Aust tipped to be powerful 'electro state'

·2-min read

Australia could become a powerful "electro state" as the oil powerhouses of the past are displaced.

Former chief scientist Alan Finkel said the longstanding imperative to change Australia's "dig and ship" economy has intensified.

"We need to think big, we need to think very big," he said on Wednesday in an oration to scientists.

The geopolitics were changing with very powerful "petro states" to be displaced by equally powerful "electro states" such as Australia, Dr Finkel said.

But the world needs a ten-fold increase in the money being spent to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with global progress "very, very slow", he warned.

The International Monetary Fund estimates up to $US6 trillion is needed every year until 2050 to get to net zero emissions but the current global spend is $US630 billion per year.

"The expansion of mining resources will be very, very significant," Dr Finkel said.

"We don't know for certain whether there are enough reserves for everything that will be required to get to net zero."

He said it makes sense to build solar, wind, and hydrogen facilities for more processing and refining here.

"We need to expand the renewables and actually eliminate fossil fuel energy. If we do it, we can achieve this grand transformation," Dr Finkel said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if future historians and anthropologists will look at this as being the shift from the industrial age to the electric age."

Scott Morrison appointed Dr Finkel as the former federal government's special adviser on low-emissions technologies when his five-year stint as chief scientist ended.

The scientist continues in his influential role under the Albanese government.

"Australia is well-positioned to achieve net-zero, and it won't be easy but we can do it," Dr Finkel said.

"And we're doing that in a world that's not moving as fast, but we have an opportunity to set a global example."

Most (87 per cent) of global energy use was coal, oil and gas in 1990 and that has only improved slightly, he said.

Solar and wind power had gone up dramatically but so did world energy consumption, despite the landmark Kyoto and Paris Agreements on climate change.

"But we do know what to do. The answer is to use zero emissions electricity for everything we do," Dr Finkel said.

He said ammonia made with renewable electricity can be used as a fuel in power plants and transport, and could become a bigger export than hydrogen.

He dismissed scientists' concerns about "leakage" of greenhouse gases from producing, shipping and using hydrogen, and fears it could make climate change worse.

Quizzed about nuclear as an option, Dr Finkel said it may be a "superb" zero emissions energy source but Australians don't accept it.

Nor could it compete economically with solar and wind, but other countries would need it to get to net zero, he added.