Abbott points to solar plus storage, but does he really get it?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Buried in Abbott’s 2030 emissions reduction policy is a cursory mention of solar and storage. But does he, or anyone in the Coalition, really get the enormous role these unstoppable technologies will play in reducing Australia’s emissions and transforming its energy market?

share
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The fact that Tony Abbott’s renewable energy and climate policy is – as Australian Solar Council CEO John Grimes put it this morning – “as shallow as a puddle”, is no longer in doubt after the release of his government’s hugely underwhelming 2030 emissions reduction target.

But somewhere in the muddy puddle of a policy that accompanied the target’s release on Tuesday, was a glimmer of hope: the statement that the Abbott government would be “developing a strategy to improve the utilisation of solar power.”

tony-abbott-150x150

It’s vague, and it’s brief, but coupled with another statement saying they would be funding “new and innovative renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency technologies,” it sounds almost as if Abbot & Co are starting to get just how important rooftop solar plus storage will be in any national emissions reduction plan, and in any future energy mix.

Still, there is room to be doubtful. The Abbott master plan, if that is what it is, says the Coalition is “already providing around $1 billion to new and innovative renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency technologies.” But that is only through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, two institutions it vows to abolish when it has enough votes in the Senate.

In terms of cutting emissions, cleaning up the energy sector, lowering – and democratising – the price of electricity to consumers and replacing outgoing dirty generation capacity, rooftop solar with storage is the other low-hanging fruit.

And if governments don’t see this – and for that matter, energy companies – voters are bound to get the message through. As Giles Parkinson wrote on RE sister site One Step Off The Grid on Wednesday – and as many consumers have worked out for themselves – rooftop solar is now delivering electricity to households in Australia at a cost of 10c-13c/kWh.

“That is little more than one third of the cost of grid-based power, and for those on time of use metering in the afternoon and evenings, it is around one-fifth of the cost.”

Battery storage is also falling down the cost curve, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance and other analysts noting that adding battery systems to home solar arrays is already cheaper than grid-based power. Within a few years, it will deliver the sort of returns that will make it a mass market.

bnef storage prices

Within a few decades, it is estimated that half of all electricity demand will be provided by the households and businesses and local communities that use them. That will mostly be solar in the form of rooftop arrays or community-scaled projects with the addition of battery storage.

This is what BNEF’s head of Australian research, Kobad Bhavnagri, calls an “unstoppable” force. So it will happen, regardless of policy signals or cooperation from energy incumbents. But it would all happen a lot more smoothly, and rapidly, if the government were on board.

Labor seems to get it, or so their proposed renewable energy target would suggest. Certainly, they’re sending all the right signals. On Wednesday, Opposition leader Bill Shorten and his climate minister Mark Butler visited the ANU, which has spawned some of the world’s foremost solar researchers, including one of the so-called “father of photovoltaics”,  Andrew Blakers. On Thursday, they visited FRV’s Royalla 20MW solar farm south of Canberra – Australia’s second-largest example. On Friday, there were at UNSW.

Interestingly, the duo were not asked a single question about their vision for renewables, or solar, at the solar farms, but in response to a question at the ANU visit, Butler said solar and energy storage would play an “enormous” role in Labor’s 50 per cent renewables target.

“On any analysis, battery storage is revolutionising the ability of households to take control of their own energy generation and their own power bills,” Butler said.

“Bloomberg New Energy Finance said only a couple of weeks ago that within five years a 4 kW PV system on the top of your house, with a 5 kW hour battery will give you cheaper electricity than you can get off the grid,” Butler added. “That will just revolutionise electricity in this country … with those kinds of technology revolutions there’s enormous investment and job opportunities.” And Shorten said much the same in a speech on Friday

The potential for energy efficiency and solar to play a key role in abatement are highlighted both here, in Alan Pear’s analysis, and in the recent table (below) by ClimateWorks, which says that because of this ambitious emission reduction policies can be achieved at little or no cost, something that the government’s own analysis has supported, according to The Guardian.
climateworks abatement

But the government is not on board, yet, and energy networks are doing their best to slow things down. They are jacking up the fixed component of electricity tariffs, providing less incentive for solar and energy efficiency, and even proposing extra charges for solar households.

