Exporting renewable energy from Australia

banner: 700% renewables and export

Many private companies have commercial plans for truly giant wind and solar farms to generate and export renewable energy. Australia could generate 700% renewables and export the vast surplus, i.e., generating seven times more electricity than we need.

Exporting renewables via processed minerals

Australia is already exporting significant amounts of renewable energy via our exports of minerals, minerals processed using renewable energy, e.g. aluminium from Tasmania.

See the processed minerals page.


Exporting renewables via submarine electric cable

Sun Cable is an Australian company which plans to build the world’s largest solar farm near Tenant Creek in the Northern Territory. The project will:

  • have 22 million solar panels that could cover a rectangle 10 km by 15 km,
  • have a capacity of 10,000 MW. This is 10% more than the Australian 2019 capacity of wind plus large-scale solar: 6,279 + 2,800 = 9,079 MW.
  • supply 20% of Singapore’s electricity by 2027 via:
    • an 800 km cable from Tenant Creek to Darwin, and
    • a 3,800 km undersea cable to Singapore, and
  • use tried and tested technology but on a vast scale.

Sun Cable is developing a new green-electricity export industry.

(Just a matter of when: The $20 billion plan to power Singapore with Australian solar: The Guardian: 14 July 2019)
(NT Sun Cable’s Australian project awarded major project status from the Federal Government: ABC News: 30 July 2020)


Exporting renewables via hydrogen or ammonia

There are at least 30 commercial plans for generating renewable energy and making green hydrogen or ammonia. State governments and the Federal government are backing these plans, for example, the Liberal NSW government:

“NSW will pursue large-scale hydrogen production as part of its attempt to tackle the COVID-19 economic crisis, with Newcastle and Port Kembla identified as critical hubs for tens of thousands of new export jobs.”

(NSW will pursue large-scale hydrogen production to tackle the COVID crisis: The Age: 7 Sep 2020)


Asian Renewable Energy Hub

One giant example of a plan to export hydrogen is the “Asia Renewable Energy Hub” in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. This project will:

  • be a $50 billion project using wind and solar farms to produce hydrogen fuels and ammonia for export,
  • have a capacity of 26,000 MW. This is 2.9 times the total capacity of wind (6,279 MW) plus large-scale solar (2,800 MW) installed in Australia by the end of 2019.

(Huge $50 billion Pilbara green hydrogen hub granted major project status: Renew Economy: 23 October 2020)


Five enormous hydrogen projects

Five of the 13 largest hydrogen projects in the world are planned for Australia, including the biggest:

  1. Asian Renewable Energy Hub in WA (Generating 26,000MW, 14,000MW electrolyser)
  2. Murchison Renewable hydrogen Project in WA (5,000MW electrolyser)
  3. Pacific Solar Hydrogen in Callide, Queensland (3,600MW electrolyser)
  4. H2 Hub in Gladstone, Queensland(3,000MW electrolyser)
  5. BP Geraldton in WA (1,500MW electrolyser)

(The world’s 13 largest green hydrogen projects: Recharge: 21 Dec 2020)


Massive Fortescue plans

Here’s a highly significant development, further evidence of the renewable energy gold rush. Andrew Forrest has set out remarkable plans for Fortescue Metals to:

  • produce vast amounts of renewable energy, 235,000 MW, which is more energy than produced by Chevron, a fossil fuel giant.
  • produce green hydrogen and green ammonia from this renewable energy,
  • use renewable energy to power their trucks, trains, and ships, and
  • produce green steel.

Forrest says it’s not a question of whether hydrogen will be the energy of the future. The question is which company will lead the hydrogen charge and that Fortescue will be that company.

These plans are incredible progress towards Australia being a renewable energy superpower.

(Oil versus water: confessions of a carbon emitter: ABC Radio: Boyer Lecture: Andrew Forrest: 24/1/2021: 30-minute podcast)
(A transcript of the Boyer lecture)
(Fortescue leads the stampede into green energy with stunning plans for 235 gigawatts of wind and solar: Renew Economy: 12 Nov 2020)
(Fortescue to take on fossil fuel Giants with expansion into green energy: The Age: 11 Nov 2020)
(Why green hydrogen needs giant egos like Twiggy Forrest: Renew Economy: 12/2/2021)


Demand for Australian hydrogen

Japan and Korea are interested in buying Australian hydrogen. Surprisingly, even Germany is also interested, despite our distance from Germany. The Germans want green hydrogen, not hydrogen from fossil fuels.

