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Heaven and Earth: Trevor St Baker's surprising quest to decarbonise the world

Business

Trevor St Baker is nothing if he’s not a walking, talking contradiction about clean energy.

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The 81-year-old is a man who has made millions from the transition to renewable energy and whose passion is decarbonising the world – but who is also a champion for retaining Queensland’s dispatchable power fleet of coal and gas-fired power stations.

And he said the blackouts that rolled through Queensland this week are just an example of not managing the transition properly.

“There are only two paths to net zero (emissions),’’ St Baker told InQueensland.

“One is to shut down all our industry and only turn the lights on when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

“The other is to electrify the transport sector with 100 per cent sun and wind and expand renewables while keeping our dispatchable power going until we work out what we are going to replace it with.

“You only have to take the blackouts in Queensland to see that if even a small percentage of our dispatchable power is down it’s not going to be replaced by sun and wind.

“The uptake of renewables has to be managed much better than it is at the moment.’’

He remains pragmatic about his companies’ role in the transition which may be the wiser way when the Federal Government can’t deliver a renewable energy target.

“We are in the business of decarbonising the world, but it won’t happen overnight,’’ he said.

St Baker is heavily invested in decarbonising through his 26 per cent stake in Tritium, the Brisbane company that this week announced a $2 billion merger and listing on the American Nasdaq index.

He also has a big stake in battery materials company Novonix and fast-charging company Evie. However, he made a fortune through the sale of ERM Power to Shell for $607 million.

He also has a major stake in Sunset Power with business partner Brian Flannery. It owns the Vales Point power station in NSW, an asset they bought for $1 million that is now a cash cow that delivered a $62 million dividend last year.

But his passion, he said, is decarbonising transport and this week’s Tritium deal is about that.

“Our achievement here is even better (than selling ERM) because it was not a matter of selling out. It’s a matter of having established here in Brisbane the research and development and control of the patents here at Murrarie,’’ St Baker said.

Tritium will start its Nasdaq life with about $400 million in cash which makes it a nice target for takeover, but St Baker says the foundation shareholders are escrowed for six months and the cornerstone investor for 12 months.

Anyway, he said, to buy Tritium someone would have to come up with enough to cover the anticipated earnings in the future and he believes that is substantial.

“Tritium has the potential to be number one globally in this hugely, rapidly growing market for fast chargers around the world and 90 per cent of those are going overseas.

“We will be maintaining R&D headquarters here and the Asia Pacific headquarters here but we need to go global and we need to competing with the biggest corporations in the world.

“The Nasdaq (America’s technology exchange) is where the venture capital is and the higher net worth (investors). They are throwing money at the decarbonisation of the world.

“Direct Charge fast-charging is the central part of making it happen.’’

Shell has recently announced it will do a global roll-out of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030. St Baker expects BP to do the same and Australia has to get on board.

At the moment Australia is well behind in adopting electric vehicles, but that will have to change.

“It will be driven by the fact that no vehicle manufacturer is putting money into the development of the combustion models,’’ St Baker said.

“We will either go electric or we will be the dumping ground the dirtiest cars that won’t be able to be sold in any other country.

“The Government doesn’t want to subsidise this transition, but it is happening and all the government has to do is stop wasting its time saying that in a couple of decades time there might be more hydrogen cars.

“Well, hydrogen will be a miniscule sideshow for the transport sector globally and Australia can either join the world or not.’’

 

 

 

 

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