Integrating solar energy into Australia’s liquefied natural gas sector could reduce national carbon dioxide emissions by 1%, a report by a university think-tank has suggested.

The Energy and Resources Institute at Charles Darwin University concluded that using solar power could help offset up to 50% of the Darwin LNG plant's emissions, taking into account electricity generation.

Additional savings of nearly three times that amount could be offset with solar energy by retrofitting so-called "helper motors" to partially electrify the plant’s compression turbines, which are currently fuelled by LNG, it was suggested.

“If this integration was implemented at all of Australia’s LNG plants, the initiative could reduce Australia’s CO2 emissions by about 5 million tonnes per annum. That’s around 1% of Australia’s total emissions [up to 9% of the reductions required to meet Australia’s 2030 targets],” said institute director Professor Suresh Thennadil.

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Miranda Taylor, National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) chief executive, said that given the massive potential emissions reductions, government investment is needed.

“With net zero goals being set globally, the LNG industry must explore all opportunities to decarbonise if it wants to stay relevant and sustainable for the decades to come. The Australian LNG industry has been a relatively high-emissions industry, so seeing how the integration of renewable, solar energy — of which Australia has an abundance — can make dramatic reductions is a big step forward.

The report also found that integrating solar energy into Australia’s LNG industry could increase the nation’s energy security by saving upwards of 97 million gigajoules of gas per annum — equivalent to more than 10% of domestic demand.

The report was co-produced by NERA, the federally funded, independent non-profit set up to drive collaboration and growth in the energy resources sector.

The report used the Santos-operated Darwin LNG facility in Northern Territory as a technical case study, to examine the potential to decarbonise LNG facilities at sites across the NT, Queensland and Western Australia via electrification and large-scale renewables.

The NT Minister for Renewables and Energy, Eva Lawler, said the findings showed the potential of solar energy.

“Leveraging our renewable resources to power the LNG sector could reduce the Territory’s emissions, create jobs, and position Territory exports as a low-carbon premium product,” Lawler said. "This opportunity complements other initiatives in the NT, including developing a carbon capture and storage hub and building a renewable hydrogen industry.”