A day in the life of a Minnesota trade mission delegate

December 13, 2023
In November, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz led a trade mission of nearly 50 Minnesota businesses and organization members to Australia for a week of tours, conversation and collaboration. Amelia Cerling Hennes, CEEM’s Managing Director accompanied the Governor on the trip, and this is her first-person account of a day on the mission.

Up early

No sooner had most delegates gotten over the worst of their jet lag from the 17-hour time difference between Minnesota and Sydney, Australia, than the clean energy track packed their bags for Melbourne after a delightful evening reception at Sydney’s Contemporary Art Museum. Sydney offered sunny skies, 70+ degree temperatures and a lesson in how to pay homage to indigenous leaders past, present and emerging. But there was much more on the agenda – onward!

Before our flights to Melbourne for the next leg of our journey, let me first give you a sprinkling of facts about Australia’s clean energy footprint.

• Home to 28 billion kw of solar in 2021 – the largest producer by capita
• Australia is the first country to export hydrogen
• 6th most attractive country for renewable energy investment
• 35% of their electricity comes from renewable energy (12.8% – wind, 9.3% – rooftop solar, 7.1% hydroelectric, 5% – large scale solar)

Back to the morning of November 15 (which coincidentally was my birthday!) We were asked to check out of our hotels by 5:15 AM and load the bus to the airport.

Views of the Sydney Opera house in the evening

Strong leadership

Minnesota’s clean energy track was led by International Trade Specialist Nate Long, who works out of Minnesota’s Trade Office which is housed within the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Nate has been carefully planning this trip for the last 6 months. Now his job is even harder: corralling a group of 10+ disparate business, tribal and trade and nonprofit organizational leaders who love to talk.

Our 1.5 hour flight from Sydney to Melbourne is on time. Before we board we have time for some of Australia’s famous coffee and croissants before boarding our flight. As soon as we land in Melbourne’s western airport, a bus picks us up and takes us to the city of Geelong (pronounced Ja-long) where we head to our first stop: the Victorian Big Battery project.

Deboarding the plane in Melbourne, Australia
World-class coffee in Melbourne, Australia

Big Batteries

The only opportunity our track had to get outside of Australia’s largest cities was the morning of November 15th on our way to visit the Victorian Big Battery project. When you spend so much of your time within a city’s business district, it’s a refreshing change of pace to get out into the suburbs and see how people live and where they shop. We managed to spend a few minutes inside a small grocery store where we picked up some sweets for our bus ride and as souvenirs for colleagues and friends. Several packages of Tim Tams (Australian chocolate-covered cookies) made their way back onto the bus!

When we arrived at the Big Battery project we were greeted by Shane Bannister, senior Manager of Business Development Project Sales at Tesla in their Asia Pacific region, and his team. The bright Australian sun warmed our faces as we toured the 300 MW battery project, which is powered by Tesla batteries, and was developed by Neoen. Construction on this project began in early 2021 and finished within around 9 months.

The battery project has a 250 MW grid service contract with AEMO under direction from the Victorian Government. It will support Victoria’s clean energy transition and secure reliable, affordable power for Victorians, helping the state meet its renewable energy target of 50% by 2030. It is also supporting increased amounts of wind and solar through ‘firming’ – storing cheap energy when the sun is shing and wind is blowing for releasing at times when its needed most, and through helping to deliver a more secure and modern energy system.

Shane and his colleagues shared that Australia suffers from between 6-12 large energy events each year when demand for their battery backup spikes. These moments make the battery site developers a large amount of money – while providing resiliency and grid stability to the surrounding Victorian area.

As Minnesota tourists many of us wondered if the high fencing surrounding the site was to keep out kangaroos? Alas, no, we were told it was simply a safety feature to keep out people, just like in the U.S.

The Australia Trade Mission clean tech delegation visiting the Victorian Big Battery project in Geelong.

The City of Geelong

After spending a shade too long in the sun and nursing some sunburns, the Minnesota delegates reboarded the bus and headed to downtown Geelong for a lunch meeting with the city and Cleanaway – the largest landfill hauler in the country.

Our meeting was held at the Wurriki Nyal Civic Precinct, which is a lovely, state-of-the-art building and one of many reasons why Geelong has the distinction of being named a UNESCO City of Design.

