Renewable energy rises to power

January 23, 2015
On September 30 South Australia generated 100% of their power using only wind and rooftop solar.

Despite the brutal cuts to leading renewable energy bodies by the Coalition government last year, incredible benchmarks in the field have been achieved.

Last month, a team operating out of the University of NSW recorded the highest level of efficiency for a photovoltaic solar panel, converting 40% of the light into electricity. The average efficiency of rooftop solar panels is about 15-18% so exciting possibilities exist with this huge leap in conversion. As the technology develops, the industry will experience an influx of more compact units capable of using even more of the sun’s energy with less space and equipment required.

September 30 marked the day that South Australia exceeded 100% of their required power using only wind and rooftop solar. This is bad news for fossil fuels in SA, which are effectively priced out of the market by renewables that are able to go as low as necessary to sell their power as it occurs.

The ACT showcased its entrepreneurial talent by securing the development of Australia’s largest solar farm by reverse auction. Switched on late last year, the solar farm generates 20 megawatts with the capacity to power 4500 homes, helping the ACT to achieve its target of 90% renewables by 2020.

On December 23 it was quietly announced that the second year of the carbon tax’s operation led to a 1.4% drop in total emissions (including a 4% drop in electricity). To somehow justify being the only country to abolish a carbon tax, Environment minister Greg Hunt campaigned relentlessly as to its ineffectiveness.

The federal government’s decision to abolish the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is not only a planned demise of a potentially thriving industry but, to use the words of environmentalist David Suzuki, criminal negligence against future generations.

This is especially so in Australia’s rural communities, where renewable energy has always been a means of providing electricity when connecting to the grid is not viable. It is important now in times of prolonged drought that farmers can use some of their land to invest in solar and wind farms to subsidise their income.

With Australia’s abundance of sunlight and land, renewable energy investment is open to anyone, anywhere. This in turn can create more jobs in both urban and rural areas to help sustain these communities for years to come.

With the technology and innovation available in a global market, businesses that promote sustainable development should be afforded a place at the table with established fossil fuel companies running on outdated and damaging ideas. Using policy to drive investment out of the renewable energy market and heavily subsidising the fossil fuel industry to keep it afloat should indicate that Australia is not an equal playing field for energy providers.

Decisions — or more accurately indecisions — from the top regarding renewable energy policy and the RET affect the ability of renewable energy investors to feel confident. With an estimated $15 billion of investment and development projects on hold, I would like to see a government that actively champions “cutting $1 billion in red tape every year” to apply it to an industry demanding to be unleashed.

[Lisa Hinde is a Masters student in Sustainable Development at UNSW and works for environmental engineering consultancy EMF Griffiths. She has been involved in projects championing the use of renewable energy in countries such as South Africa and Vanuatu.]

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