Aussies not 'fooling ourselves' on solar

Rio Tinto's criticism of Australia's solar power ambition could be answered by using old and new systems to go green.

The mining giant's CEO Jakob Stausholm told business heavyweights at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos "we're fooling ourselves" on the timeline to switch to clean energy.

Using huge solar farms to run Queensland's aluminium smelters was "not that easy", Mr Stausholm said.

"People say, 'Oh Australia, perfect, lots of sun, lots of space'," he said.

"You actually first have to acquire the land, you have to get working with Indigenous people, you have to go through the cultural clearance of sites."

But the scale of solar farms needed to power heavy industry has not been done anywhere in the world, he warned.

Responding to the criticism of Australia at Davos, energy utility executive Neara executive Jack Curtis said old and new systems could work together to respond to the climate crisis.

"There's a critical piece of the puzzle missing that will drastically speed up the timeline," he said on Friday.

Network service providers were already working with what they have and implementing technology to support the shift to sustainable energy, he said.

State and federal governments will be spending big on rewiring Australia with transmission, batteries and new generation.

Networks need to install more than 10,000km of new transmission lines to connect users with the cleanest, cheapest power.

Mr Curtis said with the Albanese government's plan to reach 82 per cent renewables by 2030, a staggering $76 billion investment was needed.

"The only way to speed up the timeline, outside of investment, is to fully support the new and old systems in place and work in-tandem to change the way we power infrastructure," he said.

The supply of critical minerals to make clean energy equipment such as panels, turbines and batteries is also under scrutiny.

BHP CEO Mike Henry spoke on a separate Davos panel earlier in the week on "infrastructure for a clean energy economy", where close to half the audience put their hands up as electric vehicle drivers.

But fewer people know which metals are in their batteries or how they are mined.

Mr Henry said there was growing awareness that mining was needed for the transition from fossil fuels, but warned supply would come from mines that were harder to find, smaller and lower grade.

The industry must get better at working more efficiently and sustainably, he said.

"If we're not careful in addressing the challenge of the energy transition we're going to create unintended negative impacts on water, on biodiversity and on local communities."

Mr Henry called for more certainty from governments and less red tape on mining projects.

But Rio was more cautious, after blowing up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves in 2020, devastating West Australian custodians and causing global outrage.

"You've got to bring along your local communities, Indigenous populations. It takes the time it takes," Mr Stausholm said.