Atlassian Co-Founder Mike Cannon-Brookes (MCB) has put forward a vision that is so compelling for Australia to junk its $70bn coal industry, it is a real wonder why he has not decided to deploy the tech giant’s own capital to seize those obvious riches? He believes coal will be worth zero in 15-25 years. If it is such a dead industry, can he explain why China’s coal-fired power (great infographics here) has grown from 200GW in 2000 to over 900GW today? Or India that has grown from 61GW to 221GW of coal-fired power gen? Why would Adani persevere in the face of 8 years of government and regulatory roadblocks in Queensland if coal wasn’t on the menu for India’s future?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes the following on coal,
“Coal power generation increased 3% in 2018 (similar to the 2017 increase), and for the first time crossed the 10 000 TWh mark. Coal remains firmly in place as the largest source of power at 38% of overall generation. Growth was mainly in Asia, particularly in China and India.”
Note in the following map, yellow and red are levels of intensity and in operation. Grey is that idled or shut down.
Global wind and solar installations account for about the same as China’s current coal-fired power capacity.
MCB’s idea that we should export the sun and wind is utterly fanciful. The amount of transmission loss over distances in Australia would be massive. Our own energy market operator, AEMO, noted that energy transmission losses for those wind and solar farms located furthest from the main load hubs, in north Queensland, western NSW and some in Victoria could suffer marginal loss factors (MLF) of up to 22%.
To think our closest neighbours – New Zealand, Papua New Guinea & East Timor – are at least 200km away from our extremities. At least 500km to major city centres like Port Moresby. That is assuming our ecomentalist Department of Environment would fast track approval for Cape York and the Daintree Forest to be logged and turned into a wind and solar park to then run some cable to Port Moresby. The problem with MLF is that if Port Moresby demanded 1MW of energy, then it would need to pay for more than it needed to anticipate the MLF which would grow the further the demand was from the main load hubs that could supply it.
To add to the problem, Australia’s ridiculously high power prices would be completely unattractive to the likes of Papua New Guinea. They would be better off ignoring Australia’s transmission and self-supply. That is exactly what it is doing. PNG currently get 30% of its power from hydro, 40% from gas and 24% from oil. Note it has signed a memorandum of agreement to install, you guessed it, a 60MW coal-fired power station in Lae. Energy security is on the menu.
MCB has suggested we set up local manufacturing to harness all of our local resources. Once again, a great idea on paper, but in practice, our prowess in low-cost manufacturing has a terrible track record. The now defunct auto industry is exhibit A on that plan.
As is so often the case for celebrity billionaires, thought bubbles are often free to them but costly to others. Tesla shareholders know that feeling. Who could forget JCB’s retweet of Greta Thunberg at the time of the election, imploring Australians to “not f*ck it up“??
MCB may drive a Tesla and have plans to make Atlassian 100% powered by renewables by 2025 but for the sake of shareholders it best he sticks to his core business unless he plans to divert capital to diversify Atlassian and harness this green future. Perhaps he should put Greta Thunberg on the Atlassian board as an executive director on renewable exports?