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Turn North to Keep Southern Lights On

By Paul Adams - Jemena MD

For so long overlooked due to its remoteness and sparse population, northern Australia is now emerging as the solution to Australia’s energy ‘trilemma’ – balancing supply security, de-carbonisation, and cost – that is bedevilling our political classes. While a silver bullet doesn’t exist, the nation’s north has three of the vital ingredients needed to resolve the energy crisis.

Secure and affordable supply

While advances in technology are carving a real space for renewable energy products in Australia’s energy mix, the leaders in this field – solar and wind generation – require a partner technology that will be there when the sun isn’t shining or when the wind stops blowing.

With Australia’s gas infrastructure being capable of storing the same amount of energy as 6 billion Powerwall batteries, and gas having more than proven itself as being able to provide quick, stable supply, gas is the natural partner technology for intermittent renewable generation – and the top end has plenty of it!

As a case in point, the Beetaloo Basin between Darwin and Tennant Creek looks to hold enough gas to meet Australia’s energy needs for 30 years or more.

While the Beetaloo Basin is still to be shored up, its potential comes at a time when Australia’s fleet of aging coal-fired generation plants are steadily being de-commissioned, and gas-fired generation is being looked to as a natural alternative. The sheer abundance of gas in Beetaloo and elsewhere in our north – if managed effectively in the nation’s interest – will provide ample supply to power this gas-fired generation.

Developing the gas industry in the north will also bring cheaper gas to businesses based in this part of the country which rely on gas as either a feedstock or fuel source, particularly when compared to the costs associated with transporting gas over much longer distances from the Moomba Gas Hub to Queensland and New South Wales.

Other gas users stand to benefit too as additional supply from the northern states increases the overall amount of gas available to the east-coast market. This will free up gas in the south which is currently being transported north for use in Victoria and South Australia, and ultimately place downward pressure on the cost of gas for all.

“Green gas”

Often overlooked as part of the renewable energy mix, gas has the very real potential to become a carbon-free fuel in its own right. Gas’ carbon footprint is already half the size of coal, and new technologies could see gas become a net-zero emitter. An interesting example is Power to Gas (P2G) technology which is being trialled at a number of sites across the country. P2G technology uses solar power to convert water into carbon-neutral hydrogen gas. The hydrogen which is generated from this process can then be stored in existing infrastructure meaning it’s available for use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s no denying though the sun is a key part of this equation, something the Northern Territory and the aptly named Sunshine State (Queensland) have in abundance.

Willing and able workforce

It’s clear there are major opportunities for the northern states to grab. With a recent in-depth study finding if developed the Northern Territory gas industry could create 6,000 jobs and generate up to $1 billion of government revenue over the next 20 years. Throughout the development and construction of Jemena’s Northern Gas Pipeline – which will connect Territory gas with Queensland for the first time – we’ve seen a capable and willing workforce emerge that is primed to support future growth and development in the north.

With an abundance of competitively priced gas, a capable workforce, and an environment ripe for development the key ingredients to the nation’s energy recovery lie in the north. Our energy industry would be wise to shift its attention to this oft forgotten part of the country.

Paul

Managing Director, Jemena