From First Fuel: Technology and possibility with Heidi Lee 05 August 2021


Last month Energy Efficiency Council CEO Luke Menzel was joined by Heidi Lee, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) for episode 47 of the Energy Efficiency Council’s podcast, First Fuel. BZE is an independent think tank focused on creating solutions for a prosperous net zero Australia.

Luke and Heidi discuss BZE’s history, the huge energy efficiency jobs opportunity highlighted by The Million Jobs Plan, and their latest research on Renewable Energy Industrial Precincts.

This transcript excerpt has been edited for clarity. To hear the entire discussion, listen here, or search for First Fuel wherever you listen to your podcasts.

[Luke] BZE has done an awful lot of thinking about how we support the industrial sector here in Australia on a journey towards emission reduction and ultimately, decarbonisation. It is obviously a diverse sector and some parts of it are much easier to transition than others. So can you broadly characterise the opportunities that are ready to go now, or almost ready to go, versus things that are genuinely hard?

[Heidi] Look, I'd love to talk about this, this is one of my favourite topics of the moment. BZE's role in this space is first and foremost about technical possibility. Often what we hear is concerns around the economic viability, or particular technologies not actually being at that deployment point or that maturity where you can buy them really cheaply.

What's critical to understand about that is that the more that you commit to something and the more certain that policy environment is, the quicker those cost curves are written and the steeper they come down to levels where they are actually deployable at scale. So, we'll start with, I'll reframe the question to be one that I want to answer—

[Luke] By all means! (laughs)

[Heidi] Which electric manufacturing technologies do we want to see in action in Australia today? And that is industrial heat pumps, it's electromagnetic heating, it's electric furnaces, it's heat storage, and it's renewable hydrogen for feedstock and for specific industrial processes.

So, in 2018, Michael Lord was our Head of Research at the time and he looked at our industrial sector and where the biggest opportunities were. He wrote a report called Electrifying Industry that was published in 2018. And he did ten "how to" guides, which talked about deploying those technologies that I've listed and talked about how those technologies could be used to make everyday products in Australia, things that Australia makes quite a lot of.

And because it's fun, I'll list some of them so your listeners can go and check them out. Everything from electrifying prepared meals, electrifying milk powder, you can dry paper and make paper, you can make bricks in a brick microwave. Now, that's a pet project of mine. If anyone listening wants to talk about microwaving bricks on an industrial scale, please do get in touch. I love talking about that.

Electrifying plastics, glass, steel, electrifying ammonia and hydrogen and how to electrify beer. And if that doesn't get you downloading the Electrifying Industry report from the BZE website, I don't know what will. We’re Australians, we love our beer, and you can make it with 100% renewable energy.

[Luke] I can see why they appointed you CEO, Heidi. (laughs)

[Heidi] It's hard not to love a report like this. So why aren't more of these technologies being deployed in Australian factories? While there's fantastic work happening – and I think actually more and more every day – there is lot more opportunity to deploy electric technologies to make those factories more efficient and prepare them for renewable energy.

Some of these problems are that the capital cost of preparing for an all-electric grid, replacing some of those foundation technologies, that is still prohibitive for a lot of manufacturers.

When one factory goes on this journey alone, you'll find them having to pay for transmission line upgrades or new connections back to, you know, the grid in particular locations, you also find them having to early retirement of particular gas products and gas connections that they've set up. It's all very practical stuff, right?

The exploration that we did around challenges to deployment led us to dig in and explore a precinct approach to providing the backbone infrastructure that you need for manufacturing regions, supporting them to transition as a region instead of just individually.

None of this is new. None of this is rocket science. But actually, when you put it all together, there are some major opportunities here for taking a precinct-based approach to the infrastructure design. That will accelerate the deployment of existing technologies that can be used to get Australia's manufacturing ready for a zero emissions grid, and actually making zero emissions products and services ready for the world, as well as Australia. This is a golden opportunity.

Heidi Lee is the CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions, an independent think tank focused on creating solutions for a prosperous net zero Australia. Heidi is an expert in sustainable buildings and urban design and brings 20 years of experience in creating sustainable cities to her current role. Over the past decade, Heidi has held several leadership roles at Beyond Zero Emissions, including on the Buildings Plan, as Board Director and Chair, as Business and Industry Lead, and led the Million Jobs Plan.

Connect with Heidi on LinkedIn.

This article was originally published in the August edition of Efficiency Insight.