Industry looks to renewable energy precincts to harness sustainable power

Regional communities need new jobs. Green industries need new communities, but bringing the two together in what are being described as “renewable energy precincts” requires planning, warns an Australian advocacy group.

But a recent report says it’s time for rural and regional areas to get back to basics.

“Analysis shows renewable energy precincts can help bring thousands of jobs to regional Australia, boosting local economies,” says Monash Sustainable Development Institute affiliate the Climateworks Centre.

Industry needs infrastructure. It must also be surrounded by resources, skills and components. And this balance is undergoing a global reset with the green energy transition and the drive for net zero carbon emissions.

Renewable industry precincts (REIPs) are planned developments which offer participating industries access to low-cost, reliable renewable energy-based infrastructure.

That means they must be close to energy sources such as solar and wind farms – and possibly even green hydrogen generators.

“Businesses within each REIP would be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy,” says Climateworks project officer Joshua Danahay. “Costs for each business can be reduced by shared access to transport and energy infrastructure, inputs and labour, cheaper green hydrogen, and circular economy practices.”

The demand for such facilities is already established.

Joshua Danahay

Steel production is going green, as is aluminium. Then there’s critical minerals processing and the clean ammonia. The associated soaring demand for batteries and electric vehicle components also means new businesses are looking for new – green – homes.

But the benefits must go beyond cheap, clean power.

“Individual businesses can benefit from clustering, as their interconnectedness can lead to partnerships, knowledge sharing, and risk sharing,” says Danahay. “It’s a win–win, as collaboration can spur economic performance as well as accelerate decarbonisation.”

Reconfiguring existing urban industrial precincts is likely to be more costly. And attracting complementary businesses to the precincts faces the hurdle of available real estate.

That’s why the design of such precincts needs to be done right, says Danahay. “Governments, working with industry and the local community, need to take a place-based approach to the design of REIPs. This means recognising the unique context of each location, from the industries located there to the community and social infrastructure, land, and traditional custodians.”

That’s why “REIPs can also help to attract new industries to regional areas, helping to provide long-term economic growth and jobs”, Danahay adds.

Caption: Watch Beyond Zero Emissions explain Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts.

The trend towards creating green-industry incubators has already begun to accelerate.

New South Wales is co-ordinating with Hunter Valley and Illawarra councils to convert the region into a “Clean Manufacturing Precinct”.

Queensland is focussing on Townsville to establish the “Landsdown Eco-Industrial Precinct”.

And Tasmania has begun work on its “Bell Bay Industrial Precinct”.

Similar net-zero industrial clusters are under construction in Canada, China, Germany and the UK.

The Australian Industry Energy Transition Initiative reports just five Australian regions account for one-eighth of all carbon emissions. Naturally, these are the focus of new investment because of the employment implications of old industries – such as coal mines – closing down.

Elsewhere in Cosmos: Renewable energy rich history in regional Australia

But more effort is needed, argues Danahay.

“While there has been some progress, the scale of finance needed is in the billions for each region,” he says. “Funding needs to be pooled to have greater impact and to attract rapid investment from the market.”

Other possible locations for renewable energy precincts include Western Australia’s Kwinana, Queensland’s Gladstone and Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

“State and territory governments can play a key role by working with industry and the community to co-design roadmaps … with ambitious decarbonisation goals, leading on land use planning considerations and skills and training initiatives, and co-investing in the enabling infrastructure needed in each location,” says Danahay.

Federal government support would constitute co-investment, planning advice, infrastructure co-ordination and skills development.

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