The pace of construction of Australian renewable energies will decrease in 2021 despite the global momentum for energy transition technologies.
The Clean Energy Council claims the sector has lost around 2,700 jobs since 2018, with only 1,300 peak construction workers in the construction industry in the first two quarters of 2021, 67.5% fewer than three years ago.
Three solar parks – Woolooga and Edenvale in Queensland and West Wyalong in New South Wales – reached financial close in the June quarter, with a record capacity of 350 MW in Queensland.
In the first two quarters of 2021, an average of around 432 MW was added, 29 percent less than in 2020 and 70 percent less than in the same period in 2018.
The handbrakes have fallen quickly on wind power, with the CEC saying only one move has hit financial close in 18 months, up from 17 in 2018.
CEC CEO Kane Thornton blamed “unhelpful government intervention” for discouraging investment in the sector.
“This is a significant loss to the Australian economy at a time when it is crucial to get our nation moving again,” he said.
“This means a significant loss of jobs in critical areas such as construction and electrical engineering, project management and logistics, as well as the associated jobs in the local communities that support these large construction projects.
“Investments in clean energy have fallen to a level that has not been seen for several years, which can be attributed to the increased risks for investors, including grid connection and grid restrictions as well as the ongoing unpredictable and unhelpful state interventions and market reforms.”
The latest bogeyman from the CEC and its members is the Energy Security Board’s recommendation of a physical capacity mechanism, backed by ScoMo’s Energy Minister Angus Taylor, which opponents say could result in coal and gas generators remaining in the system beyond the date the market opened, making them unprofitable make.
AGL’s top executives admitted on a conference call last week that if there had been a market for physical capacity, they might have fueled the soon-to-be-mothballed Torrens B1 gas facility.
The CEC has also urged the Australian government, criticized by environmental groups for its response to the IPCC’s devastating Sixth Assessment Report, to set broader carbon reduction targets.
“Although the competitiveness of renewables and energy storage continues to improve, without the necessary political and regulatory security, investors in Australia will continue to face significantly higher risks than in many other countries that are clearly focused on accelerating investments in clean energy” said Thornton.
US is expanding renewables, but coal will rise in the short term if gas prices rise
If Australia’s use of renewable energy – now around a quarter of the national electricity grid – has hit some barriers, how is the world’s largest economy doing?
According to Commbank analyst Vivek Dhar, non-hydropower renewable energies will steadily increase to 16% of US electricity generation by 2022, up from a forecast of 14.5% this year and 12.5% in 2020.
“Both wind and solar power capacity will add to the gains in renewable power generation in 2021,” Dhar said in a note this morning. “But in 2022 it is expected that the addition of solar capacity will exceed the wind.”
“The slower growth in wind power capacity is related to the expiration of the production tax credit.”
US gas production will also decrease from 40.3% to 36.9% in 2021, driven by high gas prices, before rising again to 37.9% in 2022.
However, coal-fired power is expected to increase its share of production in the states even further from 19.3% to 22.6% in 2021 before dropping to 20.3%.
Nuclear power is expected to decline as reactor shutdowns outperform recommissioning, despite the Biden government having previously expressed support for keeping nuclear power on the grid in net-zero scenarios.
The US grid is facing a radical upheaval as President Joe Biden pledges to cut CO2 emissions by 50 to 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.
This would require 80% of the electricity to be emission-free by 2030, with Biden aiming to achieve net zero emissions from electricity generation by 2035.
Dhar said this would require drastic reductions in gas and coal-fired generation in the years to come.
“The plan is very ambitious and would require significant innovation and technological breakthroughs over the next decade,” he said.
“In order to achieve the goal, investments in battery storage and networks would be essential.”
“A number of US utilities have raised concerns that the drive to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 could compromise reliability and affordability.”
“While these concerns are plausible, long-term projections tend to underestimate changes in technology and politics. For example, CO2 emissions from US power generation in 2020 were about half as high as forecast in 2005. ”
“And that’s because energy efficiency cut electricity demand by 24% below forecasts, renewables grew 79% more than expected, and coal and oil power generation fell 70% more than was forecast in 2005.”
Get the latest Stockhead news delivered to your inbox for free.
It’s free. Sign out whenever you want.