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Solar energy could re-power the planet and the NT economy

24 June 2019 at 5:18 pm
Maggie Coggan
The Northern Territory is one of the sunniest places on earth, and according to a new report, turning sunshine into energy could be the answer to reviving the territory’s flailing economy.

Maggie Coggan | 24 June 2019 at 5:18 pm


Solar energy could re-power the planet and the NT economy
24 June 2019 at 5:18 pm

The Northern Territory is one of the sunniest places on earth, and according to a new report, turning sunshine into energy could be the answer to reviving the territory’s flailing economy.

Like most areas of Australia, the NT is backing fossil fuels. But the report, which was launched on Thursday, said faced with climate change, fossil fuel dependency and insecure employment, the territory needed some big new ideas.     

It said a 10 gigawatt vision could provide the NT government with a strategy that sees the territory become a renewable energy superpower.

“Ten gigawatts of renewable energy could stimulate the NT economy and catalyse economic development in a number of sectors and across remote and regional areas,” the report said.

Ten gigawatts is 10 times the territory’s current electricity generation capacity, and more than 20 times the renewable capacity foreseen by the NT’s current renewable energy target.

Building 10 gigawatts of large-scale solar would cost businesses around $20 billion in 2019 prices, but Eyton Lenko, chairman of the thinktank Beyond Zero Emissions, told the Guardian the price would drop as clean tech became cheaper.

The report also said that this was a far smaller sum than recent gas projects such as the $54 billion Ichthys LNG project in the NT, and it added that solar power could be constructed at a faster rate.

“Even large-scale projects often only take a year,” the report said.

It said embracing clean energy could dramatically boost the economy, improve standards of living, and expand the mineral, mining and electricity industries.

The NT’s economy could also be boosted by setting targets for mines to transition to 100 per cent clean energy by 2030, creating incentives for renewables manufacturing and downstream processing of minerals, and supporting Indigenous-owned renewable enterprises.

The strategy estimates it will create over 8,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in annual export revenue by 2030.

Lachlan Rule, co-author of the report, told Pro Bono News that there was massive potential for the NT to decarbonise its energy supply immediately, so that it could support a much larger renewable energy roll-out.   

“That will then support energy export industries like hydrogen and electricity exports to Southeast Asia,” Rule said.

“This could help our neighbours make their international climate commitments too, directly exporting via undersea cables.”  

He also said that it would mean the NT could decarbonise the mining and minerals industries that currently rely heavily on diesel.

“That will make sure that they’re more sustainable, safer places as well,” he said.   

The report also calls on the NT and federal governments to fund common infrastructure projects, such as transmission lines connecting Darwin to Katherine or Darwin to Alice Springs, so that clean energy developments reach remote locations.

Currently, most remote communities are powered by expensive diesel generators, but some communities, like Yuendemu, have started transitioning to solar energy projects.

The report said that Yuendemu could easily transition to 100 per cent solar energy by building a microgrid using its existing solar and wind resources.   

Rule said that traditional owners and communities would be at the centre of renewable energy projects.  

“This is about repowering remote communities and creating community-owned generation that returns funds back into communities,” Rule said.

“And they have to be the ones driving shaping what that looks like and determining what happens on that land as well.”

He said the renewable opportunities that the territory presented on a national level were often forgotten about, and it was important that civil society groups started to engage in the conversation and raise awareness of potential projects.

“There’s a lot of government programs like the Northern Australian Investment Fund which is funding things like the Carmichael coal mine or the gas pipeline in the NT,” he said.

“So I think civil society can help by actually just engaging in that conversation and thinking about the really exciting clean energy opportunities that could be invested in instead.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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