In May 2010, 48 days after he took office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared an end to the government-mandated and successful Renewable Energy Target, threatening tens of thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector. Two years later, as solar and wind power gained momentum around the world, Australian renewables held its own as the country’s leaders began to pick up the baton. Since then, Australia has had to expand, but not many other countries have been willing to play catch-up. The centerpiece of the initiative, dubbed “Clean Energy Finance Corporation,” or CEC, is the world’s first government-owned, public-private company set up to finance renewable energy projects and thus encourage the clean energy industry to contribute to the entire national economy, not just the consumer sector. The corporation was launched in 2013 and has backed more than 60 renewable energy projects in the past five years, resulting in more than $2 billion in new investment.
Since the $10 billion CEC program had its first and only Parliamentary Budget Office review in April 2018, project managers and many in the industry have been expecting the corporation to expand the pace of its purchases, given its current push to build the portfolio. But this may be harder to achieve as the case of the Tesla Falcon 9 battery has illustrated. In December 2016, CEC signed a deal to commit a staggering $2.6 billion (A$4.2 billion) to the building of Australia’s largest battery to store solar and wind energy for the national grid.
Thanks to the CEC’s agreements with company’s, such as Tesla, the grid energy storage industry has caught fire. But because of this stunning investment, the CEC is now threatened by calls from a consortium of conservative Members of Parliament for it to be wound down.
Coal-loving Australia is becoming the world’s solar and wind leader. Here are three of the most prominent solar-power developments on Australian land this year.
Sydney: A 7-megawatt solar farm that is the first to produce clean energy in a tidal turbine powered by tidal flow.
The Greens had led the way in solar energy, announcing the world’s first start-up of a tidal-charging solar farm more than a decade ago. Sensing an opportunity, the Liberal/National coalition government has now turned its attention to tidal power. Late last year, the Coalition announced the start of an $8 million (A$11 million) Tidal Inflection project, one of several smaller pilot programs running along Australia’s coastline. By the end of this year, at least one participant, Uniyul, will be producing electricity, after a state government project gave a green light to the Dutch firm. The project, which will be partially owned by Uniyul, is being test-driven on Lake Moreton in Queensland. And three others are also gearing up: Onshore, off-shore and offshore turbines, creating enough energy to power 10,000 homes. Australia is now ahead of most European nations in terms of wind energy, but perhaps nowhere as much as Queensland, whose location lies at the center of the continent.
Lithgow: The Desert Hope project is a comprehensive solar farm incorporating more than 4.7 megawatts of energy produced by power storage.
More than 600 acres of landscape were transformed into a self-sufficient solar energy farm, known as Desert Hope, in March. More than 3.3 gigawatts of solar energy are going to be produced at this future solar farm, making it more than a quarter of a gigawatt larger than the next largest. It is one of the largest solar power plants in Australia at the moment. This growing interest in renewable energy is driven, in part, by the carbon emissions that the project will prevent. The carbon emissions from coal-burning power stations are far more damaging than the emissions produced by solar plants and other non-polluting energy sources. But the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in Australia is the national electricity grid. In its 2015 energy year book, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) predicted that building solar and storage systems to reduce the footprint of Australia’s national electricity grid could contribute as much as 36 gigawatts of energy by 2030.