A new energy think tank headed by Australian-American inventor and entrepreneur, Saul Griffith is looking to win the narrative war on electrification and help ensure Australia meets its potential as a global leader in the space.
Rewiring Australia officially launched this week with a media blitz and webinar hosted by The Australia Institute. Its Sydney-born and MIT-educated founder is also co-founder of Rewiring America and among other accomplishments has recently been a key advisor to the Biden administration on electrification.
Speaking to The Fifth Estate from California, Griffith said the electrification challenge was no longer a technological one but a matter of establishing an effective narrative.
“I work in the US and we’re engaged every day in hand to hand combat with the natural gas industry and trying to support the White House and the Senate in achieving their climate goals,” Griffith said.
Griffith is now taking a deliberately optimistic approach, focusing on what’s to win rather than lose. Part of Griffith’s plan is to win next year’s Summernats in a 64-wheel drive, 800 kilowatt Morris Minor.
“The serious version of what optimism looks like is these reports on savings and job
creation,” he said.
“But I also think we need to win the cultural war now and that’s just straight up saying, ‘we’ll beat you at Summernats in an EV and we’ll have fun doing it and you’ll realise that the future is not scary, it’s not going to take anything away, it’s just going to make the world better.”
On a broader scale he says the chance for Australia to live up to its potential globally on electrification is a gold medal opportunity not to be missed.
“I’m not just playing the local game — I’m playing the global game — and I think there’s an opportunity for Australia to increase the whole world’s ambition,” Griffith said.
“The cheapest electricity in the world delivered to the consumer is Australian rooftop solar. After financing, it’s five or six cents a kilowatt hour for a customer in Western Sydney.” Griffith said.
“Even if you could make electricity for free on the grid in the US it costs more than that just to get the electricity to the customer. So that’s known internationally as the Australian rooftop solar miracle.”
Combined with EVs and efficient electric household appliances, Griffith said Australia is best-placed in the world to show how to glue these elements together in a modern electricity grid.
“If you could design the perfect country it would be Australia’s solar policy and California’s electric vehicle policy, and then a very strong policy for the electrification of building space and water heating.”
“We’ve got one third of that and we’re perilously close to two thirds and we could add a good EV policy and Australia would be on the best path in the world.”
Griffth said the role of government was important for establishing a regulatory framework and certainty for the transition to happen, but also in upfront investment to get the ball rolling.
“The federal government can do things like the solar certification and training programmes, which was hugely successful, and they can do that for electric vehicle charging networks and for building heating and cooling systems,” he said.
Barriers still stand in the way, but Griffith says with a bit of government support in the order of $10-20 billion, once the training and supply chain are established they would begin paying for themselves many times over.
“The government’s real role now is to understand that if it helps through subsidies and rebates get Australia on the path, it’ll only have to invest small numbers of billions of dollars in order for the whole population to be saving $40 billion a year by the end of the decade.
“What we’re really asking for is for the government to commit to this being the pathway and then if they do that, they’ll help shape the market, they will create the regulations and the market conditions that enable the free market to make this all come true. And then we will be saving a tonne of money as a country by 2030.”