Australia leading the world in deploying renewable energy

An Australian wind farm. Image by Dr James Prest. Wind farm, credit James Prest
3 September 2020

Australia continues to lead the world in the per capita roll out of energy generated by solar and wind, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions and falling electricity prices, according to a new analysis from The Australian National University (ANU).

Data released by the Clean Energy Regulator today shows Australia will add around 6.3GW of renewable energy capacity in 2020.

"This brings the total to 18 Gigawatts over 2018-20," the paper's co-author Professor Andrew Blakers said. For comparison, this much new solar and wind will generate twice as much electricity as gas power stations currently generate in the National Electricity Market.

"However, while it's good news, we urgently need more investment to remove bottlenecks in deployment of further renewables.

"An effective way to do this is to upgrade transmission lines from rural Renewable Energy Zones, such as those recently announced in NSW and Queensland, to our cities.

"While governments have been slow to act on transmission, if the Federal and state governments make determined efforts to rapidly resolve these bottlenecks, we can get ahead of the solar and wind construction curve instead of lagging behind it."

Boosting renewable energy deployment has resulted in lower wholesale electricity prices, and lower greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, according to co-author and ANU Energy Change Institute Director Professor Ken Baldwin.

For example, South Australia has more than half (53 per cent) of its electricity supplied by solar and wind, compared with 14 per cent in Queensland.

Average wholesale electricity prices in SA have been similar to the Sunshine State's, and lower than in NSW and VIC which have fewer supplies of renewables.

Professor Baldwin also said the Clean Energy Regulator's latest data shows the pipeline of new wind and solar farm projects remains strong until at least 2022.

"On the one hand, deployment is being affected by lower prices for wholesale electricity, the impending attainment of the Renewable Energy Target, and curtailment of output due to transmission bottlenecks," Professor Baldwin said.

"On the other hand, there are continually falling costs, deployment of solar and wind at mining projects, solar on commercial building rooftops, large-scale voluntary purchases of clean electricity and future retirement of coal power stations."

Study co-author Associate Professor Matthew Stocks said Australia has made immense contributions to global renewable energy and hence long-term climate action.

These include its rapid installation of solar and wind energy, helping establish the growth of PV manufacturing in China, and Australia's invention of the PERC silicon solar cell in which Professor Blakers played a major part as team leader.

"Indeed, PERC solar modules are being deployed faster than the net new generation capacity of coal, oil, gas and nuclear combined," Associate Professor Stocks said.

"Australia is also demonstrating that rapid deployment of solar and wind can lead to declining emissions and low electricity prices.

"Now is the time to plan to accelerate renewable deployment and electrification to decarbonise the entire economy."