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Energy & Utilities

Net zero carbon may be within reach – Dr. Maia Schweizer

5 Nov 2020, by Amy Sarcevic

Australia’s ‘net zero carbon by 2050’ vision, as outlined in the 2016 Paris Agreement, may soon become a viable reality, thanks to the pioneering work of CleanCo Queensland.

In recent weeks, the government-owned company has furthered its mission to provide affordable clean energy for Australians, having secured renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) with several major projects; and supply agreements with two high-profile customers.

Once rolled out, these agreements will see some of the nation’s largest power consumers leaving a smaller carbon footprint, in line with investor and community expectations, and without impacting their bottom line.

CleanCo CEO, Dr. Maia Schweizer said that this, and indeed every step, at the early stages of Australia’s carbon neutrality journey is a significant one.

“The very fact that CleanCo exists is, in my view, a major milestone in the context of our energy transition,” Dr. Schweizer said ahead of the QLD Energy Conference.

“It’s reflective of a turning point in Australia – one in which we are also seeing a continuing decline of the cost curve for renewable energy assets, and for the storage infrastructure that makes these assets reliable.

“We have known for a long time that Australia is geographically advantaged when it comes to renewable generation. But now is the first time that we can see a path to transition to affordable, reliable renewable energy, that’s competitive with baseload-generated assets,” she added.

“We hope that our work will accelerate that shift and help bridge the gap between vision and reality.”

Although sustainability initiatives are omnipresent in the corporate and industrial sectors, carbon neutrality has, for many firms, seemed like an elusive target – with legitimate concerns over renewable pricing and reliability.

“Corporates are getting intense pressure from their shareholders, who want to know how and when they will reach net zero. But, until recently, many have not had viable options to make that shift,” said Dr. Schweizer.

“Some customers side-stepped this issue by buying solar farms or contracts directly, managing the entire portfolio singlehandedly. That’s certainly an option, but we like to think that CleanCo provides an easier way,” she added.

CleanCo has sought to bridge this gap by developing cost-competitive wind and solar supply solutions that will deliver almost 1,000 megawatts of new renewable energy for Queensland.

This year, the company committed to purchasing 320 megawatts of new renewable energy from Neoen’s Western Downs Green Power Hub and will invest in a further 400 megawatts through a PPA, resulting from the Queensland Government’s Renewables 400 initiative. Additionally, CleanCo will build, own and operate its own 18-turbine Karara wind farm, with construction due to commence next year.

“CleanCo is basically a one stop shop, where you can get the electricity you need at the price you want,” said Dr. Schweizer.

“We can use our flexible, responsive foundation assets, like our pumped hydro plant at Wivenhoe or our efficient gas plant at Swanbank, to ‘firm up’ solar and wind generation, even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“That allows us to offer customers reliable, renewables-backed energy products no matter what the weather is like. Our customers also love that they can point to our renewable projects and say they helped make those projects happen, but without having to become electricity market experts themselves.”

Although CleanCo is optimistic about the scalability of its offering, it does acknowledge that further work is needed to break down systemic barriers, along with some lingering skepticism over renewable energy reliance.

“To unlock the next horizon of growth and prosperity for the state we will need to overcome a number of technical, economic and social challenges over the next several years,” Dr. Schweizer said.

“From an economic perspective, how do we make the most of potentially globally competitive energy prices? And from a social perspective, how do we support workers, families and communities who might be working in coal-related jobs to see where the future opportunities will be for them?”

An additional challenge could be reversing the trend of offshoring.

“In Australia, we are used to sending most of our products overseas for processing and value-adding,” Dr. Schweizer said.

“To bring everything back on shore, we will need to rebuild our national and state confidence with a couple of high-profile success cases.

“The prize for doing that is huge — a healthier environment, more jobs, and ongoing prosperity for the state and the country more broadly,” she concluded.

Dr. Maia Schweizer is Chief Executive of CleanCo Queensland. Maia has extensive global experience in the energy and infrastructure industries, including a management consultant role in McKinsey and Company’s London, Houston, Shanghai and Sydney offices, and as a general manager in Origin Energy’s gas and retail businesses. 

Join her for more discussion on this topic at the QLD Energy Conference – held as a virtual event on December 7-8.

Learn more and register.

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