Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel is a vocal proponent of the technology, describing the potential export of solar-produced hydrogen as “shipping sunshine” to the world.
Dr Finkel is developing a national hydrogen strategy with the support of the Council of Australian Governments. The government will on Friday release a discussion paper to gauge public, industry and government views on key policy questions. They include safety, environmental and community considerations and Australia’s strengths and weaknesses in developing the technology.
The paper says that for Australia to become a major exporter it must “develop capabilities in making, moving, storing and using hydrogen over coming years, and preparations for this need to start now”.
The strategy would also determine cost effective ways for hydrogen to meet domestic energy needs.
Among the guidelines set by the COAG energy council is that the strategy should be “bold and ambitious” and “technology-neutral” to allow competition.
The discussion paper says Australia’s abundance of wind, sun and fossil fuels means it is well placed to produce hydrogen at scale, and it has offshore sites suitable for carbon capture and storage for hydrogen produced from coal or gas. However to date, carbon-capture has been constrained by large capital costs and its viability at large scale is unproven.
The COAG energy council has also agreed to start work on two domestic projects this year. They involve the use of hydrogen in existing gas networks and the potential for hydrogen refuelling stations in every state and territory.
Labor last month announced a plan to make Australia a major global player in clean hydrogen production and create up to 16,000 new jobs.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the government supported hydrogen technology and was “doing its homework … Unlike Labor, which has thrown around big dollar promises with no detail about their hydrogen policy”.
“And unlike Labor, we won’t blindly turn our back on coal and the jobs it supports,” he said.
A Shorten government would spend $1.14 billion on a national hydrogen plan, including funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The government consultation paper says that by 2030, a hydrogen export industry in Australia could be worth up to $1.7 billion and provide around 2,800 direct and indirect jobs.
Japan and South Korea plan to become big hydrogen users, creating a massive export opportunity for Australia. However nations including Brunei, Norway and Saudi Arabia are also racing to develop the technology.
Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the government had already invested more than $100 million into the hydrogen industry. It includes $50 million for a project in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley which is expected to deliver its first shipment to Japan in 2021.
He said hydrogen potentially offered long-term clean energy options while maintaining security, reliability and affordability – the three pillars upon which the government’s energy policy is built.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.