Renewable electricity generation on rise, jobs at risk – GEM

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Renewables are well-placed to make up a third of Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) within two years, as a number of states has made remarkable progress in adding renewable capacities, finds Green Energy Market in its latest analysis. 

This almost doubles the 2015 rate when renewables contributed just 17.3% of annual electricity consumption and far exceeds the 23.5% mandated by the Renewable Energy Target.

According to GEM’s data, renewables are likely to exceed 40% share by 2030 given a range of corporate procurement tenders, while the untapped potential from projects under development could produce power equal to 85% of the NEM’s 2030 consumption. 

When it comes to individual states, this month’s Renewable Energy Index from GEM shows that Victoria is poised to source almost 40% of electricity from renewables by 2020, up from the 17.7% in 2015 and far above its 2020 target of 25%. Queensland has picked up its speed of installation, while New South Wales is lagging behind.

GEM calculates that when only rooftop solar is considered, by 2030 the share of renewables in Victoria’s electricity consumption will grow to 45.7%.

Queensland has seen the fastest growth in renewable energy supply from 7.5% in 2015 to a projected 25% in 2020, moving towards its 2030 target of 50%.

Without any state targets or ambitions, New South Wales (NSW) is lagging behind other states and is likely to reach only 19.7% renewables share by 2020 and 26.1% by 2030.

According to the GEM analysis, Tasmania and South Australia are moving towards a position where they could generate more renewable energy than they could consume, even with greater energy storage, and their future is as clean power exporters.

South Australia is poised to generate 70% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and 85% by 2030. Its full pipeline could generate more than twice the state’s 2030 electricity consumption.

The report notes that with two wind farms currently under construction, Tasmania can meet its needs entirely with renewable energy, but it could generate 20% more renewable energy than it consumes if its development projects were to proceed to construction.

“The rapid ramp-up in investment in the past three years have shown the kind of growth possible with strong targets and supporting policy and demonstrates we can reach for far greater targets down the track,“ said Miriam Lyons GetUp Campaigns Director, highlighting the importance of a solid political framework for renewables deployment. GetUp funds the GEM reporting. 

NEG troubles

Even if contracting and construction commitments to solar farms and wind farms halted from today, ongoing installations of rooftop solar should see renewables share reaching 39% by 2030, and this substantially exceeds around 36% under the Turnbull government’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG), GEM finds.

“The NEG does nothing to build on this progress and sends us backwards when we could be bounding forward as a world leader in clean energy, creating jobs and taking action on climate change in the process,“ said Lyons.

The unambitious NEG makes it highly unlikely that any more projects will get off the ground after 2020, casting a shadow on up to 15,000 jobs in large-scale renewable projects in Queensland and Victoria.

GEM estimates that Queensland’s current pipeline of 1.4 GW of large-scale solar project could shrink to only 129 MW by next June under the NEG, slashing the number of jobs in construction os solar from 3494 in June to 153 in just 12 months and then zero by December 2019.

Meanwhile, the agricultural industry could also be severely affected by the NEG, as the requirement to reduce emissions by 26% by 2030 would impose significant costs and reduced production in the industry.

A separate analysis from the Australia Institute shows that to reduce emissions per year by 18.7 Mt of CO2e by 2030 would result in the need to reduce agricultural production, including significant reductions in livestock numbers, which means 2.9 million fewer beef cattle, 8 million fewer sheep, 290,000 fewer dairy cows and 270,000 fewer pigs

“Those who are concerned about the cost to the agricultural sector need to be concerned with the government’s plan to reduce emissions on a sector by sector basis,“ said Matt Grudnoff, report author and Senior Economist at The Australia Institute.

“This approach imposes significant costs on agriculture and other sectors that do not have the existing commercially available technologies for emissions reduction that the electricity sector currently enjoys,“ he added.