Research paper calls for infrastructure rethink to meet net-zero

06 September 2022

Governments must invest and break down roadblocks to the deployment of emerging and existing technologies if the world is to move to net-zero by mid-century - including legislative change to allow countries that currently prohibit the use of nuclear energy to consider using it as part of their energy mix, according to a new report by Princeton University and Worley.

The report calls for a new approach to infrastructure (Image: Worley)

From Ambition to Reality 2: Measuring change in the race to deliver net zero is the second in a series by Princeton University's Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment and the Australia-headquartered global engineering solutions firm. The report examines in detail the five key "shifts" in infrastructure delivery needed to achieve mid-century net zero that were outlined in the collaboration's first paper: broadening value, enabling options, standardisation, creating partnerships and the digital accelerant.

The new paper proposes fifteen leading "indicators of change" that describe how rapid, scalable infrastructure development projects should be performing and can be used to assess "where we stand and give us the insight and confidence to adjust and correct our course". Princeton plans to carry out an annual survey to track these indicators year-on-year from 2023-2030. This, the authors say, will help inform whether the world is moving its infrastructure delivery methodology to "net-zero ready" and, if not, allow it to change course.

While the first paper in the series focused on the USA as its case study, the new paper uses Australia as its case study and replicates similar scenarios. Although a much smaller energy economy than the USA, the net-zero options available to Australia demand a different approach, it notes: as well as being an arid country, with limited biomass resources, Australian law does not allow nuclear energy, so unlike in previous study, these are not included in the Australian scenarios.

Decarbonisation will require Australia to essentially replicate today's total world renewable current fleet by 2050 as well as adding up to 1 gigatonne of CO2 sequestration, the report notes. "To achieve such numbers the message is clear: we must dramatically rethink the way we deliver infrastructure," it says.

"Australia shares the same story with many other countries. And it brings us to the same conclusion: we must change global energy systems at rates we've never seen before. Assumptions and numbers may change. Demand for Australia's energy exports may increase, the need for Australia to capture its importers' carbon may decrease, or Australia may change its position on nuclear energy."

Although a major producer and exporter of uranium for nuclear fuel, the use of nuclear power in Australia is currently prohibited by federal and state-level legislation. Successive Australian governments have maintained this moratorium, although a federal inquiry in 2019 recommended a partial lifting of the current prohibitions to allow the deployment of new and emerging technologies such as small modular reactors, and public and political debate on the use of such technology continues.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News