Continued growth in wind and solar power picked-up to cover lower-than-average production from Australia’s hydro power plants last year, according to a Clean Energy Council (CEC) report.
Clean Energy Australia Report 2015 revealed renewable energy provided 14.6 per cent of Australia’s electricity in 2015, enough to provide power for the equivalent of approximately 6.7 million average homes. This was up on the 13.5 per cent of electricity delivered by renewables the year before.
CEC CEO Kane Thornton said although 2015 was a tough year for the Australian renewable energy industry, it ended with a lot of optimism as the sector turned its eyes towards the future.
“Even though hydro power was down, largely as a result of the historically low rainfall in Tasmania, the proportion of Australia’s electricity provided by renewable energy increased in 2015 due to a good boost from wind and solar power. Renewables delivered enough to light up the equivalent of approximately 6.7 million average homes,” Mr Thornton said.
“Eight major solar farms and five new wind farms became operational last year. Two of Australia’s three largest solar power plants at Nyngan and Broken Hill became operational in 2015, while the other at Moree in northern New South Wales was officially launched in the early part of 2016.
“The role and support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and leadership from state and territory governments – particularly the ACT – were key drivers of this investment during 2015.”
The industry is just under halfway towards meeting the 2020 RET, according to Mr Thornton, who said Australia will need a lot more projects to move forward during the rest of this year to meet the national 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET).
“The good news is that investment confidence continues to grow in 2016, and there are more than enough projects either under construction or with development approvals to meet the target,” he said.
“Rooftop solar power continues to shine on, as homes and businesses recognise its potential to reduce energy costs. With the continued reduction of state feed-in tariffs, solar power sales have dropped to lower but more sustainable levels.”
The report is the only analysis that includes the National Electricity Market, the Western Australian electricity grid and other major regional grids across the country in areas such as the Northern Territory.
Mr Thornton said the review of the RET, which was resolved in mid-2015, had impacted confidence across the first half of last year, leading to reduced employment opportunities and investment.
“We are seeing strong momentum return to the sector with substantial interest from international investors. More activity is expected throughout this year, and the future for Australian renewable energy looks bright,” he said.
The main findings from the report are:
- Renewable energy provided 14.6 per cent of Australia’s electricity in 2015, enough to provide power for the equivalent of approximately 6.7 million average homes. This was up on the 13.5 per cent of electricity delivered by renewables the year before.
- Power generation from Australia’s hydro plants was down due to low rainfall, but wind and solar generation each increased by just over 20 per cent to more than compensate for the drop in hydro power.
- The continued reduction of state feed-in tariff levels led to lower but more sustainable sales of rooftop solar power in 2015. Rooftop solar power passed 5 gigawatts of capacity in early 2016, enough for a virtual power station large enough to power all the homes in Brisbane and Perth.
- Five new wind farms were completed in 2015, along with eight solar farms larger than 1 megawatt of capacity. Two of the three largest solar plants in the country, at Nyngan (AGL/First Solar) and Broken Hill (AGL/First Solar) became operational during 2015, while the Moree Solar Farm (FRV) officially launched in the early part of 2016. All of these are in New South Wales and received financial support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
- Investment confidence in the Australian renewable energy sector languished in the first half of last year. Investment in major projects was $1.2 billion for 2015, although almost all of these received support either from ARENA or state-based renewable energy programs. The RET review was finally resolved by a bipartisan legislative change in June, and interest from domestic and international investors has increased as a result.
- Australia’s top 10 solar suburbs (in order) are: Bundaberg (QLD), Mandurah (WA), Hervey Bay (QLD), Caloundra (QLD), Toowoomba (QLD), Ipswich (QLD), Nerang (QLD), Wanneroo (WA), Mackay (QLD) and Beenleigh (QLD).
- More than 8000MW of wind power and 2500MW of solar power projects are either under construction or have planning approval. This is more than enough to meet the 2020 RET. 1000MW of projects were added to the pipeline in 2015 through government approvals processes.
- Employment in the renewable energy industry contracted by 3 per cent in the 2014-15 financial year, a decline of 470 jobs compared to the financial year before. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the industry employed 14,020 people at the end of the year.