Chief Scientist calls for WA to ride the energy transition

WA chief scientist Peter Klinken sees jobs coming if WA uses cleaner energy and minerals for the production of hydrogen and batteries.

Chief Scientist calls for WA to ride the energy transition

WA's abundance of wind, sun, gas and battery minerals makes it uniquely well-placed to embrace the transition to cleaner energy, according to the chief scientist of WA Peter Klinken.

WA was blessed with natural advantages that needed to be turned into competitive advantages to benefit future generations, Klinken told a Petroleum Club of WA webinar yesterday.

"If you are looking at the whole of Australia, the north-west of WA is the place with the greatest potential for solar energy, and the south-west is the best place for wind energy," he said.

"The coal-fired stations are ageing, and the government has made it fairly clear that it's going to have a phased shutdown of some of those ageing stations."

Klinken said there was a massive opportunity for renewable energy to fill the void left by coal.

"The big oil and gas companies, everyone has got a bit of renewables or a bit of hydrogen as part of their energy mix, so I think that's telling you something," Klinken said.

However, the transition will take time, and Klinken sees WA's substantial gas reserves as another plus for the State.

"Fossil fuels are not going to disappear overnight," he said.

"Natural gas is going to be a really important component; in my view, in this transition."

Renewable energy and gas will compete head to head for the production of hydrogen: green hydrogen produced with renewable electricity or blue hydrogen from gas with the carbon dioxide emitted buried underground.

"I wouldn't exclude one or the other; I would let them bubble up," Klinken said.

Most observers forecast that green hydrogen will be cheaper eventually, but the crucial question is when. Woodside has presented blue hydrogen as the least cost solution for the next three decades, a scenario that supports investment, but others think green hydrogen will be competitive by 2030.

Wherever gas is used - industry, power generation or hydrogen production - there will be increasing pressure to bury or offset the greenhouse gases produced.

Klinken said he had been sceptical about underground sequestration but was pleasantly surprised by the success of the process at Chevron's Gorgon LNG project.

WA's 13,000km long coastline was ideal for another way to deal with the emissions, growing seagrass or mangroves to absorb CO2, he said.

Renewable energy to beat water disadvantage

Whether hydrogen is blue or green, its production needs water: one energy transition resource not abundant in WA.

WA had water supply difficulties long before consideration of hydrogen production.

In a generation, Perth moved from sourcing about 95% of its water from dams to just 5%. Now about 60% of Perth's water comes from energy-intensive desalination and 30% from aquifers, Klinken said.

"And we don't know how well the aquifers are being recharged in a drying climate," he said.

"We should be eternally grateful for the Gallop government investing in desalination plants because in the absence of that I'm not sure this city would be viable."

The chief scientist advocated greater investment in desalination powered by renewable energy for irrigation, hydrogen production and to supply Perth.

One much-touted use of hydrogen is to produce steel without metallurgical coal, which at scale could reduce global carbon emissions by seven to ten per cent.

Klinken said the Pilbara had a massive opportunity to pursue green steel due to its combination of iron ore and solar resources.

He said increasing automation was making the cost of energy more important than the cost of labour in manufacturing.

In addition to hydrogen production, Klinken wants WA to grab as much of the lithium battery value chain as possible.

"There is only one jurisdiction in the world that's got lithium, nickel, cobalt, aluminium, vanadium, zinc, manganese and untapped graphite, and that's WA," he said.
"We've got all the elements to make Li-Ion batteries."

"If people are talking about Snowy 2.0 as an opportunity as a nation-building opportunity I would ask the question why don't we look at Lithium 1.0 and start with the comparative advantage we've got here?"

The chief scientist is a strong supporter of the State Government's future battery industry strategy.

"For the first time, the State is looking beyond exporting rocks and saying what can we do further downstream."

"Here in WA are so well placed, were positioned like no other jurisdiction in the world to make this transition," Klinken said.

"I see the energy sector being one the real bright lights, and it's a job-creating opportunity."

Main image: Chief Scientist of WA Peter Klinken. Source: Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation