Don’t underestimate the importance of the United Kingdom for Australia’s clean energy or future security, a senior British diplomat says.
Lacking Australia’s abundant sunshine, the UK is the largest offshore wind market in the world after phasing out coal-fired power plants.
“If Australia’s looking to develop offshore wind, they can draw on our 20 years of experience,” High Commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell said.
“Follow the money. Government money can only go so far and for any true transition, you need the private sector to play a full and active part.”
The island nation has attracted billions in capital for offshore wind along its coastline, including from Australia’s superannuation funds.
“For every pound of UK government money we put in, we were able to leverage five pounds of private capital,” she said.
Unlike Australia, where governments and electricity market operators plan to replace some coal capacity with gas plants, coal has not been replaced with other fossil fuels in the UK.
Research by independent energy thinktank Ember shows the UK is heading for complete decarbonisation of the power sector by 2035 – a world-leading target that outpaces Australian ambition.
Nuclear power in their grid has remained mostly unchanged since 2010, while wind’s share of the electricity supply has surged and carbon emissions of the power system have been slashed.
“People do not think of Britain as an offshore wind superpower, but we actually are,” she said.
Speaking to AAP at the UK’s official residence in Canberra, historic Westminster House that sits on a ridge near Parliament House, Mrs Treadell warns she doesn’t see that level of of investment in Australia yet.
“But that is what is possible,” she said.
“We have to phase out and progress from fossil fuels.”
She said being very clear on targets and how to get there, being ambitious and pushing those boundaries creates a conducive investment environment.
“We are a trusted partner and there is a lot we can share and do with Australia, and actually already are.”
The United States is a major defence partner for both Australia and the UK, but British influence remains crucial, she says.
Under the AUKUS pact, Australia will become one of only seven countries that operate nuclear-powered submarines, with a conventionally-armed capability as soon as the early-2030s.
“If it hadn’t been for Britain, Australia would not now be in what was a tent of two. It’s now a tent of three,” Mrs Treadell said.
“So do not underestimate Britain’s role.”
She said the regulatory framework required to meet obligations for the sustainment of the future fleet also provides an opportunity to look at nuclear as an energy source.
“We got over the nuclear question and it’s going to be an important part of our future energy mix,” Mrs Treadell said.
She said accepting nuclear-powered submarines has given license to fresh debate in Australia.
“The nuclear cell that we use in nuclear-powered submarines, once you’ve popped one in like a giant battery, it will run for 30 to 40 years and never have to be refuelled.”
Britain achieved bipartisan support on curbing global warming that dates back to the days of controversial prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
“The great heroine of conservative right parties – she saw it, but she also saw it as an economic proposition,” Mrs Treadell said.
“All parties compete to have the better energy and climate policies – it’s become a vote winner.”
Her term in Australia was recently extended to the first quarter of 2025, giving her time to see projects through.
For example, backed by British funding, Australia’s Ionic Rare Earths’ facility in Belfast will supply electric vehicle factories in the UK.
There is further investor interest from Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea as the West builds industrial magnet supply chains not linked to China.