The days when teachers could simply encourage their less academically inclined high school students to take up a trade are over.
As the world increasingly pursues zero-emission technology, training in chemistry, physics and other sciences is becoming more critical for all school students, no matter whether or not their career path includes further study at university.
Robert Edwards is chairperson of the National Hydrogen Training Committee for Master Plumbers Australia and New Zealand (MPANZ) and says there has been a long-held misconception that trades are the easy way out, but this can no longer be the case.
Hydrogen promises to be a big part of the future.
In 2018, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced an investment of $22.1 million in 16 hydrogen research projects. In 2019, this was followed by more than $100 million for the Renewable Hydrogen Development Funding Round to help fast-track the development of a renewable hydrogen industry.
Hydrogen can be used to power homes, as fuel for transport or heating, a way to store electricity until it’s needed, or as a raw material in the manufacturing industry.
As a gas, it can be delivered through existing natural gas pipelines, while as a liquid, it can be easily transported on trucks or ships, effectively making hydrogen a tradeable commodity.
But as all of this unfolds – and it’s unfolding fast – the future generation needs to know exactly what hydrogen is and how it works.
“Students need to be aware of this,” says Robert. “Those who are writing the high-school curriculum need to be aware of this, too. Parents who want their kids to do a trade also need to be aware of it.
“Hydrogen is not 20 or 30 years away, it’s two-to-three years away. It’s happening that fast. There’s a rollout of products overseas that have been in operation for quite some time that will start coming into Australia.”
Robert says the ACT is leading the nation when it comes to hydrogen technology, and we can expect to see anything here first.
“For instance, last month we were going to get a standalone hydrogen battery installed here in a house in Canberra, but it was only because of a couple of technical issues that it’s been put off until early next year.”
ActewAGL CEO John Knox said at the time: “If we have further investment in the hydrogen industry in Canberra, I am absolutely confident it will play a larger role in decarbonising both the transport and energy sector.”
Elsewhere in Fyshwick, Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) and EvoEnergy collaborated to create Australia’s first hydrogen testing station at their campus in December 2018. It launched progressively during the next 12 months in three phases, from testing hydrogen’s compatibility with current energy networks, to how it could be used in the likes of continuous hot-water systems.
Robert describes CIT as being one of the driving forces in getting dedicated hydrogen training up and running, and his committee has been working closely with the institution towards designing a specific certificate for tradespeople entering into hydrogen-related industries in Australia.
“We want to make sure there’s a licence qualification because everyone in the hydrogen sector does not want an accident to happen,” he says. “If that happens, hydrogen will be set back years.
“We’ve already worked on hydrogen skills for upstream of the gas meter for those on the supply side, and now we’ve just started work with one of the skill service organisations to design a training course for households, businesses and consumers.”
The last piece of the jigsaw involves developing a hydrogen-ready workforce in high-school students.
In Queensland, the Annastacia Palaszczuk state government has granted $2 million to Gladstone High School for introductory training courses in hydrogen.
“Hydrogen has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar industry, and the investment in training is to ensure we have people with the skills and training ready to meet demand as it grows and to ensure the safe and sustainable development of the hydrogen industry,” said Queensland Premier Palaszczuk.
Robert would like to see similar education built into the ACT school curriculum.
“Don’t say to your kids, ‘Why don’t you just go and do a trade?’,” he says.
“They need to know now that it’s a case of, ‘You know what, you better knuckle down if you want to do a trade’.”