Australia has two major government-funded bodies leading on climate mitigation research: the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
CSIRO’s mandate is broad, and the organisation is tasked with tackling Australia’s biggest future challenges by partnering with industry and universities. It has eight research units (with climate mitigation embedded in several) and around 5,000 employees. ARENA’s purpose is to increase the competitiveness of Australian renewable energy projects and boost the supply of renewable energy to the Australian grid. With around 90 employees, ARENA backs and funds key renewable energy projects around Australia.
Both bodies are taxpayer-funded and have seen sadly their budgets slashed over the last decade by successive Coalition governments. ARENA has funding in place through 2022 but no further – in addition $500 million (about one-sixth of it overall funding) has been cut since it was founded in 2012. CSIRO is majority-taxpayer funded and also derives income from patents. In 2015 a “hard cap” of 5193 employees was imposed on the organisation and has never been lifted. CSIRO’s budget has been successively cut (including recent drastic staffing cuts at the energy division), and there are fears COVID will significantly reduce the organisation’s external income from patents. There are no indications more money will be forthcoming for ARENA and CSIRO.
All of this is very unfortunate, as the two organisations have produced an impressive body of climate-focused research. Highlights include:
- Partnering with Australia’s electricity grid operator on the annual cost-of-generation report. Successive reports have demonstrated how wind, solar and storage are the cheapest new forms of electricity generation.
- Led on development of the “National Hydrogen Roadmap”: a strategy for Australia to take advantage of immense renewable hydrogen potential and produce a replacement fuel for the transport sector.
- Helping climate research achieve commercial scale by assisting with spin-out companies and industry partnerships. FutureFeed is a great example of this: a seaweed-based additive to livestock feed that drastically reduces methane output has just been commercialised after a five-year trial period.
- The Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia (also known as the “Tesla Big Battery”), Australia’s first grid-scale battery that has been hugely effective (and profitable!).
- A recent upgrade to Hornsdale, increasing its storage capacity by 50%.
- A new Virtual Power Plant in South Australia that’s installed solar panels and battery storage into 3,000 social housing properties.
- The Kidston pumped hydro storage project, which is set to unlock huge renewable energy resources in North Queensland.
- And pilot projects to support the emerging renewable ammonia industry in Australia.
Activity Rating: **** CSIRO and ARENA leading the way
Every significant climate solution to have emerged in Australia in the twenty-first century has a link to either CSIRO or ARENA. Transformational projects like the Hornsdale Power Reserve – which has become symbolic of South Australia’s world-leading transition to a 100% renewables grid – would not have succeeded without ARENA’s backing. A net-zero emissions livestock industry will not be possible without CSIRO’s world-first seaweed-based food additive. CSIRO – which has already given the world WiFi – has many years and achievements ahead of it, and ARENA is critical to the continued growth of Australia’s renewable energy sector. That these two organisations are not given consistent financial backing or guaranteed their long-term existence by successive Coalition governments is tragic.
Send your action alert message
Dear Dr. Marshall and Mr. Miller,
On behalf of Climate Scorecard, thank you for helming your wonderful organisations. Every significant climate solution to have emerged in Australia in the twenty-first century would not have come to fruition without the aid of either CSIRO or ARENA, and in many cases both. Now that support for net-zero emissions by 2050 is widespread, we look forward to seeing what industry partnerships come next.
The rise of renewable energy and green energy is (current government aside) unstoppable, but the evolution of Australia into a renewable energy exporter and superpower is what comes next. CSIRO and ARENA together can find the right pathway to taking advantage of Australia’s enormous renewable energy resources, particularly green hydrogen, green ammonia and a renewable energy build-out well past Australia’s current energy demands. Good luck, and we at Climate Scorecard will endeavour to spread and highlight your achievements in the international climate space.
Send your Action Alert message to:
Dr. Larry Marshall, CEO CSIRO
Darren Miller, CEO ARENA
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison