Hydrogen could fuel massive jobs boom, but only if gas mistakes are not repeated

The Australian Workers' Union

The Australian Workers’ Union has today welcomed the momentum toward hydrogen by state governments, but has warned that the massive jobs potential of the zero-carbon fuel source will be squandered if governments don’t learn from the lessons of natural gas.

The NSW government says green hydrogen is essential to securing the long-term future of heavy industry such as steel and chemicals production and will create as many jobs as the coal industry by 2050. And the Queensland government has given its blessing to the world’s largest hydrogen manufacturing facility in Central Queensland.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said that the immediate jobs potential of hydrogen was obvious, but securing the many multipliers would require a proactive and strategic approach from government.

“Hydrogen is an incredibly exciting opportunity, because it offers fantastic opportunities to workers in the fossil fuel sector,” Mr Walton said.

“So long as governments are proactive in making training opportunities available to workers there are obvious synergies and great opportunities to shift from one to the other.”

However, Mr Walton warned that Australia’s natural gas industry offered a salient warning to the government and voters.

“Australia is one of the most gas-rich nations in the world, but instead of using that wealth to provide affordable energy to our manufacturers, we’ve given multinationals a no-strings-attached license to pump it offshore to power jobs overseas,” Mr Walton said.

“There is potential for the mistake to be repeated with hydrogen if we don’t get our policy settings right. For example, if we’re investing in hydrogen infrastructure, why not build the electrolysers here? We could be investing massively in Australian manufacturing capacity.

“We also need a hydrogen reservation policy so a portion of the hydrogen we produce in this country is set aside to sell to Australian factories providing Australian jobs. We can become a renewable energy superpower, but we should be using that strength to help Australian jobs and Australian communities first and foremost.

“We know Australia can become a world leader in hydrogen export, as it has the natural resources for the production of both blue and green hydrogen. But if that’s where our hydrogen ambitions begin and end we’re leaving hundreds of thousands of quality jobs on the table.”

Mr Walton also noted that if Australia was to develop a competitive hydrogen industry with the speed necessary it would need to take a pragmatic approach.

“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, but we have to realistic in the present. The technology to produce pure green hydrogen at a commercially competitive price simply does not currently exist,” Mr Walton said.

“To assist the industry in getting a foothold as soon as possible, hydrogen production in Australia must be from a mix of blue and green hydrogen. The green component can and should become a larger part of the mix as advances in technology permit.

“If we allow purists to insist that governments and industry focus solely on green hydrogen, the sector will remain in stasis for many years. Market demand does not exist for such expensive hydrogen.

“It is not realistic to insist on green hydrogen alone straight off the bat. No one will buy it and the industry will fail before it begins.”

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