Australian government data reveals that more than 2,000,000 Australian homes were using renewable energy in 2020 as solar and wind power gains record levels of traction. This uptick happened despite the economic turbulence caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
The Clean Energy Regulator (CER) estimates that Australia installed a record-breaking 7GW of new renewables capacity in 2020 from rooftop solar alone. In 2019 this figure was 6.3GW, so 2020 saw an 11% jump in renewables.
A big boom
This boom means that Australia has deployed new renewables at ten times the rate (per capita) than the world’s average and four times the rate than in Europe, Japan, the US and China, according to this CER analysis.
The CER also found that the renewables share in the National Electricity Market climbed to more than 30% for the first time in 2020. This share worked out at a record-breaking 53 teraWatt (TW) hours generated from renewable projects.
There are some criticisms
The new climate and energy spokesman for the Labor Party, Chris Bowen, has ramped up his attacks on the Morrison government since he was appointed to his job. There is, Bowen claims, a “government-induced drought in energy generation investment,”.
The CER has blamed the fall in investment in large-scale projects on the challenges that have come with the grid connection process, as well as on erratic governmental policy interventions and investment shortfalls in the network capacity.
The Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has said that the increase in renewables was also increasing the nation’s reliance on firm generation like pumped-hydro and gas-fired electricity to maintain the reliability of power. This, Taylor claims, is why the government policy is to underwrite new firm generation projects and capacity and to build up a $1 billion grid reliability fund.
Taylor added that the nation has invested $7.7 billion, which is $299 per person, in renewable energy, which places Australia way ahead of Germany, Japan, Canada and the US.
Investment in renewables will continue
The Australian Energy Market Operator foresees strong investment in the renewables sector to carry on with an extra 24GW of rooftop solar by 2030. This increase will triple Australia’s small-scale capacity in the next nine or ten years.
However, the AEMO’s report on wholesale electricity and gas prices in the National Electricity Market back in January warned that there was an increasing reliance on firm power generation to keep the grid secure and stable.
Renewables can be disruptive
The sudden rise of renewable energy, with a quarter of Australian homes now generating solar power, has gone on to create some reliability problems for the grid. It’s put excessive pressure on the older coal and gas units which can’t just turn off and on to correspond with the daily peaks and troughs in demand.
According to Angus Taylor, the government is continuing to make sure the country’s electricity system stays reliable and affordable. This involves, Taylor said, working on a new market design and delivering the flexible back-up generation and the storage needed to smooth out the sometimes-intermittent power coming from renewables.
Chris Bowen said that the lack of certainty in government policy had stifled private sector investment in renewables generation, but these comments were dismissed as naïve by NSW MP Joel Fitzgibbon.
The real reason for this drop in investment, according to Fitzgibbon, is that there can’t be more renewables brought into the system until the back-up firm generation capacity is in place. The preferred option for firm back-up is the gas-fired generation.