Australia’s Smart Energy Council has taken the unprecedented step of cancelling its flagship annual conference and exhibition for 2020, as industry turns its focus to getting through a year that will be defined by the global Covid-19 crisis.
The SEC said on Friday that Smart Energy Conference & Exhibition, originally slated for earlier this month and then pushed out to late September, would now not go ahead at all this year.
“It is with very deep regret that, for the first time in our history, our 58th annual conference is being cancelled for 2020,” CEO John Grimes said in a statement to RenewEconomy.
Grimes says the decision, which would deal a financial hit to the SEC, had not been taken lightly but in consideration of an industry currently focussed on basic survival: “trading, staying solvent, and keeping on employees.”
“This whole thing has been devastating for everybody,” Grimes told RE. “In our consideration, business certainty is the main priority.”
But the cancellation was also about being realistic and responsible, said Grimes – who noted that the likelihood of any gatherings involving more than 5,000 people in the near-to-medium future was “pretty limited.”
“Until you have a vaccine or (a significantly more effective) treatment, there will be whole segments of the community that are not going to expose themselves to that kind of risk,” he said.
And regardless of how things unfold in Australia, any event that went ahead in 2020 would have zero international participation, Grimes added.
“Even if Australia gets on top of it, there is no way there is going to be a vaccine deployed globally to give you confidence to open your international borders again.
“We have a duty of care to everybody involved in our conferences. And we are a not-for profit event organiser. We are of the industry, by the industry, for the industry. We’re not here to profit from the industry, we are here to partner in its growth. We have to put the industry first.”
And it won’t be abandoning the industry either. Like so many others, the SEC is pivoting to the online delivery of its services, including the upcoming Stimulus Summit it is holding in partnership with RenewEconomy.
The free webcast event, starting 11am on Wednesday May 6, will drill down into public debate around government stimulus packages and climate change action, with guests including the ACT and Western Australia energy ministers, economist Ross Garnaut, and renewables policy guru Simon Corbell.
The summit will be crucial in helping the industry plot a path forward, particularly as both the small scale and the large scale renewable sector brace for delays in new installations and projects because of Covid-19, and its impact on social distancing, currency exchange, the supply chain, and debt and financial markets.
“We are so pleased to partner with RenewEconomy on this summit,” Grimes said. “We will be addressing a critical issue for the industry, on how to keep trading right now, and how to use the government stimulus to grow out of this.
“There is positive news that can come out of this,” he added. “People have lost a lot of money in the share market, and on their super. Solar is the best return that you’re going to get on anything – period – right now.”
This is particularly the case for businesses, thanks to the boosted corporate tax breaks on offer from the federal government.
“The value proposition …is this: Install solar now, we’ll give you a finance package where you don’t pay anything in six months. In that six months you won’t pay a power bill, so in effect we’re going to put (thousands of dollars of) cash back in your pocket at a crucial time.”
Grimes said that those who had signed up and paid to attend the conference – one of the biggest on Australia’s renewable energy calendar each year – had a couple of options, in light of the cancellation.
The first option was to hold on to their tickets, which would be honoured “at the first opportunity” that the conference was next able to go ahead. The second option was to apply for a 50 per cent refund on the ticket price.
“The reason we are offering a 50 per cent refund is due to the significant costs the SEC has incurred (around the cancellation of the conference,” Grimes said.
“These costs are greater than the amounts we are giving back. …Obviously this decision is going to hit the SEC financially, but who has not taken a major financial hit? Everybody is in the same boat,” he added.