British industrialist Sanjeev Gupta told an audience in South Australia on Wednesday that Australia could reboot its car manufacturing industry with electric vehicles.
Gupta is the man who wowed the renewables world and smashed at least some of the wind out of the sails of climate sceptics when he said he could power aluminium smelters with renewable energy.
In Adelaide for the Australian Energy Storage Conference, Gupta said Australia could produce cheaper, lighter electric cars, making it again “a competitive vehicle manufacturer”.
His company GFG Alliance bought South Australia’s Whyalla’s steelworks and had already committed to small-scale local production of electric cars, wire services said.
“We will definitely in the next two or three years have a car in production in Australia,” Mr Gupta said.
The potential was for small-scale disruptive operations using technology inspired by Formula One racing, with cars costing between $20,000 to $30,000.
“It’s a very different way of thinking about cars; it’s a much cheaper way of making cars, and you can make them in a much smaller volume.”
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He said his company wanted to increase renewable energy production in Australia to 10 gigawatts to support his local ventures.
Batteries and solar combined had great potential to take pressure off the grid for both industry and households.
“These two solutions together will change the energy mix for sure for our generation and the next,” Mr Gupta told the conference.
Mr Gupta, who is also majority shareholder of SIMEC ZEN Energy, and founder of Liberty House Group, acquired Arrium steelworks, said ahead of the conference that there were ways to deal with intermittency in renewables.
“There are various ways of doing that, and we’re working on many of those. Like different types of storage actually, if you want to call it that. So pumped hydro is one big part of that initiative, using empty mine pits which we own, and there’s obviously plenty of those in Australia. Using them as reservoirs for energy and running them to generate power during times of high electricity [demand], or no electricity through other means like solar, is one way.
“Then there are other ways, using waste and biomass is another big way, which we’re doing in the UK, which we’ll bring to Australia eventually. In between that, there are batteries, because batteries are not competitive as a storage medium today, but they will be in our view, in the long term. The same way as solar prices and wind prices came down, battery prices will come down as well.”
Early this year he said he would build the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery in South Australia for the Whyalla Steelworks. The battery would be bigger than Elon Musk’s battery for SA, though it wasn’t about who had the biggest, he said.
“Our projects are driven by our need; to have competition is not in context. I mean the point is that we need that battery to operate our steelworks. Without that battery we’d have trouble so it’s basically driven by what the system is.
“Our main base is solar, and we have pumped hydro as a big part of it. So in between that mix we definitely need a fast response system, and the 120MW as an exact calculation based on the need of that project. [It] happened to be bigger than the other one, but it wasn’t by design meant to be bigger.”
He said the disconnect between energy prices and resources yielded opportunities.
“I mean first of all it’s obviously shocking, and it is a real, crying shame that Australia, despite being probably the best resource rich country in every type of power – whether it’s renewable or traditional – is now one of the highest priced energy markets in the world. So there is a massive disconnect, which needs to be fixed.
“The fact that there is such a big problem, it also has a flip side, it’s also a very big opportunity. The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. So this means that the transition will perhaps happen faster here than it would have ordinarily. Which in the long term maybe is a good thing, although it’s had short-term consequences.”
“As storage becomes competitive – solar is already competitive – the moment you can marry that with competitive storage, it’s a game changer.
“You can have distributed networks, you can have energy being consumed in a very different way to how it is traditionally. It’s what mobile phones did for telephony. It will be a huge revolution in terms of how energy is consumed globally, especially in countries like Australia where solar radiation is at the maximum compared to anywhere else in the world.
“That combination will really support a different type of energy consumption, and a different price of energy consumption.
“So I think it’s something to embrace, it is expensive, but it’s going to get cheaper and cheaper. We’ll play our own role in trying to make it more competitive. I think we should also definitely invest in production of batteries because we’ve got all the mining raw materials to support that as well. We’re examining that as well, and we’re going to try to participate in that. So it’s an exciting future.”