When you think of Australia, many thoughts enter one’s mind but nothing quite sums it up like our own national anthem.
“Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, Of beauty rich and rare”
Australia is an enormous land mass, 7.7 million square metres and within the borders of this huge country we have some of the richest and most vast resources controlled by any single nation in the world.
In terms of metal resources Australia ranks number 1 in the world for Iron ore, Uranium and Lithium. We are the second largest producer of gold, third largest producer of Zinc, fourth largest producer of Nickel and fifth largest producer of Silver.
Other key resources include Coal where we are ranked fourth, Gas twelfth and we have the sixth largest amount of Arable Land for agriculture.
In 2007-08, Europe and America experienced the biggest economic downturn since the 1930’s and while many Australians were certainly affected, the impact in Australia was dulled in comparison to European countries and the United States.
Largely credited for shielding Australia’s economy was the major mining boom of the early 2000’s, which saw a large uptake of our minerals to South East Asia.
Mining exports have been on a constant increase in Australia since 1950, and now it dominates our foreign trade. Australia’s major purchasers of minerals are China and Japan.
The recent resources boom was the biggest since the gold rush of the mid-1800s. It had real impacts on Australia’s economy, including raising real household income by 13%, reducing national unemployment by 1.25% and increasing investment spending from 2% to 8% of GDP.
Contributing factors to recent drop off in jobs and income growth is not necessarily because the mining industry is dying (although there certainly has been a slow down), but because the construction phase of the mining boom is over. The construction phase of the mining boom employed up to 10 times the amount of people than the current operational phase.
Where does this leave Australia now and how does Australia move forward in taking advantage of the next boom?
Australia unfortunately is now experiencing some of the lowest income growth in the last 50 years and certainly in the last 20 years.
National unemployment rates are “relatively” low at 5.9% however the reality is that this figure does not take into consideration the status of one’s employment with regard to full-time versus part-time basis.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, underemployment has been on the rise from approximately 2008 as illustrated by the below graph.
So how does Australia turn around these slipping numbers and take advantage of the next economic boom?
Right now the world is experiencing an unprecedented growth in technology. With all new technology there is one underlining factor. Electronics!
Whether it be Smart phones and tablets, electric cars, machines and even renewable energy like Solar, they all share one thing in common. Battery storage of energy.
In order to create batteries you need one vital component. Lithium.
We have already established above that Australia possesses the largest Lithium mines in the world as well as having an incredible land mass for any single country.
Our land is not only vast, it is also possesses an ideally suited environment for capturing Solar and Wind energy production. These two combinations put Australia at a large advantage over most other nations.
The two below figures illustrate Australia’s potential for over all Renewable and solar specific generation.
Figure 1: Global distribution of wind and solar generation potential
Figure 2: Global distribution of solar specific potential
No single country has Australia’s potential. It is clear we have all the right ingredients in this nation to take advantage of the future energy boom of the world and could be a world super power in renewable energy production as well as energy exports.
It is absolutely ludicrous to think that, with all this potential, Australia is trailing the world for renewable policy. We are ranked 24th in the world on renewable energy and 15th overall for “clean” energy.
We have enough potential that we can certainly supply energy for large areas of South East Asia much as we supplied valuable minerals during the recent mining boom.
The infrastructure needed to do this will be on a massive scale, as construction would transcend the national requirements of providing just for Australia.
This will create another “construction phase” much like we saw during the mining boom. This means more job and investment opportunities for Australians. This will help to drive Australia’s economy into the future.
The world’s demand for battery energy is set to grow at an phenomenal rate and Australia just needs to take advantage of this growth and tap into our vast natural resources.
While battery technology is ever improving, the most cutting edge research is emerging from Australia’s very own CSIRO being the development of Hydrogen fuel cells from solar energy.
The implications of this technology could see a cost effective way of transporting hydrogen fuel to countries like Japan and South Korea. Both countries have expressed desires to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy with goals of becoming hydrogen reliant nations.
The time is right for us, Australia.
We are standing on the precipice of significant economic opportunity. We only need to maximise our inherited natural resources to their fullest potential.