5 Minutes With: Kane Thornton, Clean Energy Council CEO

clean energy
Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton

Tell us a little bit about your background and where your passion for renewables comes from?

I have a passion for the outdoors, technology and regional development. I spent a lot of my twenties travelling around the world and through some very polluted cities. I realised a lot of the pollution came from coal-fired power stations, and I thought there must be a cleaner technology to generate electricity. There was and is, and it can also play a big role in creating jobs in regional Australia.

Can you tell us how the Clean Energy Council makes a difference?

The Clean Energy Council, as the peak body for the industry, represents and works with Australia’s leading renewable energy and energy storage businesses, as well as rooftop solar installers, to further the development of clean energy in Australia. We do this through policy and advocacy, working closely with governments to increase demand for clean energy products while working with members and our industry to improve standards and maintain integrity continually.

You’ve been a passionate advocate for renewables for nearly two decades … how have you seen the industry change over the years?

The industry has matured significantly. The scale and competitiveness of the industry has built many capabilities and experience, professionalism and sophistication in everything from project financing and deal structures for large scale projects through to the efficiency and safety measures in rooftop solar installation.

What needs to be done at a policy level for there to be greater investment in, and adoption of, renewables?

The grid and energy market was not designed for the 21st century. There needs to be a great deal of regulatory change and market reform to improve grid connections requirements and processes, drive investment in the network and ensure the market incentivises and recognises the right type of generation investment in the right place at the right time. A national climate and energy policy and transition strategy would also be helpful that sets a clear target and policy mechanism to delivering the inevitable energy transition.

What do you think Australia’s generation make-up will look like in five to 10 years?

Dominated by renewable energy. Australia will be charging past 50 per cent of our energy coming from renewable energy sources with a lot more storage – batteries and pumped hydro – and better utilisation of our existing hydro generation. Smart homes and businesses will be continuing to take up rooftop solar and smart batteries, and we will be making big inroads into electrifying our transport sector and heavy industry. Our renewable energy export industry will be starting to take over the world!

How would you like to see a transition happen from a reliance on fossil fuels to renewables?

Quickly, and well managed. This has been poorly managed to date. Its inevitable more coal will begin to close, and faster than many expect due to the aging nature of the plant and changing commercial realities. Australia needs to get our act together and start planning for this reality to ensure a coordinated transition which includes support for impacted communities, reskilling of workers and ensuring we have the new renewable supply coming online ahead of time to minimise the impact on power prices.