Australia and the US have called for the acceleration of renewable energy on national security grounds, arguing power from the sun or the wind could not be used as a weapon.
- The remarks come despite qualms about China’s dominance of solar panel manufacturing
- The US says it is being aggressive in its transition to renewable energy, but is wary of the risks
- There are also warnings the global energy crisis could worsen as the northern winter approaches
At a major energy conference in Sydney today, federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen drew a contrast between the security of renewable energy sources and fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
Mr Bowen alluded to Europe’s dependence on imports of Russian hydrocarbons and how the trade had been drawn into what he described as Moscow’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
By contrast, he said renewable energy was largely immune from manipulation.
“By building resilient clean energy supply chains, we can protect our economies from the shocks of the next crisis,” Mr Bowen said in his speech to the Sydney Energy Forum.
No hostages, US says
Mr Bowen was backed by his American counterpart, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who said renewable energy “could be the greatest peace plan of all”.
Citing remarks made by Ireland’s Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan, Ms Granholm said a key advantage of green power was strategic.
“This is truly about security,” she said.
“It’s about our energy security and our energy independence as nations.
“No country has ever been held hostage to access to the sun.
“No country has ever been held hostage to access to the wind.
“They have not ever been weaponised, nor will they be.
She said a failure to adequately manage the transition could backfire on governments and industry if it caused consumers to lose confidence in the system and the need for the change.
Ms Granholm said the stakes had never been higher as the Biden administration worked to make US electricity 100 per cent renewable by 2035.
“We know that as we move with great assertiveness, with determination, with alacrity to this clean energy future, that we have to ensure the reliability of energy overall for our citizens,” she said.
“So, as we are aggressively building out this clean energy future, we have to make sure it’s done in a managed way.
“We have to make sure that it is an aggressive, orderly transition and not a disorderly one, because that could set us back.”
There were other warnings issued at the forum, including by the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), who said the energy crisis gripping the world could get worse.
IEA executive director Fatih Birol predicted the coming winter in the Northern Hemisphere would be particularly difficult as Russia sought to exploit its leverage over Europe by restricting gas supplies.
More broadly, Dr Birol said high energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine and supply shortages could lead to painful economic consequences.
“We are in the middle of the first global energy crisis,” Dr Birol said.
“The world has never witnessed such a major energy crisis in terms of its depth or its complexity.
“It is interwoven by many factors, including geopolitics — and I believe we might not have seen the worst of it yet.”
China’s solar dominance
Dr Birol also warned that China’s dominance of some clean energy technologies, such as solar panel manufacturing, was a material risk looming on the horizon.
He said about 80 per cent of the world’s solar panels were made in China, which dominated the industry through its scale, manufacturing heft and state subsidies.
While China’s efforts to drive down the cost of making solar panels had delivered global benefits, they had also given it a near-monopoly, which Dr Birol said was “something that we all need to think about”.
But he argued that although the energy crisis would be painful in the short term, it would ultimately speed up the move away from fossil fuels.
He compared the current crisis to the 1970s oil shock, which spurred major changes to vehicle fuel efficiency and growth in nuclear power, saying a similarly drastic response was likely.
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