We were greeted by the Mayor of Geelong, Trent Sullivan and listened to a presentation by Cleanaway. Cleanaway is the largest waste management provider in Australia, serving 250 locations. Cleanaway is committed to decarbonizing and increasing the circularity of waste whenever possible. They have recently joined an advanced hydrogen mobility project that is piloting Australia’s first heavy vehicle hydrogen refueling station as well as a small test fleet of hydrogen-powered heavy vehicles. The $43.3 million hydrogen project received a $22.8 million grant from the Australia Renewable Energy Agency.

The kindness and generosity of time displayed in these meetings was very evident. We were sad to leave the gorgeous building without having the opportunity to take a tour – but the day was only halfway through! Up next: Deakin University.

ManuFutures Advanced Manufacturing Hub

Deakin University serves an impressive 65,000 students spread out across four campuses across the country. Our first stop at the university was the ManuFutures Advanced Manufacturing Hub – which is currently hosting its 6th cohort of entrepreneurs. This advanced manufacturing innovation hub is meant to offer mentoring services and business expertise in order to :
• Ignite
• Accelerate
• Engage
• Connect

The clean tech delegation visiting Deakin University's ManuFutures Lab
The clean tech track visiting with representatives from the City of Geelong

Deakin University leaders shared that when automotive manufacturing left the city of Geelong in 2016 it left a void. The university has since stood up this ManuFutures lab in 2018 thanks in part to a $20 million contribution from the Victorian Government to incubate new ideas as well as to create a ‘sovereign manufacturing’ force – a new focus of the Australian government in recent years.

The results since it’s inception are impressive:

  • 17 startups incubated
  • 45+ countries assisted startups in establishing markets
  • $1 billion in new company value
  • 120 direct new jobs created

And the University doesn’t just talk the talk. They’ve backed up these investments with an impressive 7 MW microgrid on campus consisting of solar and battery backup.

Minnesota clean energy delegates were given a tour of several startup businesses going through the ManuFutures cohort. From one company pioneering a new waterless color application with plasma coating, to another company called Green L iIon which is coming up with a circular economy solution for batteries – we were impressed by the breadth of technology and the wraparound support for the entrepreneurs.

Celebrating the City of Melbourne

It was a long day for Minnesota’s delegates, including yours truly – and we were glad to finally be able to check into our hotel within Melbourne’s business district by around 6:00 that evening. Since it was my birthday – many of the delegates insisted upon a celebration. After a quick check-in to our respective hotel rooms, we regathered in the lobby and headed out to Tien38 – a delicious Singapore-inspired restaurant fairly close to the hotel.

Let me pause here to say: the food we encountered in Sydney and Melbourne was TOP NOTCH! From the hotel breakfast buffets, to the steakhouses and myriad Asian country inspired restaurants – the fish, the the coffee, croissants, fresh fruit, — everything was spectacular! Tien38 was no different. We dove into our dumplings, our fried spring roles, Peking duck and everything in between.

Some of Minnesota's clean tech delegation enjoying Melbourne's dumpling market.
Minnesota's clean tech delegation enjoying an evening out in Melbourne

Relationships matter

We’ve all heard it time and time again: relationships matter. But trade delegations really drive home this point. When you’re spending time in a country and learning how others are finding solutions differently or better – it’s the start of progress.

The same is true for the relationships built on this trade delegation simply within our clean energy track. We were fortunate to have Joe Nayquonabe from the Lake Mille Lacs Economic Development Commission and Jake Robinson, with Red Lake, Inc. on this mission. They pointed out to us that they were the first two tribal members to ever attend a Governor’s Trade Mission. Their perspectives throughout the trip enriched my own experience, along with others on the trip.

‘You cannot be, what you cannot see’

Pausing from the busyness of life and work to experience and meet new people and tour different ways of doing things, is part of the point of attending a mission trip. Other experiences from the trip were particularly inspiring – like hearing about EnergyLab, Australia’s largest climate tech startup accelerator that launched in 2017. The organization connects talented founders addressing the global climate crisis to the mentors, advisors, partners, peers and investors they need to succeed. This group also focuses on women in climate and energy with a special fellowship.

Minnesota clean tech delegation track with Governor and Lady Walz

These ecosystems being built in Sydney and Melbourne are directly related to what Clean Energy Economy MN is trying to build with Minnesota Energy Alley. Our state’s entire region can benefit from the relationships we’ve made on this trip, and the inspiration that has been sparked by our travels.

Each day of a trade mission is unique, busy, and inspiring. We closed out the mission on Friday, November 18th with a closing reception where the Governor and Lady Walz asked everyone on the delegation to share a single highlight from the trip. From the partnerships, new friendships, inspiration and a new pathway for decarbonization – CEEM and its members are rich in opportunity from this mission.

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