If there’s one thing General Sir John Monash did not tolerate, it was being used for political ends.
After World War One, a group of plotters tried to enlist his help as a figurehead to lead a coup. He flatly refused, saying; “Australia’s future lies in education and at the ballot box”.
These words will be inscribed with a statue of Monash wearing civilian attire, which will be unveiled on 3rd July to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle of Le Hamel.
Not a traditionalist...
He would most certainly take umbrage to his name being used by people who have formed the ‘Monash Forum’. That group of plotters seek to turn back the clock and use taxpayer funds to establish new coal fired power stations in Australia.
My family members, who are related to Sir John, would not presume to speak for him. But if forced to hazard a guess as to how he might feel about fossil fuel, I imagine he would embrace new technology instead, as he did when he was alive.
As a civil engineer responsible for many of Melbourne’s bridges before the Great War, Monash was no traditionalist. He is best known as a military commander who was a champion of innovation. He pioneered the use of tanks as an infantry shield.
If alive today I should think he would be an advocate of battery storage, which can be used to make wind and solar power ‘non-intermittent’. Monash would not advocate the early closure of coal fired power stations – that would be a waste of capital. Yet, neither would he support the commissioning of new ones.
This is because ‘big batteries’ can be used to load shift coal fired power; downloading it to storage at night and then making it available again to the grid during peak demand times. Much as he withdrew troops from Gallipoli at night, so they could live to fight another day on the western front.
As Prime Minister quite rightly says, we ought not see the energy debate as a simplistic ‘coal versus renewables’. We need renewable energy to be reliable. And we need coal fired power to be affordable.
Monash was rightly proud of the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company's efforts in mining underneath Hill 60 in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. These magnificent men were coal miners drawn from the Hunter and the Illawarra.
... and a staunch advocate for Australia's future
If Monash were alive today, he would take pride in those mining lithium and vanadium minerals. The world’s 2 largest lithium mines are both in Western Australia – but unfortunately both mines are subject to offtake agreements with Chinese businesses transforming these minerals into batteries.
Since Monash, by his own words, was a staunch advocate of Australia’s future lying in education, he would most certainly be a firm friend of Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos AM who still teaches at the University of NSW. In 1986 she invented the Vanadium Redox Battery, which is today used all around the world to store dispatchable power.
If only Australian parliamentarians got behind the Prime Minister’s ideas boom, which seeks to commercialise home grown inventions, we would enjoy a future where Vanadium Redox Batteries, assembled in Australia and used to store renewable energy, will produce energy at a cost per kWh of less than 7 cents.
Furthermore, we would see the realisation of energy security so badly needed due large amounts of un-stored renewable introduced into the system over the last few years – in addition to utilising overnight excess capacity of coal fired power.
The extraction of vanadium minerals, and the manufacturing of VRBs would create new industries that would employ 12,000 people for decades to come. Labor energy ministers, and the federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg MP achieved a tremendous outcome last year with 49 of the 50 Finkel Review recommendations being unanimously agreed. One of those recommendations was to begin the roll out of 12,000 megawatt hours of storage over the coming dozen years.
This bipartisan commitment is something of which all Australians should feel proud.
Australia has an opportunity to honour the legacy of Monash, deliver jobs and growth to this country’s miners, achieve cheaper and reliable energy for industry and consumers by backing our strengths. We should support the Prime Minister in this endeavour, not undermine him.
Adam Joseph is corporate affairs manager at HydroSun, a renewable energy business. He is a former Director of the NSW Minerals Council, and is a past senior policy advisor to the Abbott Opposition in tourism and regional development portfolios.