The clean energy industry is on the verge of a major breakthrough, with 16 renewable projects being completed in 2017, adding 700 MW of new generation. Seven times that amount are currently under construction or have secured financial support. This equates to approximately an $11 billion investment and the creation of almost 6000 new jobs. 

The Clean Energy Council (CEC) has recently released their 2018 report, which shows Australia has enough projects running at a sufficiently advanced stage to meet the 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET).  However, the percentage of renewable energy fell from 17.3 per cent in 2016 to 17 per cent in 2017. The CEC attribute this to a decline in hydro generation caused by reduced rainfall in catchment areas. 

Despite this, it was still a record year for the renewable energy sector, according to CEC chief executive Kane Thornton. Large-scale wind and solar project activity has increased investment by 150 per cent in Australia. Four large-scale solar projects were completed in 2017, with the total capacity of installed solar reaching 450 MW. This is remarkable considering only 34 MW were installed at the end of 2014. 

In the small-scale market, almost 1.1 GW of solar PV was installed — a record for the rooftop solar industry. Twelve per cent of the 172,000 solar systems installed in 2017 included a battery, which is a 7 per cent increase from 2016. Over 40 per cent of national storage installations occurred in New South Wales. In the medium-scale sector, 131 projects added 53 MW of new capacity. This means there’s now 167 MW of cumulative capacity, demonstrating an increase of over 500 per cent in the past five years. 

Fifteen new wind farms were under construction or financially supported by the end of 2017. The 547 MW of added capacity was the third highest increase in the Australian wind industry’s history.  Wind energy matched hydro generation for the first time in 2017, and they each contributed 5.7 per cent of the national electricity. 

The world’s largest lithium-ion battery was installed in South Australia in 2017. It stores energy from the nearby Hornsdale Wind Farm and pumps it back into the grid, and it helped stabilise the grid in December when a large coal-fired power station suddenly went offline. 

While the renewable energy industry has had a record-breaking year, Mr Thornton expressed concern with the lack of policy certainty beyond 2020, given the RET has been the key force encouraging investment in in both small and large-scale renewable energy. 

“With the 2020 target now in hand, the whole energy sector is looking for policy certainty that will enable it to continue to invest far beyond 2020.

“The development of the National Energy Guarantee seems to be heading in the right direction, but the level of emissions reduction currently planned under the policy is unlikely to encourage the new renewable energy to continue to drive down power prices as our old coal power plants continue to close,” Mr Thornton said.