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Getting to zero

Dr Alan Finkel trained as a neuroscientist and engineer and forged a successful career as a technology entrepreneur. At the end of 2020 he completed a five-year term as Australia’s chief scientist; he continues to act as a special adviser to the Australian government on low-emissions technologies. These days he’s perhaps best known as a philanthropist, in which guise he and his wife Elizabeth were founders – and have been long-time supporters – of Cosmos.

The latest edition of Quarterly Essay contains Finkel’s vision for getting Australia from where it is now in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, to a future of zero emissions, or as near as possible to. In this Cosmos Bonus Briefing, Finkel sets out his vision for getting to zero. He describes Australia’s inexorable move towards a low-emissions future – at present particularly in the electricity sector – and talks about the momentum behind this from business and investors.

Finkel counsels an ambitious but patient approach to zero emissions. He highlights the importance of electricity generation – of solar and wind power – in a net-zero future. He talks about how we’ll store energy in the future, by such means as huge lithium-battery facilities, pumped hydro and through the manufacture and use of hydrogen.

Over a number of years – and from a standing start – Finkel has become expert in the future possibilities of hydrogen, which he describes as “a near-miraculous fuel that could play a major part in eliminating many of the remaining sources of emissions”.

One of the underlying pleasures of listening to Finkel talk about the path to zero, whether he’s discussing private transport or heavy industry, is his lucid and informed optimism.

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