'Policy deadlock' remains despite record investment

AUSTRALIA: Forty-one renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of 4.33GW have been committed to in Australia in 2017, the Clean Energy Council found, with more than A$8 billion ($6.29 billion) worth of investments made so far.

The 75-turbine 240MW Ararat wind farm is one of several large-scale projects commissioned in Australia this year
The 75-turbine 240MW Ararat wind farm is one of several large-scale projects commissioned in Australia this year

While the Clean Energy Council’s report points to a brighter future, other organisations’ recent findings paint a less optimistic picture.

Australia is one of only two developed nations breaking emissions records, according to a study published by researchers at the Australia Institute this week.

Elsewhere, the Climate Council this week concluded politics is the only factor standing in the way of the country’s transition to a modern electricity network powered by renewable energy supported by storage technology.

Wind accounts for 2.22GW of the 41 large-scale renewable projects under construction or completed this year, attracting A$5.116 billion ($4.009 billion) in investment, according to the Clean Energy Council’s analysis.

The 75-turbine 240MW Ararat site in Victoria went online in April, while the 270MW Sapphire project in New South Wales and the 180MW Mount Emerald project in Queensland are among major projects under construction. The 200MW Silverton wind farm in NSW is due to start construction before the end of the year.

Several large projects in Australia have also been announced this year, buoying expectations in the market, according to consultants at Make in a separate report released last month.

GE announced it would supply 123 turbines at the 453MW Coopers Gap project in August, Tesla is working to develop a 100MW/129/MWh battery system in South Australia, and auctions have been announced for Queensland and Victoria.

State and Territory

"Initiatives by many state and territory governments in support of these projects, combined with the strong role of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Clean Energy Finance Corporation now puts the 2020 Renewable Energy Target well within reach," said Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton.

"We have already seen six times the investment value in 2017 of what we saw in 2016, and the new capacity will also help with energy security.

"In 2016, the combined capacity from all projects completed stood at 264.1MW. This year 2,210.2MW of projects have been committed and 1,881.2MW are in construction with a whole financial quarter still to go," he added.

Despite state and territory governments’ support for renewable energy projects, the Climate Council pointed to an "ongoing climate and energy policy deadlock" in its report, Powering a 21st Century Economy.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has called for further investment in Australia's generating portfolio and warned of a shortfall in generation over the next ten years.

All of the above?

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's stated desire for an "all of the above" investment framework — including coal — is at odds with the renewable energy sector and this deadlock is in turn holding up the development needed for the country to meet its targets under the Paris Agreement, the Climate Council said.

The Climate Council’s energy sector expert Andrew Stock asked: "You wouldn’t try and salvage a broken down, 50-year-old clunker of a car — so why is our government attempting to do the same with old coal fired power stations?

"So much energy is wasted debating issues of yesteryear while the rest of the world has moved on. It’s time for the federal government to stop playing politics and start moving on our renewables future, not the solutions of the past."

The Climate Council also pointed to a consensus among bodies including national science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the AEMO, and the country’s chief scientist Alan Finkel that there are "no technological barriers" stopping Australia moving to clean, affordable and secure energy.

Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie added: "The nation’s leading energy experts, scientists and major authorities are all in agreement — Australia is ready to switch to a modern grid, powered by renewables and storage. However, the only thing stopping this is political will."


Meanwhile, the Australia Institute’s National Energy Audit found that the country’s annual emissions from energy use have increased to their highest level.

This means that apart from Turkey, Australia is the only developed country failing to reduce its energy combustion emissions.

A large increase in the consumption of petroleum fuels, particularly diesel, was the main cause of the increase, the Australia Institute found.

"Australia’s failure to invest in efficient transport infrastructure, such as rail, has led to emissions from transport fuels continuing to grow, again, unlike the rest of the developed world," Australia Institute's energy specialist Hugh Saddler said.

"The continued rise in fuel emissions demonstrates why requiring a reduction for the electricity sector that is only equal to the Paris target would likely see Australia fail to meet its international commitment."

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