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29th February 2024
The Hunter New Energy Symposium 2024 – a reminder to the renewable industry, don’t forget about your brand!
Kara Sullivan
Written by:
Kara Sullivan

Last week we attended the Hunter New Energy Symposium for a two-day insight injection on all things renewables. Great to see lots of national and international delegates drawn to Newcastle by the immense growth in the region. As branding and marketing experts based in Newcastle and working in the renewables space, it was fascinating to see some best practice brands who don’t just focus on the tech, they remember that connecting with humans is the key to success. It’s a great time to be located in what feels like an epicentre of Australia’s energy future. We rode on a hydrogen bus (spoiler alert, if feels just like a normal bus), learnt a lot about the state of play in energy and have (mostly) wrapped our heads around what it all means, so you don’t have to.

Here’s your cheat sheet to the best brands in renewable energy and what’s happening in the Hunter region right now in renewable energy – hint: it’s a lot.

Ying and Kara at the Hunter New Energy Symposium 2024 in Newcastle; Thomas Hansen from Equinor presenting at HNES2024

1. The Hunter is getting a lot of attention from industry, investors and Government

Very exciting to hear just how much is happening in the renewable space in the Hunter region, the next decade is shaping up to be a cracker of growth and investment. So great to see so much interest from national and global brands wanting to set up operations and invest here.

The attraction? We’re well located for low emissions power generation, industrial transformation and transport with key infrastructure and a skilled workforce. No brainer.

Our take: there’s still lots of competition for regional investment from Gladstone, Illawarra... etc and creating a distinctive brand for the Hunter region will be key to rise to the top.

2. Energy is not what it used to be

Massive shifts in energy are happening right now and it’s a big deal, we are turning the electricity system completely on its head, a system over 100 years old, plus exiting the gas industry (200 years old) because it now makes little sense to fund this declining market (Grattan Institute).

Our take: for any brands targeting consumers (or B2B for that matter) you’ll need to market to them as if you’re doing a behavioural change campaign. Education is key but avoid all technical jargon (i.e. don’t let the engineers write your copy!). Focus on the clear benefits and make change simple and beautiful. Think LAVO, Tesla, Polestar. Renewables meets lifestyle brand is the winning formula 🔥

LAVO hydrogen battery and Green Hydrogen (Source: LAVO and DCCEEW)

3. Hydrogen, hydrogen and more hydrogen

Day one’s theme: hydrogen everything. And it’s all happening… you guessed it, in the Hunter. In Dec 2023, the Fed Gov announced the six projects shortlisted for their $2bn Hydrogen Headstart program. Two of the six projects were based in the Hunter: Orica and Origin’s Hunter Valley Hydrogen Hub and KEPCO’s project to produce Hydrogen and Ammonium at the Port of Newcastle. This is a big deal.

Prior in 2023, Origin was awarded Fed funding to progress its Hunter Hydrogen Hub ($70mil in June and $45mil in Sept) which aims to support a reliable and commercial scale green hydrogen supply chain in the Newcastle industrial and port precinct. First hydrogen production is being targeted from 2026. NSW Gov also has an incentive scheme for green hydrogen production by 2025.

Judging by the 100+ members of the Australian Hydrogen Council, industry is on board and demand is there. And before we all start thinking hydrogen is the panacea, Dr Fiona Simon, their CEO reminds us that hydrogen supports other renewables, it doesn’t compete.

Consensus seems to be (confirmed by NSW Gov and Tony Wood, Grattan Institute) that when it comes to transport, hydrogen will be used for long distance trucks and buses, while ammonia or methanol will be for shipping and planes… maybe a mix of electrification and hydrogen for long haul flights. Will our travel miles to Europe be one day guilt free again?

Our take: we’re big fans of Origin’s recent brand evolution, smart contemporary positioning and mixed media campaign  focussing on change and their dummy’s guide to hydrogen which remembers that the industry thinking is way ahead of the layperson. Lose the jargon if you want to accelerate adoption.

4. The offshore wind pitchfest

Fascinating stuff to see it all play out! We heard back-to-back presentations from four of the lead proponents pitching for the Newcastle offshore wind project. It’s a very complicated process, the lowdown at this early stage is thus.

The Hunter offshore wind zone was declared by the Federal Government in Jul 2023, an area which covers 1,854km2 and extends offshore from Norah Head in the south, to Port Stephens in the north.

It’s a multi-billion dollar project which is not yet approved “more environmental assessments and investigations are needed to inform future development options”.

A total of 8 companies have applied to the Fed Gov for a feasibility license in Nov 2023. If they are granted a license (expected any month now), they have seven years to demonstrate they can make the project a commercial success before they get approval to construct the thing.