  • Green hydrogen comes from electrolysers that pass renewable electricity through water to separate the water’s hydrogen and oxygen. This electrolysis does not produce any carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Green hydrogen production needs to become more efficient to compete with the cost of hydrogen made from fossil fuels.
  • Blue hydrogen comes from natural gas. This process also produces carbon dioxide, which goes into the atmosphere without any cost penalty.
  • Grey hydrogen comes from oil and coal. These processes also produce carbon dioxide.

Uses of hydrogen

Fuel cells use hydrogen. The fuel cells combine the hydrogen with oxygen from the air, to produce water and electricity. They can power cars or buses, or produce electricity for a grid. Other current uses for hydrogen are:

  • making ammonia,
  • making ammonium nitrate, a fertiliser and explosive,
  • making methanol,
  • rocket fuel,
  • welding, and
  • adding it to town gas.

Expected future uses of hydrogen include:

  • powering ships using fuel cells,
  • burning the hydrogen with coal or gas to produce electricity, and
  • burning the hydrogen in industrial furnaces.

Shared vision re hydrogen export

The Federal government, state governments and our companies are all pursuing hydrogen. We seem to have a shared vision that Australia can gain from producing hydrogen. This agreement is progress towards superpower vision.


A concern about hydrogen efficiency

When you use a battery to drive a car, energy moves (1) from electricity into a battery, and then (2) via an electric motor into the motion of the car. The efficiency of this two-step process is about 77%, i.e., 77% of original electrical energy becomes the car’s energy of motion. The lost 23% of the electric energy becomes unwanted motion, heat, and sound energy.

When you use green hydrogen to drive a car, energy moves (1) from electricity via an electrolyser into hydrogen gas, then (2) via a compressor into a high-pressure hydrogen gas tank, then (3) via a fuel cell back into electricity and then (4) via an electric motor into the motion of the car. This four-step process gives a lower efficiency of about 33%.

(Why battery electric vehicles beat hydrogen-electric vehicles: Clean Technica: 1 Feb 2021)

If these figures are right, then:

  • batteries are 77/33 = 2.3 times more efficient than hydrogen,
  • the amount of electricity needed to drive a hydrogen battery car 33 km would drive a battery car 77 km,
  • a green hydrogen car will use 2.3 times as much electricity as a battery car, and
  • a green hydrogen car needs 2.3 more solar panels.

Surely, when you can, you always store electrical energy in a lithium-ion battery rather than hydrogen. It seems that this inefficiency will limit hydrogen or ammonia use to:

  • hydrogen hubs (not widely distributed in homes and cars),
  • long-term energy storage to cover extended periods of low wind and sun,
  • shipping & heavy freight transport,
  • the chemicals industry,
  • fertilisers,
  • refineries,
  • steelmaking,
  • plane fuels

(Separating hype from hydrogen: The demand side: BNEF: 16 Oct 2020: Liebreich)

Many knowledgeable companies are investing in hydrogen, so they must be accommodating this inefficiency of hydrogen. If you know how, please let me know.


Australia could generate 700% renewables

The CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) suggests that Australia could generate seven times more electricity than we currently use & export the vast surplus. That’s moving to 700% renewable energy.

(Australia could aim for 700% renewables ARENA boss: Renew Economy: 8 October 2019)
(Why 200% renewables would be better for Australia than 100%: Renew economy: 18 September 2019)

The idea that Australia could reach 100% renewable energy is supported by:

  • the AEMO plan which found that the highest renewables scenario (94% renewables) gave the greatest benefit,
  • the recent rapid increases in renewable generation,
  • the locked-in plans for new renewable generation,
  • companies like Coles & BHP contracting to buy renewable energy, and
  • governments like the ACT and Victoria contracting to buy renewable energy.

Our export opportunities support the idea that we could reach 700% renewables:

  • mining companies are investing in renewables and so exporting products with embodied renewable energy,
  • the Whyalla move towards green steel production,
  • Sun Cable’s plan for exporting renewable electricity via cable to Singapore,
  • the giant hydrogen projects, and
  • the interest in Australian green hydrogen, from even the other side of the planet, Germany.


Updated 7 June 2021