16 Dec 2020


Originally produced content by Guardian Labs Australia to a brief agreed with and paid for by WWF.

Tackling Aboriginal communities’ energy poverty, building more sustainable manufacturing processes, and driving job creation are just some of the ways clean energy can reinvigorate the economy.

Australia is uniquely positioned to capitalise on renewable energy. While the twin disasters of 2020 - the bushfires and COVID-19 - have devastated our local economies, renewables may provide the opportunity for us to come out of this crisis better than before. Our panel of experts explains why.

We need a more sustainable and future-forward economy

Nicky Sparshott, CEO – Unilever Australia and New Zealand: “In January this year, Unilever Australia moved to 100% renewable electricity well ahead of our end-2020 target. It’s given us flexibility, cost savings and certainty on energy cost management. But above all, it’s given consumers the confidence that they are buying into brands from a business that is obsessed about sustainable production."

"Coronavirus has been a really stark reminder of the fragility of our economy. When we think about the role of renewables and climate change action more broadly, that’s a real threat to our shared stability if we don’t do something about it. What’s been interesting to see during this time, though, is that governments and businesses and NGOs together have shown that they can work productively to protect the communities that we’re operating in."

"We need to continue to work together to tackle the impacts of coronavirus, which has had health and social and economic impacts. But simultaneously do it in a way that takes our economy on to a much more resilient, zero carbon future. Businesses like Unilever have a really important leadership role to play in that in conjunction with governments and the community."

“We have seen the highest amount of government stimulus going into the Australian economy ever. The key job to be done is to make sure that that funding goes into those initiatives that not only help to stimulate the economy, but also set it on a path to a much more sustainable and future-forward economy – one that is infinitely more sustainable."

Solar stimulus could address Aboriginal communities’ energy poverty

Karrina Nolan, Executive Director – Original Power: “Many people in our communities, including remote areas, outstations and homelands, are experiencing energy poverty, with the costs of energy, mostly electricity and diesel, being increasingly unaffordable. Power in households is regularly being cut off, meaning food can go off, and maintaining heating and cooling can be a challenge."

"There are communities in the Northern Territory where people are having to set up cool rooms, where they air-condition one room and rotate sleeping because it’s too expensive to cool the whole house. In many places, they are running off dirty, expensive diesel. We need to invest in locally designed and driven clean energy, including solar programs, that deal with these energy shortages, create local employment opportunities and are not contributing to climate change. We want to see federal government investment in a stimulus package that drives local community solar for Aboriginal communities."

"We want to ensure that clean energy, which we know many of our communities want and need, is done the right way, and that in any large-scale renewable energy projects, our people are part of shaping and benefiting from the process. If people genuinely consent to such projects on their Country, they need to be co-designed to make sure people are part of that process from start to finish. We want to make sure that renewable energy companies negotiate differently with our people, exploring arrangements where people could part-own the enterprises or projects, and First Nations businesses and developments are prioritised, and that local people benefit, including through training and employment opportunities on the builds."

"This is about self-determination, really - people must be able to determine what kinds of developments happen on our Country. This is a really exciting opportunity While parts of industry are in its earlier stages, we can work to make things better and change the way it’s done."

"Community solar is just as important, in terms of design and implementation. We must ensure that our people can have energy security, knowing there’s power available for future generations, and that it can be developed in a way that does not compromise Country for generations to come.”

We need to capitalise on the dual opportunity of economic stimulus and turbocharging clean energy

Nicky Ison, Energy Investment Manager, WWF: “Australia’s economy, like many economies around the world, is in real trouble. We need to be looking for short-term job opportunities and other economic recovery opportunities that will help stimulate the economy and be good for the welfare and well-being of people. Renewables presents a huge opportunity to do that."

"The Australian renewables industry has boomed over the past three years and there’s potential to continue that boom, with targeted support. In addition, there is a global imperative due to climate change, to be actively decarbonising, and with that effort come new industries and new job opportunities. Now, we can both accelerate the economic recovery and the transition to clean energy at the same time."

"Australia - due to our abundant land, and amazing wind and solar resources - has a natural advantage. But with other countries taking the dual opportunity of economic stimulus and turbocharging clean energy, we have a risk that will be left behind unless we follow in their footsteps and seek to capitalise on this opportunity right now.”

Battery schemes and grid storage funds make electricity cheaper and cleaner, and involve significant economic activity

Dan Van Holst Pellekaan MP, SA Minister for Energy and Mining: “Whenever you have the opportunity to renew or start afresh, which is sometimes through tragedy, there is an opportunity that’s presented as well. You recover and rebuild, often better than you were before. In an energy context, the move towards renewable energy, which is now also the cheapest form of energy generation, is a huge opportunity.Our energy policies were not planned around bushfires and droughts, but they fortunately still really helped."

"Our battery scheme, grid-scale storage fund, and demand response trials - a $15 million project - have all been initiated to make electricity cheaper and cleaner, but they all involve significant economic activity. Now we’re trying to roll those out even more quickly."

"We will soon, we hope, be moving from a sustainment into a recovery phase. Recovery is when you look at implementing your really significant stimulus opportunities. Programs in this phase need to do three things. They have got to offer economic stimulus, to get things happening quickly so that people can be employed, and money can start to move around the economy as quickly as possible. They need to offer long-term productivity improvements once the work is finished, so there is a genuine economic productivity gain that is retained from whatever it is that the stimulus funding went into. And then thirdly, they have got to have some other community or social or environmental benefits."

"The economy is vital, absolutely critical, but I want stimulus programs to be about more than the economy. I want them to leave another legacy in addition to productivity.”