The transition to a clean energy system will be the biggest engineering challenge ever, the nation’s chief scientist says.
Alan Finkel has likened the hurdles ahead to those faced when putting a man on the moon and sending video footage of the feat back to earth.
“If governments, industry, communities and individuals share a vision, a positive transition can be achieved,” he said.
“The energy system is huge, and even with an internationally committed and focused effort the transition will take many decades.”
Dr Finkel used his address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to again promote hydrogen, which he sees as the superstar of future energy sources.
He has recently put together Australia’s hydrogen strategy, with estimates the industry could be worth billions between now and 2050.
The chief scientist reiterated the reality of man-made climate change and turned his focus on technology to help lower emissions.
He has a staunchly technology-neutral approach, so long as emissions are going down.
Dr Finkel refused to bite on questions about the government’s $4 million feasibility study into a new coal-fired power plant in north Queensland.
But he did say coal would be used to produce hydrogen, and that he envisions hydrogen replacing coal in steel manufacturing, which currently accounts for seven per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Using hydrogen for steel manufacturing would have a “revolutionary impact” on cutting global emissions, he said.
Dr Finkel also gave the thumbs-up to natural gas being used as a transition fuel in the short term.
As for nuclear, he said emerging technologies such as small modular reactors would not be ready to use in Australia until about 2040.
“I am certainly not looking at it intensely at the moment.”
The chief scientist is leading an expert panel providing climate and disaster resilience advice to the government, in the wake of this season’s deadly bushfires.
“I do believe that the fire season has been unprecedented,” he said.
“Look at the numbers, the extent of the devastation, the duration of the devastation, it has been extraordinary.”
Dr Finkel also has a word of advice for the nation’s debate on climate action: “Don’t polarise”.
“That’s the biggest part of the problem,” he said.
“Be open minded, be positive.”