Alan Pears, from RMIT, says: “In particular, if regulators allow high fixed charges to be applied, the economics of energy efficiency, batteries and smart management as well as rooftop solar will be undermined.”

This is already happening. As solar market analysts SunWiz note in an industry snapshot published on Thursday, 2015 has been “a shocker” for solar in Queensland – Australia’s sunshine state – and pretty poor across most of the country, which has struggled to reach 2014 installation volumes, thanks to pared back feed-in tariffs and disappearing policy signals, making it harder for home owners to reconcile an investment in solar panels that should be a no-brainer.

“The fundamental mistake Tony Abbot has made,” said the ASC’s Grimes, in an interview with RE on Friday, “is in aligning with the vested interests of the electricity players and against the interests of the voting public.

“The energy industry is an insiders game, played by insiders for insiders. it is enormously complex. Energy companies think they are at the centre of the market. They are not at the centre of the market, consumers are. And consumers are taking matters into their own hands.”

Pears agrees: “The challenge for the government on energy efficiency will be that the kinds of policies most likely to deliver cost-effective emission reductions are fairly interventionist, and are anathema to many coalition politicians and their supporters.” (See his opinion piece here)

Grimes, whose Solar Council has been running a nation-wide “Save Solar” campaign, targeting Australia’s marginal electorates, says there is a strong depth of feeling in the voting public that they are being taken for granted and have no control and no voice.

But, he adds, a battle against rooftop solar is a battle Abbott can’t win.

“We actually do need a community grid which is responsive, dynamic and smart… By polarising the debate, Abbott is stopping the evolution of the network and how do we do it such a way that we align incentives and make the interests of consumers the market driver.

“It’s dangerous, it’s short-term and will cost him hugely, politically,” Grimes said.

As for the consistent message from the Coalition, that a renewables-heavey electricity market will drive up costs for consumers, “this is Tony Abbott’s great lie,” says Grimes.

“It’s been disproven time and time again, including by the ACIL Allen modeling in the (government’s own) Warburton review.

“It just demonstrates that (Abbott) has no intellectual depth of vision on this issue. He is as shallow as a puddle on energy.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

11 Comments
  1. John Knox 4 years ago

    The link isn’t there… 🙁
    Pears agrees: “The challenge for the government on energy efficiency
    will be that the kinds of policies most likely to deliver cost-effective
    emission reductions are fairly interventionist, and are anathema to
    many coalition politicians and their supporters.” (See his opinion piece
    here)

    • Colin Edwards 4 years ago

      The link is earlier in the article. Look for: ” Alan Pears, from RMIT, says: “

  2. Henry WA 4 years ago

    It is likely that Abbott was referring to utility size concentrated solar power, possibly with molten salt as storage. He is obsessed with the need for renewables to have similar “baseload” characteristics to FF generators. He will pretend to support it, but will then delay its introduction by claiming that it is still too expensive and we should stick with coal.

  3. disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

    Concentrating efforts on domestic PV at the expense of large scale wind, for clean energy, would bare well with this present right wing, individualistic, government.
    What hope have we got, with the focus on PV mitigating the effects of climate change, what we need is large scale projects, that deliver, if consumers have to pay more, then this increases their need to be efficient, as the table above shows, energy efficiency brings the best results and at the cheapest cost, the quickest way to impliment that is to tax energy more.

