Investment dries up for Australia's large-scale RE

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With wide-open spaces, an aging coal-fired generation profile and strong public support for renewable energy, Australia would seem the perfect market for big PV and wind. How different reality can be. In new data from BNEF, the extent to which renewable investment has drawn to a standstill can be observed, with significantly less than $5 million going into projects in the last four months.

The only highlight was the innovative floating PV system being developed by Australian/Singaporean company Infratech in South Australia.

Year-on-year the result is even more startling with BNEF finding that investment for the 12 months to March 2015, large scale renewable investment fell 90%.

“Investment has been stifled by policy uncertainty for over 13 months since the Abbott government’s [Renewable Energy Target] review was announced on 17 February 2014,” BNEF said. “The Australian large-scale clean energy industry has become practically uninvestable due to ongoing uncertainty caused by the government’s review.”

There have been some hope that a compromise regarding the RET can be agreed to by the Abbott government and the Labor opposition in recent days. Labor has indicated it is willing to agree on a compromise figure of 33,500 GWh of new large scale renewable capacity to be mandated under a revised RET. This is down from the previously bipartisan figure of 41,000 GWh.

The government has, however, rejected the compromise position, saying that its suggestion of 32,00 GWh is a final offer.

The impact of the decimation of investment has been felt in the renewable sector, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporting that 2,000 jobs have been lost over the past two years. 12,590 people are now employed in renewables, down from 15,000 two years ago.

The leading renewable investor Banco Santander recently exited Australia.

While the large-scale renewable sector has suffered, rooftop solar continues to perform strongly Down Under. BNEF figures find that 195 MW of rooftop PV was installed in Q1 2015, up 7% on the previous year. Australia’s small-scale solar subsidies have been excluded from government cuts, due to their widespread popularity. More than one if five Australian homes now feature a PV array.

While new investments in PV power plants have not been forthcoming, a number of PV power plant projects are currently being built out including FRV’s 56 MW Moree Solar Farm and First Solar’s Nyngan Solar Plant, the latter pv magazine understands is nearing completion.

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