According to a new report Australia will have to increase the pace of large-scale renewable energy development sevenfold to reach its Renewable Energy Target (RET) this year.
The report, Renewable Energy Target 2015 Administrative Report released by the Clean Energy Regulator on Budget night, says it is still technically possible for Australia to meet the RET by 2020 but only if a large number of new renewable energy projects rapidly come online.
Only 409 megawatts of new capacity was committed to last year, after a two-year Tony Abbott government assault on the target, which discouraged investment and resulted in large-scale job losses in the industry.
The regulator described last year's progress as “adequate under the circumstances”, and notes that to remain on track for the 2020 target a total of 6000 megawatts will need to be committed in the next two years. The regulator expects this to be filled by approximately 75% wind and 25% solar.
The RET requires Australia to generate 33,000 gigawatt hours of additional renewable electricity by 2020 — equivalent to the amount of electricity required to power five million houses for a year.
“Committed” means projects that are considered virtually certain to be built — those that have development approval and all the financing and power purchase agreements they need to proceed. So far this year, committed projects would provide fewer than 400 megawatts.
The report notes that 9000 megawatts of large-scale renewable projects have received development approval, which would easily meet the target if built, but whether those projects receive financing will be the determining issue.
Australian Wind Alliance national coordinator Andrew Bray said with no time to lose electricity retailers and all sides of politics must immediately do everything in their power to get projects off the ground.
“By the regulator's own estimates there are projects ready to go that would deliver 9000 megawatts of power — but we're not seeing shovels in the ground,” he said.
“Energy retailers have run out of excuses, and wind and solar-rich regions have run out patience. Retailers must start committing to large numbers of new projects straight away.”
With a federal election looming, Australia needs a clear long-term vision from the government for the renewable energy industry.
Bray said: "Markets need certainty and it's not clear what the government's vision is for renewable energy post-2020. Wind farms create jobs and investment in parts of Australia that are traditionally starved of both, so it's no wonder that there's strong community support for the industry.
"Under Tony Abbott the industry was trashed, and thousands of jobs were lost in Australia while clean energy boomed around the world. There are signs of recovery, but what we need is leadership and vision so Australia can tap into the opportunities of a world moving rapidly towards a zero-carbon economy.”
The regulator's report found that last year,15.2 million megawatt hours of electricity were generated from large-scale renewable sources — enough to power 2.4 million homes for a year. Eight projects totalling 409 megawatts were committed to proceed including three wind farms totalling 113 megawatts.
All new wind projects were committed under the ACT's wind auction scheme. There are 85 wind farms operating in Australia, totalling 4205 megawatts.