Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has confirmed – or, finally conceded on the public record – that Australia is on track to reach nearly 50 per cent renewables by 2030, the goal that the federal Coalition said would “wreck the economy” when it proposed by Labor before the last election.
In a statement on Thursday claiming credit for a “record” amount of renewable installations, Taylor said emissions from the electricity grid were forecast to fall another 23 per cent by 2030 as the share of renewables increased to more than a third in the early 2020s, and to 48 per cent by 2030.
Taylor, who is a known opponent of wind energy in Australia, having vigorously campaigned against the technology before his election to parliament, also noted that Australia’s per capita renewable energy installation rate has increased more than five-fold since 2015.
As it happens, the year 2015 marked a nadir for Australia’s nascent solar and wind energy industries, with the Coalition taking the helm in Canberra led by the rabidly anti-renewable and climate skeptic Tony Abbott, creating an investment drought.
That’s because the Abbott government (and particularly Taylor) had tried – and failed – to kill the previous Labor government’s Large-scale Renewable Energy Target. It was finally saved, although its scope was reduced, and now Taylor is claiming credit for the success of the policy he tried to kill.
The statement of renewable energy achievement issued by Taylor comes as his Coalition government faces increasing pressure – even from Sky News and from the NSW and now Victorian Liberal Parties – to increase its ambition on emissions reduction.
That pressure has been fuelled by a summer of terrifying climate extremes, including bushfires of unprecedented size and endurance, heat-waves, dust storms, flash floods, and giant bird-killing hail.
It also comes as the latest data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance notes a plunge in investment in large-scale renewables in Australia, as the RET comes to an end with no policy in sight to replace it.
As reported here, BNEF attributed the 60 per cent fall in new investment over the last 12 months – which doesn’t get a mention in Taylor’s press release – to relentless federal government policy certainty, and associated issues such as connection delays, transmission losses, and overcrowding on certain parts of the grid.
Taylor focused on the amount of renewables deployed in 2019 – 6.3GW (one third of it from rooftop solar), but a lot of this is from previously committed projects. Connection delays means the backlog will account of this year’s deployment, but there are major concerns that new financing is not being committed, because of the uncertainty and grid blockages.
At least the government has stopped claiming that it is the world leader in renewables development, just one of them. For how much longer is not clear.
All that aside, 48 per cent by 2030 is an encouraging set of numbers from the Morrison government, which until very recently still liked to warn that a 50 per cent renewable energy target would wreck the economy.
But it still represents a considerable slowdown in deployment rates over the next 10 years, given that the bulk of new capacity will come from rooftop solar.
And it’s a milestone that would be difficult to avoid given that Victoria and Queensland aim to reach 50 per cent by 2030, NSW has to replace some of its coal generators by that time, South Australia is at more than 50 per cent and aiming for “net 100 per cent”, and Tasmania and the ACT are effectively already at 100 per cent.
And – as Giles Parkinson noted here on Wednesday – if even the Coalition can now speak these numbers, it makes you wonder how much farther Australia could get with some semblance of a policy.
But we don’t really even need to wonder. In its Integrated System Plan, the proposed 20-year blueprint for the future of Australia’s electricity grid, the Australian Energy Market Operator has made clear that by 2041/42, even under its “central scenario” of current policies, Australia’s main grid will be supplied 73 per cent by renewable energy.
In other scenarios, it is much higher. Its “high DER” scenario, where households and businesses embrace rooftop solar, battery storage, electric vehicles and VPPs at a faster rate than expected, the ratio of renewables is 74 per cent. In a technology led scenario, featuring a greater fall in wind and solar costs than expected, the ratio ends up being 79 per cent.
In the “step change” scenario, where policy makers make a conscious effort to take the advice of the experts and scientists and seek to do their share of trying to limit average global warming to 1.5°C, the ratio of renewables in Australia’s main grid is 89 per cent.