Although 2017 was a record year for the renewable energy sector, the percentage of renewable energy fell slightly from 17.3 per cent of Australia’s electricity in 2016 to 17 per cent last year. This was largely because of a significant decline in hydro generation due to reduced rainfall in catchment areas.
For the first time ever, wind and hydro generation contributed an almost identical amount of electricity – each around 5.7 per cent of the national total – during the year.
Rooftop solar, which experienced its best ever year in 2017, continues to gain momentum thanks to growing interest from the commercial sector, as well as a growing number of households investing in solar panels. Last year, rooftop solar generated 3.4 per cent of Australia’s power, a significant amount that was often produced when it was most needed – during the middle of hot summer days when every extra kilowatt of power helped to ease the strain on the electricity network.
The big news in 2017 was the construction and commissioning of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery at South Australia’s Hornsdale Power Reserve. While this hit the headlines worldwide, it was just one of the many initiatives pursued or proposed by the South Australian state government as it led the race towards a 21st century energy system. What will happen following the change of government in March 2018 remains to be seen.
Household battery activity is accelerating around the country, but initiatives such as virtual power plants and other government incentives are helping to stimulate growth. As prices come down to a level where they become affordable for average home owners, large numbers of people are expected to invest in domestic battery storage systems.
While only a handful of large-scale solar projects were completed in 2017, it is remarkable to note that 450 MW of capacity has now been built across the country – up from just 34 MW at the end of 2014. Another 21 big solar projects were under construction at the beginning of 2018. Wind power also had its third-biggest year (547 MW of new capacity), with more than a dozen projects actively underway.