  4. Ian 4 years ago

    “We actually do need a community grid which is responsive, dynamic and smart…” , grimes has hit the sweet spot for energy regulators and government policy. Forget for a moment FF vs renewables, large scale generation vs distributed generation. We need a national energy highway system, unrestricted access to all, fair treatment of all. Imagine if travel from home to work or between city to city was only possible on one corporate or quasi-governmental train or permission to travel was required with special access passes and restricted to a quota of one journey a day. We would all be up-in-arms, shouting bloody Nazis. Energy generation is no longer technologically restricted to large power stations, with advent of solar anyone can generate power cheaply and if predictions are correct, store it. If a government does not go all-out to democratise electricity then they deserve to be voted out. Conversely any government that recognises this wide marketplace of energy consumption, storage and generation and creates the legal and physical ground-work to achieve it will go down as one of the greats in Australian and world politics. I think Abbott had a real chance to be the famous name behind an energy transformation, just like Whitlam was linked to health care. Abbott is in the right place at the right time. Too bad for him, someone else will get the glory!

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Another plug for an open and freely available electricity network: 1. If the official policy is to open the electricity market to all contenders then network upgrades will be geared to accept intermittent and complimentary sources of power and storage and targeted at improving those areas in the network where most cheap power is generated. 2. New sources of power and storage will become available. 3. Abundant and cheap power will make this country competitive in electricity- hungry industries. 4. Roof – disadvantaged communities will be able share in cheap self-owned solar power. 5. Crowd-sourced battery storage will provide stability to the grid at very little cost to the network or government. 6. Hydro and pumped hydro will be made more robust and efficient at complimenting intermittent solar. 7. State security will be improved by reducing the number of large energy targets. 8. Electric car adoption will be facilitated. 9. A robust grid with plenty of redundant poles and wires, and battery, hydro or other storage and smart loads used to taking large shock supplies of intermittent power will be able to handle and accept opportunistic sources of electricity. A hypothetical example could be a thorium powered cruise liner docking in a city port and gifting electrical power to the grid. Heavier than expected rains could allow recharge of large hydro storage dams or drought could allow conservation of hydro for agriculture or general water use.

  5. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    I reckon we shouldn’t be losing sleep over any Abbott master plan for anything.

  6. Ray Miller 4 years ago

    Thanks Sophie for the article, being one the early installers of a Grid PV system in 2000 and having to battle the distributor for a sensible connection contract which did not require me to notify the distributor when our 1.5kWpeak PV went off line each day! Since then some things have changed, some have remained the same. We billeted an American visiting for a conference, his message, the distributed grid is coming, 15 years on much progress has happened and we are about to enter the next unstoppable phase. Energy efficiency, renewables and a dash of human intelligence is proven to economically be the transition we need to make, pity its not comparable with current energy industry organisation or interests. Interesting times ahead!

  7. Mags 4 years ago

    I think a major issue here is that we as a nation are going to have to build new power stations, as our old coal power stations come to the end of their lives in the next couple of decades.

    Now if we had a visionary government, they could be putting in place a transition plan to replace these generators with renewables which would cost no more, and probably less than building new coal generators.

    This would not only mean that we wouldn’t be spending more than we would otherwise have had to spend anyway, but we would be moving to clean technology and doing our bit for emissions reduction.

    The sad thing is that our government can’t be honest about this as they are just using this topic for political point scoring. There seems to be no serious effort to plan for the future, only effort to win the next election.

    If a government doesn’t do this fairly soon (whatever decision they make about the type of generation), we are going to start finding the lights are going out. Industry will not invest in this area, since each successive government supports a different action and thus investors are sitting on their hands until we have a clear pathway.

    We are going to have an outdated, inefficient and expensive system of generation and supply – instead of a modern, efficient and cheap system.

    This is poor government in the extreme.

  8. Those who can afford the upfront cost such as home owners will benefit as renters and public housing tenants face spiraling energy cost. I hope we see incentives for investment property owners to upgrade their asserts

  9. Greg Evers 4 years ago

    “new and innovative renewable energy, energy storage and energy efficiency technologies,”??? what a joke and straight out lie , they have NO intention of letting new technology even get in country and have already taken steps to bury Australian innovations in new renewable energy technology

Comments are closed.

Get up to 3 quotes from pre-vetted solar (and battery) installers.