2018 smashed renewables records across the board, CEC finds

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Previous statistics have already revealed the outstanding achievements of renewables in 2018, but a new report from the Clean Energy Council (CEC) summarizes how remarkable the year really was for the clean energy industry in Australia.

Investment in large-scale renewables doubled from $10 billion in 2017 to $20 billion in 2018 and the amount of renewable energy capacity financially committed increased by 260% on 2017, with 14.8 GW committed in 2018 compared to the 5.6 GW in 2017, CEC data show. At the end of 2018, a further 59 large-scale solar projects were either under construction or financially committed.

“Renewable energy entrenched its position as the lowest-cost type of new energy that can be efficiently built, and costs for new solar and wind power continued to fall – meaning investors saw more bang for every buck,” CEC Chief Executive Kane Thornton said.

Indeed, a major report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the national science agency CSIRO released in December found solar and wind technologies to be lowest cost to generate electricity in Australia, compared to any other new-build technology. Importantly, this also holds when the cost of fossil generation technology is adjusted for climate policy risk or not.

The CEC report confirms that cost of new wind and solar – even when backed by storage – is now lower than the cost of new coal generation, noting that wholesale prices should continue to fall as more clean energy comes online.

In 2018, the generating capacity grew by more than 2.5 times on the 2017 levels. Large-scale solar stole the limelight with the total generating capacity of completed projects increasing close to five times (480%), from 382 MW at the end of 2017 to 1824 MW in 2018. An average of more than two large-scale solar farms (over 5 MW) were commissioned each month in 2018, adding 1442 MW of new capacity.

Rooftop solar also experienced its best ever year, with 1.55 GW of new capacity added over the course of 2018- both in the commercial and residential market, as the number of Australian homes with solar PV systems installed on their rooftops passed a two million milestone. The incredible pace of six solar panels installed per minute has resulted in the current accumulative installed capacity of more than 8.1 GW throughout Australia. The average rooftop solar system size continues to increase, now reaching 7.13 kW.

There was a 45% increase in commercial solar installations and 43% in the residential sector throughout 2018. Meanwhile, a total of 20 corporate power purchase agreements were signed around Australia for a total of 931 MW and supporting projects with a total capacity of 2600 MW, the report finds.

Batteries gained momentum in 2018 with a number of grid-scale energy storage facilities completed across Australia, including 30 MWh Ballarat Energy Storage System in Victoria; the 30 MW/8 MWh Dalrymple Energy Storage for Commercial Renewable Integration in South Australia; the 25 MW/50 MWh Gannawarra Energy Storage System, which was retrofitted to an existing solar farm; and the 5 MW Alice Springs Battery Energy Storage System in the Northern Territory.

The Hornsdale Power Reserve, also known as South Australia’s Tesla big battery, led the charge clearly demonstrating the benefits of installing big batteries. It reduced frequency control ancillary services costs by up to $50 million in 2018, CEC states, noting that these savings could be even greater if the rules of the National Electricity Market are changed to support fast frequency response.

In terms of residential battery storage, state and territory government subsidies have set the stage for the number of Australian households with batteries to triple to 70,000 in 2019, which means that Australia would account for 30% of the global household battery market by the end of the year, the report states.

With more than 850 MW of new capacity installed in 2018, wind also had the best ever year. Another 24 wind farms, with a combined capacity of 5.69 GW, were under construction or financially committed at the end of 2018. As a result, more than a fifth of Australia’s power (21%) came from renewable energy last year, which was the highest level ever, CEC reports.

“The real cherry on top is that Australia as a nation produced enough renewable energy in 2018 to power every household in the country,” Thorton said.

The extraordinary level of investment created another 7000 new jobs since 2017, putting the grand total at 20,000 direct jobs in the clean industry, with many of these throughout rural and regional Australia.

With the large-scale RET as good as met, with 67 large-scale renewable projects under construction at the end of last year, compared to the 34 in 2017 and just 11 in 2016, the lack of an energy policy beyond 2020 is still casting a shadow over the remarkable progress.

“But with no energy policy beyond 2020, these extraordinary achievements could grind to a halt unless the next Federal Government commits to a sensible and enduring energy policy that can provide long-term investment confidence,” Thorton said.