Reaching net zero contingent on RD&D, says CEC

Gloved hand holding solar cell in research lab (RD&D)
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Australia’s annual public research, development and demonstration (RD&D) funding for renewable energy has fallen to historic lows, putting at risk the innovation in smart, clean energy technology and solutions that will be critical to delivering net zero by 2050, says the Clean Energy Council.

Based on recent analysis by the International Energy Agency, Australia’s total public RD&D spending on renewables fell to just $71.8 million in 2019, which is the lowest level since 2006 and represents a significant decrease from the $577.6 million spent in 2013—a peak for the decade.

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“Average RD&D spending on energy has fallen by 58 per cent over the past five years (2014-2019) compared to the previous decade, at a time when Australia should be increasing its RD&D investment to meet the coming challenges of emissions reduction and the energy transition,” Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said.

“Australia ranked 23rd out of 26 countries in public RD&D energy investment per thousand units of GDP. This is unacceptable for a country that is relying so heavily on technology to meet its international climate commitments. This public funding is also key to unlocking massive amounts of private sector innovation and investment that flows to countries with the strongest levels of government support.”   

“While the Australian Government’s energy policy remains focused on ‘technology not taxes’, it is unfortunate that this is not currently matched by government funding into the critical RD&D stages of clean energy technologies. More funding would also provide an opportunity to develop and define the skills and future workforce here in Australia rather than giving away those jobs and career pathways to our international partners.

“A good starting point would be to double annual funding for clean energy RD&D to $200 million,” Thornton said.

“This would be more than twice the current level of funding, which at less than $100 million per annum is at its lowest level in 20 years.”

According to the Clean Energy Council, there should also be a review of the Federal R&D Tax Credit Scheme to ensure that renewable energy projects are eligible and that there are more substantial incentives for innovation in clean energy.

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“Driving this innovation will ensure a greater diversity of solutions, reduce costs and maximise the opportunity for Australia to benefit from local manufacturing and supply chain opportunities as well as better support the integration of these technologies into the energy system,” Thornton said.

“Australia can lead the way on key technically complex and innovative solutions and leverage this extraordinary export and global leadership opportunity as a clever country.”