Kane Thornton

ENERGY POLITICS – WE CANNOT SIT AND WAIT! COLLABORATIONS AND LEADERSHIP ARE NEEDED!

Interests: renewable energy and energy storage, renewable energy policy, energy transition, technology and innovation, leadership and climate change, digital disruption in energy

Kane Thornton

Kane did a Bachelor of Information Technology at Monash University. After graduating, he secured a position at IBM where his skills were recognised. At 26, he worked with DFAT in Tokyo as Manager of IT Infrastructure and the air pollution in industrial Asian cities made him redirect his career. He followed a Master’s in Social Sciences from RMIT in international urban and environmental management and the Australian Institute of Company Directors. “I focused on IT in my undergraduate degree because it was a new frontier with the .com boom. I worked in it for about 5 years, very exciting fast pace career that took me around the world. But my values and concerns about environmental issues made me want to redirect my career path. At that time, renewable energies were new but starting to take off. I was passionate about it and that’s when I did my master’s degree with a focus on renewable energy policy. After, I spend 15 more years focusing on renewable energy policies and governmental affairs”.

Kane also worked as senior manager and advisor for Hydro Tasmania and was the executive officer of Renewable Energy Generators Australia. He has held a range of advisory and board roles with government and non-government organisations in the energy sector and is the Deputy Chair of Sustainability Victoria. “Tasmania is an incredibly place with renewable resources. I was privileged to start my career in renewable energy with one of the most inspiring state”.

Nowadays, Kane is the Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council, peak body for the renewable energy and energy storage industry in Australia.He has been with them for 10 years and has been CEO of the company for the last 5. “My roles are both managing and leading the organisation. We have a team of about 65 staff contributing to the Clean Energy Council strategy. We play an active role in representing the industry and leading our engagement with the government. Dealing with the politics of climate change have been challenging and frustrating. But I remind myself of the incredible progress we achieved for the last decade in Australia”.

Kane wants to make a difference in the energy sector as the system needs to transit away from fossil fuels and replace the old energy generation methods with reliable and accessible renewable energy technologies. It seems a focus on policies and solving political uncertainty is needed. “The transition is occurring. The reality of climate change is being experienced as increasingly concerning. People around the world are frustrated by the lack of action and they are putting more pressure on governments. The Economics have shifted. The Australian public, big businesses and investors, energy consumers, all the different stakeholders are very clear; they want to adapt cleaner energies and energy storage. Unfortunately, our policy makers have not been doing a great job of coordinating that transition. In Australia we haven't had a clear vision and strategy to manage the energy system for a long time and businesses and the community don’t have confidence that the government policies and response are adequate”.

How do we persuade investors to put millions of dollars in renewables and energy storage? Investors seem in general enthusiastic to the idea. So, why did those investments slow down recently? For Kane, there are several reasons: “One, we do not have long-term sensible strong enduring energy policy to give some direction, some idea on what the energy market might look like in the future. The difficult politics means no policy certainty and difficulty for investors to make safe decisions. Two, there is the grid and regulatory issues. Our energy grid was designed for the 20s century. It means that connecting the renewable energies to the grid is difficult, complex, time consuming and costly. Major investments and reforms are needed. It is more difficult for investors to make these large commitments. On the other hand, our coal-fired power stations are getting older. It’s inevitable that more of them are going to close. It’s like an old second-hand car; the older it gets, the less reliable it becomes and the more expensive it is to run. There are lots of opportunities to have new clean energy projects in the system. The long-term outlook is looking strong for renewable energies, but without political leadership the rate of new investments is likely to be unpredictable and the transition is going to be a bit bumpy.

Kane believes in a Future of Energy with a more resilient energy system with distributed and diverse set of solutions inrenewable energy generation and energy storage. For him, we need to consider how the system works, from the technology all the way through the consumer. Achieving that renewable energy future will require partnership between government and policymakers, market regulators, smaller householders to big corporations… “ I think wind and solar will play a significant role in the future and for solar, both large scale solar farms but also roof top solar for households and businesses. Hydropower will also have a big role to play in Australia; and that includes a shift towards pomp-hydro as an energy storage. We will also see a strong electricity grid. And then, Australia will take advantage of its renewable resources and be able to export those around the world. There will be more exploration of hydrogen as a vehicle to export renewable energy. It is a fuel with extraordinary potential to create jobs and growth. There is a lot of interest in being able to produce low-cost renewable energy-based hydrogen using our wind and solar and exporting that in Asia”.

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