Australia must increase R&D spending to meet net zero pledge

Monday 22 November 2021
The Australian government's net zero plan bets that 15% of necessary carbon emission reductions will come through unknown, future technology breakthroughs.
To make that possible, the government will need increase R&D funding (not reduce it as it has since 2008) so Australia can produce the necessary innovations, rather than be a spectator — and eventually purchaser — of new technology made overseas.
"More funding is going to be needed across that entire pipeline, to ensure that we can actually bring these new technologies and capabilities to scale in the timeframe that we need," said Professor Lachlan Blackhall, head of the Battery Storage and Grid Integration program at ANU.

Professor Blackhall said while the private sector is an important source of funding, it will be governments that provide funding for the research into early-stage technologies with a more uncertain return.

"When you're talking about big infrastructure, like energy, we're potentially talking about a decade or more to bring new technologies to market," Professor Blackhall said. "And so the scale of the funding that's needed is often quite significant."

Blackhall was quoted in a new report in The Canberra Times that looked back at an Australian solar energy innovation from the 1980s, the passivated emitter and rear cell (PERC) found in 90% of solar panels being made around the world. Professor Andrew Blakers, who was on the University of NSW team that developed the technology, explained that it has reduced carbon emissions by 1% by pussing out coal-fired energy plants. Worldwide sales of PERC modules have reached more than $100 billion and the figure is doubling every three years, which would push its carbon reduction beyond 10 per cent of emissions.
"We had available to us long-term support that extended over years. And that was crucial to give us the leisure to go after things that were not obvious," Blankers said. 
Australia spends less on research and development as a proportion of GDP (1.79 per cent) than the OECD average (2.48 per cent). If Australia is to meet its climate obligations and lead the renewable energy industry as it has in the past, researchers will need access to short-term grant funding, longer-term program funding, and commercial sources of funding, explained Blakers.

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