by Eliza Booth, Associate Editor, Energy Magazine
Hydrogen is the hottest topic in the energy industry right now, and no one is more bullish on this new technology than the Queensland Government, which has just announced the establishment of a specialised Hydrogen Taskforce, tasked with fast-tracking the establishment of a sustainable hydrogen supply chain for the state. Energy magazine spoke to Mick de Brenni, Queensland Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen; and Chair of the Hydrogen Taskforce, Professor Peta Ashworth, about how the Taskforce is helping to establish Queensland as a leader in hydrogen and renewable energy generation.
The seven-person Hydrogen Taskforce – announced on 11 March 2021 – brings together industry, academic and public sector leaders to create Australia’s first dedicated hydrogen development team, led by Professor Peta Ashworth, Director of the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership, and Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures at The University of Queensland.
Mr de Brenni told Energy that the Taskforce is currently underway with its first objective – delivering a work plan that will map out Queensland’s hydrogen journey. “The Hydrogen Taskforce symbolises our genuine commitment to establishing a renewable hydrogen supply chain out of Australia, led by Queensland,” Mr de Brenni said.
“We have some of Australia’s leading public servants as part of the Taskforce. Their first deliverable is going to be setting out a work plan for how Queensland can meet the opportunities that are set out before us, and also to meet our responsibilities internationally.
“We know that we are incredibly well-placed in terms of our abundance of renewable energy. We want to leverage the growth in renewable energy that we’ve seen in Queensland with around $8.5 billion in investment already, and a further 60GW of projects on the books as part of our renewable energy zones.
“The Taskforce really will ensure that the livelihoods of Queenslanders and their lifestyle is front and center in the thinking when it comes to the policy directions that our government establishes to meet that opportunity, and to respond to that global responsibility.”
Mr de Brenni, who made history as Australia’s first minister for hydrogen, said he wanted to ensure that the work plan for the Taskforce is focused on ensuring the state can deliver on the nation’s hydrogen potential with Queensland at the helm.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume that this work plan will be iterative. It will need to be agile and we want to be able to respond to new opportunities as they arise. But we’ve got a pretty good handle on some of the key things that will need to be incorporated into that.”
The perfect place for hydrogen
There’s no doubt that Queensland is a prime position for renewable energy generation with its abundance of sun, wind, water and significant investment in renewables, as well as its publicly-owned asset base, which will be integral to producing and exporting hydrogen.
Mr de Brenni said that there has already been significant investment in Queensland’s renewable energy zones, including the announcement of the State Government’s $500 million Renewable Energy Fund in 2020. “I think it’s important that we note and recognise that Queensland is very well-placed to apply strategic policy settings in the energy sector, because Queenslanders own their energy system.
They own the generation, the transmission, the distribution, and when it comes to exporting commodities like renewable hydrogen around the world, Queensland has owned their ports as well,” Mr de Brenni said. “Match that with the abundance of sunshine and access to water, there is probably nowhere else in the world where the opportunities to deliver renewable hydrogen commercially at scale are as good as they are here in Queensland.
“Not only will that benefit the emissions reductions objectives of other nations, it’ll also help us continue to drive down electricity costs here in Queensland. We’ve seen the last three years an almost eleven per cent decline in prices. The forecast for the three years ahead is for a further 14 per cent decline in prices.
What that means is that if we can deliver continued downward pressure on prices through renewable energy supported by a hydrogen manufacturing sector, that we think that we can significantly grow Queensland-based manufacturing, particularly in our regions, and support the sustainability of our resources sector.
So this is very key to the economic development of Queensland.” Professor Ashworth said that while hydrogen is not new, clean hydrogen presents an amazing opportunity for countries across the world to decarbonise and assist them in reaching their emissions reduction targets.
With the cost of generating renewable energy coming down, allowing the sector to build at scale, the future of hydrogen is looking brighter than ever, however Professor Ashworth said that lining up a supply chain is key to ensuring the success of hydrogen production and exporting.
The role of the Hydrogen Taskforce
For Professor Ashworth, the role of Chair of the Hydrogen Taskforce was slightly daunting at first, but she also saw it as a real opportunity for change and growth for the state and hydrogen production.
“My passion is around, ‘how do we overcome the challenges of climate change mitigation in a way that is fair for all society’. I’ve been working in that research for a long, long time, so I thought this was actually a really nice addendum to that.”
