Australia: 90% renewable target set for Capital Territory

While the political environment regarding renewable energy in many Australian states has become increasingly contested, with pressure coming from conservative governments and the utility companies to reduce renewable energy targets, cancel support for large-scale solar and make changes to how photovoltaic electricity is metered, the ACT government has provided a reason to have faith in the Australian market.

In its new plan, which aims at reducing carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, solar photovoltaics has emerged as one of the key pillars of energy supply in the territory. The ACT is a small Australian territory, where the nation’s capital Canberra is situated.

In announcing the plan for an energy transformation, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development Simon Corbell was clear that the switch to renewables is both an environmental and economic prerogative. "Strong action on climate change is affordable," said Corbell in the report’s forward, "and the value of energy and fuel savings can greatly, if not entirely, offset required investment costs."

One of the methods to achieving the ambitious goals, set out in the ACT plan, is to encourage rooftop photovoltaics. However, the report estimates that a maximum of 130 MW to 160 MW of solar could be installed in the territory.

Acknowledging that the impact of photovoltaic systems in reducing peak demand during winter, which in the Australian capital is relatively cold, the ACT government has acknowledged that storage technologies can play a key role. As such, in the energy plan, the government has committed to funding a three-year demonstration project in storage, focusing on hydrogen fuel cells and also batteries in electric vehicles, and how it can work with distributed small-scale photovoltaic installations. The Australian National University and the Canberra Institute of Technology will both be involved in the project and funding from the federal government sought.

The ACT is also the location a 20 MW photovoltaic power plant currently in development. The contract for power plant was awarded to Spanish firm FRV earlier this month. The contract was won through a reverse auction, the first of its kind for a large-scale photovoltaic project in Australia. The low kilowatt-hour price submitted in the FRV bid surprised many in the Australian energy sector and indicates that falling prices may open up further large-scale solar opportunities. The vast majority of Australia’s current photovoltaic capacity of 1.7 GW is small-scale rooftop installations.