Renewables transition could double regional jobs

Wind farm at sunset with transmission towers in the background (aemo report)
Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Transgrid’s newly released Energy Vision calls for an orderly transition to renewables to underpin a massive expansion of Australia’s manufacturing, enabling communities reliant on fossil fuel jobs to benefit from new opportunities.

The Energy Vision was developed with independent experts at the CSIRO, ClimateWorks Australia and The Brattle Group and explores six possible futures for our energy system over the next 30 years to 2050.

The six scenarios range from a future based on current trends, to a backwards-looking sharp slump in Australia’s economic growth, to more optimistic scenarios in which Australia hits the Paris Agreement’s aspirational 1.5°C decarbonisation target and becomes a renewables superpower. It found a ‘deep decarbonisation’ of the Australian economy would create 45 per cent more electricity sector jobs this decade across the National Electricity Market (NEM) than a future where Australia continues to follow ‘current trends’. 

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Transgrid executive manager for network planning and operations Kasia Kulbacka said renewables future would support 68,000 Australian electricity sector jobs in the following two decades, more than double a ‘current trends’ future. 

“Most of these jobs would be in regional Australia. Areas reliant on coal industries would benefit from new opportunities, with modelling projecting that by 2050 the Hunter Valley and North Queensland could produce and export the largest quantities of hydrogen and green steel in Australia.

“If we are to become a clean energy superpower it’s critically important that we focus on ensuring communities are better off—that means jobs in regional areas, support for local communities who host wind, solar and transmission projects and strong transition plans for coal workers and their communities to new growth industries,’ Kulbacka said.

Transgrid’s future grid planning manager Jesse Steinfeld said the modelling suggests the transition to renewables is unstoppable.

“In five out of the six scenarios we examined, renewable energy supplies more than 70 per cent of the NEM’s annual energy needs by 2035 and more than 90 per cent by 2050,” Steinfeld said.

Transgrid’s Energy Vision suggests domestic demand for thermal coal will decline to zero or near-zero by 2050 across all scenarios, and upskilling and training will be key to ensuring a just transition for these communities. 

“Our modelling shows regional areas can be at the forefront of our clean energy future but we must plan an orderly exit from coal to ensure that workers, and their communities, have every opportunity to benefit from the transition to a clean energy economy.

“The modelling in our ‘clean energy superpower’ scenario shows renewable energy resources could enable Australia to produce some of the lowest cost green hydrogen in the world, falling to $1/kg by 2050 at major hydrogen-producing locations on the south and east coasts of Australia.”

In a ‘clean energy superpower’ future electricity consumption could grow sixfold by 2050, to power green hydrogen production, green steel and green aluminium. This requires massive amounts of renewable energy in renewable energy zones, with scale and cost efficient transmission infrastructure. In turn this lowers the cost of electricity—12 per cent lower than a ‘current trends’ scenario.

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Transgrid is already working with the NSW Government to plan new transmission infrastructure for Australia’s first coordinated Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) in the State’s Central-West Orana region.

REZs are modern power stations combining transmission, large scale generation (such as solar and wind), storage and connection infrastructure. Investment in the new infrastructure will allow renewable energy providers from the region to connect to the grid and enable more affordable, reliable and clean energy for NSW customers.

“Transgrid’s vision is for Australia to become a global clean energy leader, benefitting all of our communities, the economy and the environment. In this future, the energy sector is a major exporter and job creator and Australians have access to some of the lowest cost, low emissions electricity in the world. To get there we need to be planning now,” Steinfeld said. 

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