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What Next for Australian Renewables?

Tim Hall

What to expect from what you weren’t expecting

If the last decade has shown the world anything about politics, it’s to expect the unexpected. Pollsters seem to rarely get things right and unpredictable results create volatility in sectors such as renewable energy. The recent general election in Australia is a good example, many were surprised when the Liberals beat Labour. I speak to a lot of renewables firms looking to launch in Australia and the result surprised them, as outsiders looking in; the general election had looked like a referendum on Australia’s renewable energy future. In this context Labour’s unexpected defeat looked like a rejection of clean energy. What I hope to do in this article is challenge that perception and explain that Australia is still very much open to renewable energy business.


Renewable Energy Still Matters Locally

Internationally there is perhaps less recognition of the fact that Australia operates a federal system. On matters of energy, individual states have a significant say in what happens in their territory. South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are great examples of states that are really pushing on toward their renewable energy targets. These states have managed to blend their tremendous wind resources with a widespread adoption of rooftop solar systems.

New South Wales has set a target of being net-zero on emissions by 2050, but has some hard work ahead, experts suggest that this would require a 46% renewable energy share by 2030, whilst the state is currently on course with its existing pipeline to achieve 28%.

Likewise, Queensland will need to bolster its current pipeline with nearly 5000MW more of renewables projects to achieve its 2030 target. The important message to take from this is that local determination that matters for Australian renewables.


It’s All About the Economy

Australians often worry about their long-term future. There is a worry about a perceived decline in national competitive advantage as well as some trauma from the volatility in global resource demand that hurt a country with such large mining interests. Clean Energy is seen as crucial to the prosperity of Australia, from reducing living costs and lowering household bills to helping secure more efficient mineral processing and mining, it is possible to see how integral renewables will be to the future economy of the country.

Australia is also seeing vast potential in the production of green hydrogen with deals already with Germany and Japan. With long term concerns over global lithium supply and access, green hydrogen could be a very lucrative sector. Expect the economic arguments to support continued renewables growth.


Innovation

Australia is likely to be globally significant for research and development in renewable energy for a long time to come; as a country susceptible to climate change, many research projects are ideally located to experience conditions they are required to alleviate. Although the federal government is mired in a decade long malaise on renewables, the private and education sectors have moved forward with some incredibly interesting schemes. Many projects are of global interest such as the University of Western Australia’s Wave Energy Research Scheme or the Solar Windows project in Perth through to experiments in using tin anodes in battery storage in Queensland. It is fair to say that Australia will be the birthplace of some of the most exciting and commercially viable cleantech.


Public and Consumer Pressure Matter

Ultimately Australians are amongst the most environmentally aware people on the planet. Survey data consistently shows that concerns over climate change are being allied to consumer spending habits that purchase goods and services against green credentials. Market forces are a powerful inducement to business and local government to use renewable energy.

Firms such as Carlton & United Breweries, Unilever, and Mars Australia have already started programmes going 100% green, expect this to become the new normal for consumers in Australia.

Mark Twain famously quipped “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”, the same is very true for renewables in Australia. In fact, the future though not without hard work is looking positive.