The review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), which was announced in February 2014 and continued beyond the end of the year, essentially froze new investment in large-scale renewable energy in Australia last year. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, new investment in large-scale projects such as solar and wind farms was down by 88 per cent in 2014 compared to the year before.
The RET review had a more modest impact on the smaller-scale renewable energy market, and both commercial and domestic solar power continued to perform well. More than 15,000 businesses have now installed a solar power system, collectively saving more than $64 million on their power bills every year. Some consolidation of solar businesses continued as the market continued to mature, and innovative financing options were a feature of the commercial solar sector last year.
Bundaberg in Queensland was Australia’s solar power capital at the end of 2014, with the most solar power systems of any postcode in the country. Mandurah in Western Australia was second and Hervey Bay, just over 100 km away from Bundaberg, placed third. Eight of the top 10 solar regions of the year were from the aptly-named Sunshine State, with the remaining two from Western Australia.
Employment across the sector contracted by nearly 1000 full-time positions, leaving approximately 20,000 people directly employed by the renewable energy industry.
Lower rainfall in hydro catchments contributed to a 25 per cent fall in hydro generation, leading to a drop in the proportion of renewable energy in the nation’s power supply from 14.76 per cent in 2013 to 13.47 per cent last year. Of the various renewable energy technologies, hydro made the largest contribution to total Australian energy generation (6.2 per cent), followed by wind (4.2 per cent), solar (2.1 per cent) and bioenergy (1 per cent).
Despite the uncertainty that washed through the renewable energy sector during 2014, three large wind farms totalling 566.7 megawatts were completed during the year. Among these was Trustpower’s Snowtown 2 in South Australia, Australia’s second- largest operating wind farm. These projects were approved and financed long before the beginning of the review of the RET.
The 20 megawatt Royalla Solar Farm developed by Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, the nation’s largest at the end of 2014, was officially opened in September. Support from the ACT Government was crucial to the viability of the project.
Energy storage continued to attract keen interest across the renewable energy sector. Innovation and scale step changes such as the construction of the US$5 billion Gigafactory by Tesla Motors in the United States are expected to drive down the price of technology and make it more widely adopted in the next few years.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) supported a diverse group of projects investigating cutting- edge renewable technologies. These included the use of renewable energy in off-grid situations for a variety of applications, such as mining at Weipa in North Queensland. Hybrid technologies were also a feature of ARENA’s work, including a project that aims to integrate solar and wind with diesel at Coober Pedy to provide 70 per cent of the town’s electricity from renewables.
Approximately 40 per cent of South Australia’s power came from renewable energy during 2014, and the state government increased its own renewable energy target to 50 per cent by 2025. South Australia was completely powered by renewable energy between 9.30am and 6pm on 30 September in 2014, providing a glimpse into the potential of renewable energy in Australia.