The four proponents who presented were Equinor, Destiny Wind, Blue Float Energy & EDF Renewables. Very interesting to see the partnerships between global and Australian organisations and the different positioning strategies around global expertise, innovative design, supporting local and community consultation.

We’ve already seen whale propaganda at Port Stephens and a community support rally in Newcastle. Whichever way you look at it, this project is already attracting at lot of attention for the region. A great opportunity for local business.

Our take: to position your brand and project for success, the mix of global best practice and local community connection is key. We’re excited to use our market research, branding and marketing strategy expertise to help these organisations bring significant investment to the Hunter, reach out for a chat!

Ampcontrol, 3ME and Energy Renaissance

5. Innovation & advanced manufacturing in the Hunter – MCi Carbon, Ampcontrol, Energy Renaissance, 3ME

MCi Carbon is an Australian company and a global leader in carbon capture. Their plant 'Myrtle' (currently in construction at Kooragang Island, Newcastle) has the technology to transform Orica's emissions into solid carbonates for use in building materials and other valuable products for the circular economy (it’s all connected!).  We're impressed by their revolutionary technology, their gun COO Sophia Hamblin Wang and the significant global investment they're attracting.

Rod Henderson from Ampcontrol wowed the audience (we’re completely biased, they’re our client and we helped develop Ampcontrol’s brand) with their world first innovations in electric boats, Gilghi off-grid water purification system for remote communities, electric underground mining trucks and stand-alone-power-systems (now with hydrogen fuelled back-up generators) and their LAVO collab.

Brian Craighead from Energy Renaissance was impressive, producing lithium batteries in Tomago (Newcastle) and practising what he preaches to his kids, “don’t just get mad, do something about it”. Currently has 92% Australian components, “obsessively chasing 100%”. They won the PM science award and are working with CSIRO. He reminded us the key to success in this transition is human connection.

3ME CEO, Justin Bain, talked about their clean energy tech solution to heavy industries including mining and military. One of their recent innovations is delivering the first Australian hybrid electric Bushmaster in collaboration with the Australian Army, earning a shout out from Albo on his visit to Newcastle this month.

Our take: the renewables brands ahead of the pack are leading the way with human-centred language and modern contemporary imagery and branding, to stand out you must invest, old B2B thinking no longer cuts the mustard.

6. 2050? We’re not going to make it

We’re overspending the carbon budget. At this stage we’re not going to reach our 2050 net zero target 😱. There’s lots of hope and hype but what is really needed is hard work (and further policy reforms). Every sector counts and out of all of our emissions, only electricity (second highest) is projected to fall by 2030 – it can’t do all the work. Industry (1), agriculture (2) and transport (4) are not forecasted to budge by 2030. To make 2050 our global emissions have to peak by 2025. Next. Year. 😬

“We have lots of targets and now many plans on how to reach them. It’s like showing up to the pub where there’s lots of targets and we forgot the darts.” Tony Wood, Grattan Institute.

7. Community and social license

We learnt firstly that social license doesn’t actually exist (legally) and secondly why it’s so 1990.

Kelly Lofberg from Mara says engage early, at the strategic planning stage and use it as a strategic business tool (not just when seeking planning approval). The old listen first! Be prepared for difficult conversations and manage expectations by being clear on what’s up for grabs and what’s not.

Always avoid the jargon. Remember that people don’t read the EIS. And trust and social license must be earned, maintained, and never taken for granted. Lots of discussion around ‘co-existence’, very David Attenborough!

Our take: yes! And… there’s a bigger community research piece required to continually to listen to all locals and stakeholders to share insights into the bigger regional picture not just defend against the naysayers. We can help!


8. Skills shortages and recruitment challenges – the snowballing demand for renewable skills, training and expertise

Martin Poole, Head of Development at Ark Energy spoke about the Bowmans Creek wind farm up the valley and challenges with finding electrical and mechanical engineers and having to bring them in from outside the region.

University of Newcastle offers several degrees relevant to the renewable energy industries but Professor Diane Wiley, Dean of Engineering, observed there are not enough students coming into engineering degrees as it’s not well understood what types of careers people can have. This Offshore Wind Jobs Guide is a start.

Good news for the gender pay gap, the renewables industry is much closer to 50/50 in gender equality, attracting more women than underground mines, surprising no-one.

Our take: there will be skills shortages and recruitment challenges in the short to medium term, we need to build the pipeline with high school students now. Employers will need to be creative and innovative to stand out and find, retain and grow talent. If you haven’t got your employer brand sorted to become an employer of choice in this hyper-competitive talent market, we can help! 🙋‍♀️

Image credit: Equinor

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