renewable energy

Even Without Help, Australia’s Renewables Are Booming

Last year, 17 percent of our power came from hydro, wind, and solar.
May 30, 2017, 10:39pm

The Clean Energy Council has released its annual report, revealing that Australia is on track to meet the Renewable Energy Target we've set for 2020. Hydro, wind, and solar schemes comprised 17 percent of the nation's electricity generation last year—an all time record, and an increase of three percent from 2015. Still, the Council warns that more government policy is needed to sustain the gains made.

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The report shows Australia generated about 17,500 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy last year. The 2020 goal is 33,000 gigawatt-hours a year, so we're actually halfway there. All this comes thanks to hydro catchments taking advantage of high rainfall in key areas, and a bunch of new solar and wind projects that have been initiated over the past few years. Hydro made the biggest contribution overall, providing 42.3 percent of Australia's total renewable energy generation in 2016. According to Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton, "10 large wind and solar projects" have been completed over the past year alone, and there's more to come.
"Every month brings new project announcements," he said on Tuesday. "While total investment in large-scale renewable energy was $2.56 billion last year, $5.20 billion worth of projects have secured finance in just the first five months of 2017 and have either started construction or will begin this year." "The changes that are happening across the country right now are extraordinary. Renewable energy is now the cheapest kind of new power generation that can be built today—less than both new coal and new gas-fired power plants. The price of gas in particular has skyrocketed," he said. Innovations in large-scale solar power generation mean it is set to transform Australia's energy sector in upcoming years. According to the report, renewable energy is now the cheapest kind of new power generation that can be built today—meaning it costs less than both new coal and new gas-fired power plants. "Large-scale solar power is almost half the cost it was just a couple of years ago, and is now playing a huge role in meeting the national Renewable Energy Target," said Thornton. Small scale initiatives like rooftop solar panels are experiencing a revival too. "[Rooftop solar] has also accelerated in 2017 with the industry posting its largest ever March quarter…the biggest of any quarter since August 2012." There's even more good news—renewable energy is helping generate thousands of jobs, especially in regional areas. "Employment figures are likely to increase substantially in 2017 with over 35 large-scale projects already under construction or starting this year, adding up to more than $7.5 billion in investment and more than 4100 additional direct jobs," said Thornton. "These projects are more than half of what is needed to meet the rest of the RET between 2016 and 2020."

We're staring down the barrel of a renewable energy boom, which if you believe almost every single living scientist, can only be a good thing in terms of combatting climate change. But as the report notes, hitting that 2020 target should only be the beginning:

"Australia is realising the significant benefits of backing the renewable energy industry. For these economic benefits to continue, clear policy direction and support is required beyond 2020."

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