Professor Ashworth said that the first milestone for the Taskforce will be to get the work plan completed, however that would only be the beginning of the coordination of resources that would need to be done. Professor Ashworth said that ongoing coordination across community, industry and government is key to successfully establishing a hydrogen supply chain in the state.
Among that coordination is collaborating with the broader Queensland community, industry and governments to look at what opportunities are on the table right now, where future opportunities lie, the different regulatory approvals or changes that may need to be made, and the precincts that will be able to best facilitate hydrogen projects in the future.
“[Professor Ashworth] has been talking to me about one of the critical roles of the Taskforce, which is supporting collaboration. If we can get that regulatory environment right, and see further collaboration, I think that’s going to be key to meeting our nation’s objectives,” Mr de Brenni said.
“A lot of commentators have asked me about, well, who should be first? Should it be Queensland or Victoria or South Australia, or Tasmania?
Well, I think ultimately this is an opportunity for our nation. Queensland just thinks that we have a lot to offer and can make a significant contribution to that. So I think there are a few policy spaces across government, or across our national landscape, where the level of collaboration is as strong as it is in the development of a hydrogen supply chain.
“Whether it’s government corporations or academia, everybody’s in lockstep in terms of the end goal. The job for the government and the job for the Taskforce is making sure that we can get there in a way that supports outcomes for Queensland, primarily, but for Australians generally.
“I fundamentally think there’s enough demand for renewable hydrogen across the world that there are going to be places in Australia, including Queensland and other states, that will be able to partake in the development of the supply chain and may contribute to export.
However, our intent is to ensure that the supply chain is led out of Queensland.” Mr de Brenni said that fundamental to establishing the Taskforce was ensuring that the work undertaken in the hydrogen space was done in an optimal fashion to deliver the best outcomes for everyone.
This is why the Hydrogen Taskforce is so important – to ensure that the proper planning, upskilling, education and supply chains have been established so they can be deployed when the time comes.
“There is a significant amount of effort and investment being applied by universities, by local governments, by federal governments, by other state governments, by commercial partners and our trading partners. But the responsibility of the State Government is to ensure that we have an environment in which that effort can be applied in a way that delivers the best outcomes,” Mr de Brenni said.
“By way of example, we know that one of the challenges we need to overcome is having a workforce that is ready to deliver this for us.
So we’ve invested in two hydrogen training centres; one for gas fitters, one for electricians. Construction of one is underway. The final design work for the other is nearing completion. We will invest in the training and development of our young Queenslanders. So we’re investing in a TAFE and a high school in Townsville and Gladstone respectively.
“It’s being able to pull those levers and ensure that that piece is being worked on, so that when the call comes that we need thousands of Queenslanders ready with their tools to build this infrastructure, they will have the skills that they need. We will have done the precinct planning to ensure that they go to the right place.
We’ll have prepared the port so that it’s ready to take the ships. We’ll have prepared the transport infrastructure. We’ll have deployed this resource into our fleets and our domestic pipelines into residences, so that Queenslanders get the benefit of that already.
“It’s really about ensuring that the planning leads to the optimal outcome, that we’ve got the workforce ready to go, and that the Taskforce drives an environment of collaboration. “
The future of hydrogen
Looking to the next twelve months, Mr de Brenni said there are several milestones the Taskforce would like to reach to advance the state’s hydrogen generation.
“Here in Queensland, especially, we would like to be implementing our work plan. In the short term, we expect to see some initiatives that are well-developed and in market, including gas blending into domestic residential pipelines,” Mr de Brenni said.
“We expect to see some fleet on the roads, and potentially on water. We expect to see a resolution of trade competencies and workforce training getting underway.”
Professor Ashworth also agreed, saying that implementing the Taskforce’s work plan is top priority for the short to medium term. In addition, Professor Ashworth highlighted the need to connect with communities and regions to identify where opportunities lie for different components, as well as initiating and facilitating crucial skills training that will be essential to the future of hydrogen generation in Queensland.
“I think giving comfort to communities that this is a long-term goal, and where they will fit within that to give them clarity about their future.
Obviously as we transition, there’ll be different communities affected in different ways so if we can provide that security, I think that’s a good start.” As for those within energy utilities who may be looking at how they can incorporate hydrogen into their existing business models and take advantage of the opportunities hydrogen presents, Professor Ashworth said that collaboration is key to successful integration.
“If there’s questions that are emerging, I’d say reach out to the Taskforce because this is a two-way street as we move forward. “This is where collaboration is key as well as public and private partnerships, working with government, working with industry and also the research components. That’s what I think we’re seeing hydrogen bring together.”