Nick Deeks: WA could lead the world on green hydrogen production

With an abundance of sunlight, space and wind, WA’s vast, arid landscape and recent $61.5 million green hydrogen financial commitment could be the country’s answer to the uptake of renewable energy.

Despite most of the country still grappling with the idea of ditching fossil fuels, Australia’s sunny west has just tapped into a very lucrative market — exporting green hydrogen.

While the wheels are not yet in motion, the materials and tools are all ready for assembling. WA’s environmental conditions and recent funding — at private and government levels — ideally positions the State to ride the green hydrogen wave.

Green hydrogen energy has traditionally deterred large corporations and governments from uptake due to expensive costs.

And while the cost of producing green hydrogen currently sits above that of fossil fuels and liquefied natural gas, it is projected costs will drop significantly over the next decade thanks to a global decarbonisation alliance. This means it’s time for WA to act, and hopefully the other States and Territories will follow suit.

The estimated cost of producing green hydrogen in Australia is $3.18 to $3.80 a kilogram, according to a report by the Australian National University in 2020.

By 2030, the cost will have fallen to just $2 a kilogram — a price competitive with fossil fuel production.

Earlier this month, the WA Government announced funding to be injected into the State’s renewable hydrogen industry. The investment aims to stimulate local demand for hydrogen energy and will drive the development of new and existing infrastructure.

With concrete government support behind renewable projects, it is only a matter of time before the private sector will follow — and some big players have already stepped forward.

Andrew Forrest, chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, recently announced a $1 billion investment into the mining company’s green hydrogen arm and has declared all mining operations under the organisation to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The chairman also referred to Fortescue as, “transitioning from being a major fossil fuel importer to a significant green and renewable energy and product exporter”.

The nationwide adoption of renewable infrastructure has been slow-moving but WA is set to be the trailblazer, leading the way as the country’s No.1 clean energy provider.

With ample funding and efficient renewable infrastructure in place, there is an opportunity for WA to be positioned as world leaders in hydrogen energy exportation during a global push to cut carbon emissions. The State’s success relies heavily on its natural resources and the region provides optimal solar and wind conditions for renewable energy production.

WA’s Mid-West region is home to the Oakajee Strategic Industrial Area, a hydrogen hub which received funding in the 2021-22 State Budget.

Oakajee was selected for the region’s sought-after natural resources and above average wind speeds and solar irradiance. After collecting 12 months of data, the WA Government has recognised the site as having great potential, committing $7.5 million from this year’s State Budget to the hydrogen hub.

Oakajee is “ideally located for the production and export of renewable energy both to local and international markets and there has been strong global interest in developing the site”, Hydrogen Industry Minister Alannah MacTiernan said.

The Western Green Energy Hub is pegged to be the world’s largest power station planning to cover 15,000sqm of land in the south-east. Once completed, the solar and wind energy generated will be used to create 3.5 million tonnes of green hydrogen to be distributed within Australia and exported.

As WA’s favourable conditions become well known in a competitive market, we can expect international investors, or “green giants”, to offer governments eye-watering prices to develop large-scale clean energy projects. Such projects will provide cheap, clean power for local communities and propel Australia’s manufacturing of innovative projects such as hydrogen-powered aircraft and cars, and hydrogen cell technology.

As the rest of the States and Territories map out their early moves in renewable hydrogen, WA is stepping up to the world stage. It is the country’s answer to compete on a global level in the renewable space, and with a net-zero target dangling in front of us, we need answers like this and much more investment in renewable energy.

Extracted from The West Australian

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