new programs; and,

And of course I want to thank the current ARENA team, both board and management, in particular ARENA’s outstanding CEO Darren Miller, its CFO Ian Kay, who has been with the agency since its inception and is its institutional memory, and its truly world-class team – a fusion of the very best of both public and private sector expertise.

I’m excited about the achievements we celebrate tonight, but even more so about what we might be celebrating in another ten years.

Thanks to all of you for coming along tonight and celebrating with us this wonderful 10th anniversary milestone.