Morrison's claim of an Australian gold in per capita renewables is not true | RenewEconomy

Morrison’s claim of an Australian gold in per capita renewables is not true

Scott Morrison’s claims that Australia is leading the world in per capita installation of renewables is not true.

AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Despite promises to cut emissions, Australia’s emissions are still rising. But at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, prime minister Scott Morrison rejected criticism by claiming that “Australia now has the highest per capita investment in clean energy technologies of anywhere in the world”.

So long lump of coal. How good is Australia at renewable energy!

The PM repeated the claim back home later in Question Time, and like any good salesman, he challenged anyone to check it. So I did.

The PM’s renewable energy claim is false, even on his own sources.

As a researcher I spend a lot of time trying to get my facts straight. Expecting my Government to do the same, I asked the Department of Energy for the source.

The Department cited in 2018 data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which they said shows Australia was first of 14 countries for clean energy investment per capita in 2018.

First out of a group of 14 is good, sure, but as the PM may be aware there are more than 14 countries in the world. According to the UN there are 181 other countries to consider.

Maybe a bronze medal for Australia …

The BNEF source in fact shows data for not just 14 but 23 countries. Australia was not first on a per capita basis, but third, beaten by both Denmark and Sweden. These Nordic countries have an impressive history of leading the renewables transition.

The data also excluded countries in our region like Tuvalu, with small populations but high renewable investment. The Pacific ‘step up’ only goes so far, apparently.

An earlier ANU study has the same limitation, comparing Australia against only a small group of “other countries”.

The Energy Department also gave a separate 2018 BNEF source, for renewables investment, showing Australia was second among 30 countries on a per capita basis. Silver medallists earn the pride of many Australians, but we don’t say they won the gold.

The Department of Energy confirmed all this in Senate Estimates this week, although were unsure they had ever said Australia was first in the world (they hadn’t). But in an echo of Bill Shorten, said that said if they had said it, then they stood by it.

2018 was indeed an exceptional year for the Australian renewable industry, when investment finally bounced back after the Abbott dark era.

From its election in 2013, the Coalition pushed for a cut in the Renewable Energy Target, resulting in a collapse in renewable investment.

Eventually the government and opposition cut a deal to cut the RET, by a quarter. This returned created a rush to meet the 2020 target, hence the 2018 boom.

Taking this history into account, across the last decade the PM’s preferred data show the Australia slips down to fifth for renewables investment per capita (out of just 20 countries).

To be clear, the Prime Minister’s own sources show he mislead the UN and the Parliament.

But even worse are the government’s active efforts against the industry.

There is no credible climate policy. The government won’t extend the Renewable Energy Target beyond 2020. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is scheduled to close when its legislated funding runs out.

According to the government’s preferred BNEF data, renewable investment in Australia is falling, down by half in the first half of 2019.

A government committed to renewables might provide some policy certainty and address grid constraints. Yet Minister Taylor claims “we have crossed the threshold” of what the grid can “absorb”.

If the Australian Government was honest about Australia’s role on climate change it would admit that despite all the new wind and solar farms, Australia has a smaller share of the world’s world renewables (1%) than it does of world emissions (1.2%).

…. Or maybe a pennant for participation

In terms of total installed renewables per capita, not just 2018 investment, Australia ranks 19th.

Australia has the highest per capita emissions in the OECD, ranking globally at seventh behind a handful of petro-states.

Australia is the world’s third biggest exporter of fossil fuel emissions.

Using false and misleading claims to distract from broken promises and rising emissions– that sounds like “negative globalism” to me.

If Scott Morrison bothers to attend the next round of UN climate negotiations in Santiago in December, he should either stick to the facts, or bring his lump of coal.

Tom Swann is Senior Researcher in the Climate and Energy Program at independent think tank The Australia Institute. @Tom_Swann


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  1. Ian 11 months ago

    The time has come to discuss and reimagine our country without its spirit of belligerence against renewables. What would our energy system look like if we had very supportive federal and state governments, if we had full motivation to leave fossil fuels in the ground and pursue a more sustainable economy?

    The upcoming COAG when the state energy ministers finally get together with the federal energy minister could be a turning point. There is work to be done to put pressure on the federal energy minister. A lot of pressure, there are two unlikely allies to renewables, AGL and Origin, and there is a third BHP, who have appealed to renewables and global warming for their energy procurement in Chile and now should be pressured to do the same with their mines in Australia.

    The next step to increasing renewables percentage in our electricity system is removing coal assets and we already have a candidate for that: Liddell power station, AGL have already put their hand up for this.

    The other move is the NSW-SA transmission line, the marinus transmission line between Tas and Vic and the transmission infrastructure to the REZ in West Victoria, New England and South -Central NSW.

    These are essential to connecting existing solar and wind developments and are definitely not investments which may become obsolete before they are completed.

    Another move is the Aluminium industry, this is under threat by expensive wholesale prices and incomplete infrastructure developments. What is Taylor’s plan to keep these industries alive without using pensioners and low income earners to cross subsidise them?

  2. Ray Miller 11 months ago

    This is just more of Somo’s magical glasses, everyone on the home team is a winner. The problem is exactly like Rome burning, the real world will eventually catch up, but then its too late and you get burnt along with the many subjects.

  3. Gyrogordini 11 months ago

    Tom, thanks. It may be worthwhile stealing yourself to NOT receive a Chrissie card this year from the Office of the PM…

  4. John Saint-Smith 11 months ago

    It’s no surprise that Australia’s ‘gold medal’ was fake news. Our coach is a washed up advertising crock. We might have done well (3rd) on the 2018 installation figures, but only because of historic catch-ups due to the LNP’s damaging resistance to investment in earlier years. The ten year figures relegate Aussie ‘fool’s gold’ to fifth place – not even on the podium.

    But we should place this in some other perspectives. Australia is No.1 in the world as the most blessed with renewable energy potential. PV, wind and wave energy capacity factors in various parts of the country are among the highest in the world, and overall, we have more available land (and shallow ocean floor) close to existing power transmission infrastructure, and the most favourable economic conditions for investment. We also have one of the highest GDP/head ratios, a supportive population, a highly educated workforce, an excellent record in PV and battery research, and we are among the most favourably located with respect to potential export markets for HVDC and Electrolytic Hydrogen exports. Taken together we have every reason to be outstanding.

    So, coming fifth in a race when you’re the only horse with four legs is not really much to celebrate Mr Morrison.

  5. Aluap 11 months ago

    Does anyone still believe what Morrison says?

  6. The Duke 11 months ago

    LIEberal by name, LYING bastards by nature.
    Morrison still believes the Earth is Flat and his praying for rain will stop the drought.
    Born to Rule megalomaniac with illusions of self IMPOTENCE.!

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