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How the tech sector in Australia can lead the nation towards net zero

How the tech sector in Australia can lead the nation towards net zero

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Joshua Martin, Senior Director of ENGIE Impact, tells us how the Australian tech sector can achieve a net zero carbon footprint, offering advice for companies and arguing: “If it makes sense, do it!”

Joshua Martin, Senior Director of ENGIE Impact

As the world turns its attention to achieving its respective ambitious decarbonisation goals, Australia awaits clear guidance as to its plans to achieve net zero.

Yet with nothing set in stone, its incumbent on businesses in Australia to instead take the lead and not wait for policy to dictate their roadmaps. 

Businesses within the ICT sector in Australia are at the forefront of those which should be primed to take a lead on the issue, particularly as it’s both a fast-growing sector in Australia and a significant contributor to the nation’s emissions. 

One in five of the top 500 fastest-growing tech companies in the Asia-Pacific region are Australian, according to one report: not bad for a country with just a small fraction of the region’s population. In addition, it’s estimated that the technology sector alone contributed about AU$167 billion to the Australian economy in the 2021 fiscal year, with the Tech Council of Australia claiming that contribution could increase by AU$77 billion over the next decade.

As the sector continues to grow, so too does its carbon footprint – our data forecast that the APAC region will be the fastest growing region of data centers over the next five years, representing an additional 800 megawatts (MW) of power consumption by this year alone. Of that, Sydney is expected to have the fourth-largest critical load in the region with over 300MW by this year.

Meanwhile, the Australian Energy Council forecast that data centers could grow to consume a fifth of all the world’s energy by 2025. 

But amid those data there is hope; globally, the ICT sector continues to play a significant role in accelerating the transition to clean energy. Almost a fifth of the membership of RE100 – a leading global initiative that brings together hundreds of large businesses committed to adopting 100% renewable electricity – are ICT companies, which have purchased nearly a quarter of total renewable energy available. 

There is the potential for the Australian ICT sector to follow its global peers in accelerating the development of renewable energy opportunities across the country and region.

Hitting the renewable energy mark

To take advantage of new opportunities provided by national initiatives, ICT companies with ambitious renewables goals must embed flexibility within their clean energy strategy and explore innovative solutions.

Firstly, ICT leaders must develop a flexible strategy. Every country has its specific economic, technological and regulatory parameters, which must be dealt with on an individual basis. In devising a strategy that will successfully lead to increased use of renewables and ultimately to 100% green energy, it is essential for leaders to familiarise themselves with the details of each country’s policies and to take advantage of any renewable energy opportunities that are available. 

Furthermore, there is a piqued interest – and with it investment – that is being made from both the public and private sector from which many ICT companies will soon be able to avail of – much of it to do with hydrogen. 

Funding has been set aside from the federal government in the most recent budget for the development of hydrogen hubs, which is driving interest towards the evolution of hydrogen technologies including storage. Meanwhile, companies such as Ampol are further driving interest off their own bat.

Traditionally a petrol and diesel supplier, Ampol recently took a 20% stake in, CSIRO-backed, Endua, which is developing renewables-based hydrogen power units that could be used at mines, farms and residential communities that are not connected to the grid.

These new innovations, combined with existing renewable opportunities, promise to re-shape our energy mix and offer new sustainable avenues from which the ICT sector can source its energy. 

But they don’t have to wait for new innovations or government policies to undertake a decarbonisation strategy. One of Australia’s most successful tech companies offers a way forward and is already making the move to a more sustainable future with resounding success so far. 

Turning intent into action

Making the move to a more sustainable operation should not be just about decarbonising at a pace aligned to climate science but ramping up the ambition to set a pace that is aligned to the state-of-play for technologies and their commercial readiness. 

In short: if it makes sense, do it. 

Australia’s Atlassian is one company setting its own pace for decarbonisation and has stated it is now running its operations on 100% of its electricity from renewable energy. 

But achieving net zero targets requires more than renewable energy adoption. The company is looking at its supply chain as well to decarbonise, which will have a trickle effect on its suppliers. It plans to slash emissions from business travel 25% by 2025, particularly with flights. It has already declared that workers can continue to work from home full time even once the pandemic subsides, which should make that lofty travel goal achievable far quicker than its original target. It also wants 65% of its suppliers to have science-based climate targets by the 2025 financial year.

Atlassian proves that companies can decarbonise quickly and sustainably and that intent can be turned into action behind a dedicated leadership and by leaning on the best available decarbonisation measures.

If the technology sector can lead the way for other sectors to decarbonise the region, leveraging an influx of new commercial and technological innovations, Australia can achieve its net zero ambitions. As economic, technological and regulatory conditions evolve, organizations with ambitious sustainability goals can ride the crest of the wave to accelerate their transformation.

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