18 Feb “Coal’s days are numbered and our future is hydrogen, but this is an evolution”
Sydney Morning Herald
19 February 2020
Simon Crean, Chairman of Australia-Korea Business Council
Australia is a nation built on natural resources. They have fortified our economic growth and lifted our prosperity. They created generations worth of jobs and income for regional communities. Their boom-and-bust cycles are part of our national identity and the peaks and troughs of modern Australia.
Australian coal has powered Asia’s industrial development, but it is now time that hydrogen launches its future. Australia must be ready to capitalise on this opportunity.
The world – and our trading partners – are moving away from our national stalwart. Countries are being forced to grapple with an escalating environmental crisis that calls for lower emissions and cleaner economies. Australia is in the same position and has slowly awoken to the reality that it must decarbonise its energy supply to meet its international commitments, and in the longer term, decarbonise its minerals sector.
Last week, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, sounded the clarion call for hydrogen as a major energy solution for Australia. Hydrogen has 2.4 times the energy of natural gas. It is abundant, transportable, and when produced from water has the capacity to become the linchpin to Australia’s shift to renewable and low-carbon energy generation.
But as Finkel rightly noted, hydrogen is not a silver bullet. It will be one part of what must be a multi-technology energy future, including natural gas and coal as bridging fuels between our previous reliance on resources and renewable options.
Our existing gas and coal resources not only give us a head start on hydrogen, they are crucial to an orderly transition. Hydrogen from coal – with carbon capture – could even bridge the divide between clean energy advocates and the resources sector.
Critically, hydrogen has broad bipartisan support, with the Morrison government opening public consultations on a national hydrogen strategy, and Labor committing $1 billion in funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for clean hydrogen development at the last election.
The decades-long death knell for coal could herald the ascendancy of hydrogen as our key national export. What we need is the political will to capture the market. If we don’t, another country will. The time is now.
Simon Crean is chairman of the Australia-Korea Business Council, and a former minister in the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard Labor governments.