• ANU researchers say Australia has an annual project pipeline of 6.3 GW new wind and PV capacity including both ground mount and rooftop solar
  • They also see the country installing per person renewable energy of 250 W per year, compared to 50 W by others
  • Consequently, Australia is on track to achieve 50% renewables in its grid by 2024 and 100% by 2032
  • ANU believes state subsidies are not required for new PV and wind power installations, but government facilitation is needed for storage capacity, the recommend
  • On the other hand, Australia's lobby group Clean Energy Council (CEC)  stressed the need to have a federal level policy to continue investment in renewable energy now that the RET has been met

In September 2018, a research team of the Australian National University (ANU) said Australia is likely to install 7.2 GW of large-scale solar PV systems and wind farms along with 3.2 GW of small-scale rooftop solar systems in 2018 and 2019, which will help the country comfortably exceed its 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET) of 33,000 GWh of large-scale capacity. It will also spur the nation to achieve 100% renewable electricity by early 2030s (see Australia Could Reach 100% RE In 2030s).

Now, ANU has come up with a specific year by which it hopes the 100% scenario will happen. According to new research from the university, Australia may reach 50% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2032. The ANU researchers believes the country’s electricity sector is on track to deliver its Paris emissions reduction targets 5 years early in 2025. If achieved, it will be the world’s fastest sustainable rates of emissions reduction.

Australia is currently installing 250 W per person annually, which is a much higher range than the 50 W for the European Union, Japan, China and the US. In 2018, the country deployed 5.1 GW of PV and wind power systems, and the current ground-mounted PV and wind pipeline is about 4.3 GW annually.

Rooftop solar installation is increasing by about 50% per year. While cumulative installations add up to over 8 GW, it may exceed 2 GW in 2019. This could see renewable energy deployment of about 6.3 GW in 2019, including ground mount solar PV and wind power, according to the ANU researchers, after analyzing data from the Clean Energy Regulator (CER). Popularity of rooftop solar is majorly because the cost of electricity these systems generate is far below the retail tariff for most home owners and business.

The price of electricity from large-scale PV and windfarms in Australia is steadily coming down. Currently it is at AUD 50 ($35.4) per MWh, which is below the cost of electricity from existing gas-fired power stations as well as new-build gas and coal power stations. Nearly 100% of all new power stations are now based on PV and wind power, according to ANU.

Addressing the concerns of reliability and grid stability that are bound to arise in the event of a 100% renewable grid, co-researcher Bin Lu stressed on energy storage, demand management and strong interstate connection using high-voltage transmission lines to smooth out the effect of local weather. “By far the leading storage technologies are pumped hydro and batteries. Australia’s coal power stations are old and are becoming less reliable, and transition to a modern renewable energy system can improve grid stability,” added Lu.

As the RET has effectively been met, so new solar PV and wind power plants can no longer expect subsidy support, said Professor Andrew Blakers, lead author of the research paper.

ANU researchers recommend government facilitation of private investment into storage (such as Snowy 2.0 and other pumped hydro storage systems) and interstate transmission, similar to government facilitation of new roads to remove traffic bottlenecks.

CEC begs to differ

While welcoming ANU research on the subject, Clean Energy Council (CEC) in Australia stressed the need to have a federal level policy to continue investment in renewable energy now that the RET has been met.

“The clean energy sector has the potential to make a huge contribution to reducing both emissions and power bills, as suggested by the ANU. But one of the biggest drivers of investment – the national Renewable Energy Target – has now been achieved. There is nothing to replace it,” said CEC’s Chief Executive Kane Thornton. “We need credible bipartisan policy to give investors confidence and to continue the record levels of clean energy investment we are currently seeing.”