With Australia Day getting further and further behind us, the challenges and opportunities of 2016 are already in full swing for the renewable energy industry.
Last year was a tough one for our sector, but the new one has opened full of promise. I can honestly say there is no more exciting time to be working on behalf of renewable energy businesses, big and small.
For the first time there is agreement from almost every government in Australia that clean energy represents a big economic opportunity. That’s not to say that everything is running smoothly – yet – but it’s a quantum leap from where we were this time last year.
Our Prime Minister is now talking up the benefits of policies such as the Renewable Energy Target (RET), and at the state level we are seeing governments offering renewable energy procurement contracts for things like rail projects and reverse auctions to help deliver major wind and solar plants.
A Federal Election is expected in the second half of the year, and the Clean Energy Council will be front and centre ensuring we can secure policy stability, and ever-increasing ambition on renewable energy beyond 2020.
The Labor Party has already lifted its sights to a 50 per cent target by 2030, which is in line with states such as Queensland and South Australia. With a change of Prime Minister last year, the Federal Government is recognising what is happening across the globe and how much our economy can benefit from renewables in the decades ahead.
A glimpse of what Australia’s energy future looks like is the country’s two largest solar power plants in Broken Hill and Nyngan and New South Wales, which were recently launched by AGL and First Solar.
And with another round of funding for large-scale solar from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), we will see plenty more in the years ahead. This is such a promising technology with widespread support from the public, and like just about all technologies it is coming down rapidly in cost.
While debate continues on who is doing what to whom, the first couple of quarters of 2016 should see investors locked in behind more wind power projects under the RET. These will lead to jobs and economic opportunities in regional parts of the country, as well as the inevitable hard pedalling on community engagement and communication to ensure that companies act as genuine partners with residents surrounding wind farms.
At the household level, solar really has been the energy story of this century so far and the industry is revved up about the possibilities offered by storage and smart home technology.
While the rooftop solar installation rates in 2015 were nowhere near the peaks of the boom times towards the end of the last decade, there are lots of opportunities for those who are targeted and savvy with their business development strategies.
Many businesses are looking to the commercial sector, where a smaller number of installations can generate big returns. As more flagship brands join the likes of IKEA, MARS Confectionery and Australia Post by installing solar, an ever-increasing number of small-to-medium businesses are following, along with community groups and local governments.
Of course it is not always easy to connect these projects to the grid, something else we need to keep improving during 2016.
Newer business models have vastly increased the potential market, whether customers consider leasing, solar power-purchase agreements or decide to buy a system outright.
If you can make a good enough offer to a commercial business to save on their power with little or no upfront costs, there’s every chance they will decided to go solar like the tens of thousands of operations which have already. And recent legislative changes in Victoria on solar power purchase agreements are likely to see the market for solar at rental properties take off this year.
Many businesses have now released energy storage products, from Panasonic to ZEN Energy. Tesla’s Elon Musk captured the public imagination with the launch of the Powerwall last year, and the first of these has now been installed in Australia. Storage still has a long way to go, but the CEC has been playing a very active role in ensuring the market is strong, safe and reliable over the long term.
I have no doubt that with some hard and smart work and the continued support of the renewable energy industry, 2016 will be a great year.
Kane Thornton is Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council.