According to the Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative, the country could grow industrial production and new export-oriented industries if it can leverage its abundant renewable energy resources in a decarbonising global economy.
The report, Pathways to industrial decarbonisation – positioning Australian industry to prosper in a net zero global economy was the result of a three-year study to explore the challenges of decarbonising emission-intensive industry sectors.
It found that developing green hydrogen and green-iron export industries in Australia would require around 1,450TWh of annual electricity generation by 2050.
This represents an almost six-fold increase in Australia’s total electricity generation, requiring the build-out of just over 230GW of wind, 240GW of large-scale solar PV, and investment of up to A$1.4 trillion (US$ 935 billion) in industrial and energy systems by 2050.
The Australian Industry Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI) focused on five supply chains: chemicals, aluminium, iron and steel, other metals, and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Together, they generate annual exports of approximately A$236 billion.
Green hydrogen forecast
The report expects the cost of green hydrogen to become competitive with grey and blue hydrogen by the mid-2030s, and almost all hydrogen to be produced via electrolysis by 2050.
Domestic hydrogen demand in 2050 is forecast to range between 0.7Mt in the ‘incremental’ scenario and 2.2Mt in the ‘coordinated action’ scenario, with an estimated 1.1Mt needed in the ‘industry-led’ scenario.
Establishing new export markets for green hydrogen and green iron while maintaining a 1.5°C trajectory could require 24Mt of hydrogen in 2050.
The challenge for Australia will be to produce renewable electricity for heavy industry at or below the cost incurred by other countries, according to the Australian Industry ETI.
Using electrolyser-based hydrogen production that takes advantage of ‘excess’ renewable generation would require an element of hydrogen storage, given that industrial offtakes expect a steady supply.
The need for infrastructure will require trade-offs in siting, the report found. “It may be most economical to locate hydrogen production near industrial ports, with transmission infrastructure used to access distant renewable generation,” it said.
If hydrogen costs are low, there may be options to locate hydrogen electrolysis plants in areas with better renewable generation but further away from cities.
The report suggests that coal-exporting ports on the east coast may look to diversify over time as coal exports decline while on the west coast, where there are fewer bulk commodity ports, dedicated port facilities could be developed “to maximise access to key energy resources”.
The group recommends capitalising on Australia’s abundant renewable energy advantages, including sun, wind and extensive land area.
It estimates that up to 25,000GW of renewable energy capacity could be installed in Australia, delivering approximately 86,000TWh of energy a year.
The report argues that Australia could either export green hydrogen to meet increased global demand for low-carbon iron and steel or, if the costs of shipping hydrogen remain high, it could establish green iron and steel industries in Australia.
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