Despite Cold Shoulder From Federal Government, Many Australian Resource Companies Embrace Renewable Energy

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Riddle me this, Batman. If the Australian government’s official position is that renewable energy is a farce, why are so many of that country’s resource companies embracing it? Australia is one of the largest exporters of liquefied natural gas and iron ore and the resource producers are looking more and more to renewable energy to meet their power needs.

Rio Tinto renewable energy
Credit: Rio Tinto via Twitter

According to Reuters, Rio Tinto is planning to convert the trains it uses to haul iron ore to hybrid power with renewable energy playing a role. Santos is installing a solar power plant to supply electricity to its oil and gas operations in South Australia. ConocoPhillips is adding battery storage to its LNG facility in Darwin. A host of other industrial companies are adopting renewable energy to power their operations as well, says Reuters.

Why the surge in interest in renewables? The number one reason is the cost of renewables is falling rapidly. Mining and extraction companies are subject to the same economic imperatives as any other company — the bottom line can overcome a lot of negative attitudes and cherished beliefs.

Another factor is that many of these resource extraction operations are located in the interior of the country where there is no reliable access to the electrical grid, meaning the power needed to operate comes predominantly from diesel generators. Diesel fuel that has to be trucked hundreds of miles inland tends to be expensive.

Reuters suggests there may be other reasons, not the least of which is presenting a more environmentally friendly face to the general public. Many of these companies are the object of protests from environmentalists. Adding some renewable energy to the mix may help take some of the edge off the criticism they face on a regular basis.

“If the companies can get the greening of their operations correct, not only can they save money, but they can also spin a positive narrative that makes them seem part of the solution to climate change, rather than part of the problem,” Reuters says.

And while the federal government is firmly in the hands of climate deniers who pooh pooh the whole notion of climate change and refuse to take any realistic steps to address the challenges of a warming planet, those politicians may not be in power forever. If the Labor Party, which favors a tariff on carbon emissions, should return to power in the next election in 2022, renewable energy installed today may pay handsome dividends tomorrow.

Many CleanTechnica readers may gag at the thought of fossil fuel companies and those in the business of extracting minerals from the Earth using some renewable energy to “green” their public image. But we should celebrate any move away from electricity generated by burning fossil fuels that substitutes renewable energy instead.

If large industrial organizations like Rio Tinto and ConocoPhillips are finding reasons to use renewable energy, it’s certain they are influencing other businesses to take a look at renewables at well. It’s a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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