All Energy: Hunt leaves door open for storage subsidies

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The mood at the All Energy trade show in Australia currently underway is cautiously optimistic, with the solar sector receiving the signals from the government headed by Malcolm Turnbull positively. While the new Prime Minister Turnbull and Environment Minister Hunt have not yet delivered any significant changes in policy for the sector, it appears as if support for rooftop soar will continue and may even increase, and signs that battery storage is in favor with the government.

“Walking around the [trade room] floor, the feeling was extraordinary,” declared Hunt while addressing a standing room only afternoon session. “The human energy is immense as are the new opportunities being created.”

Hunt singled out energy storage as being one of those opportunities, commenting that whether it be large scale applications in the form of molten salt, electro chemical storage or battery technologies such as lithium ion or more conventional forms, there is a great deal of excitement about the technology.

The Minister said he was encouraged by the cost curves being achieved with some of the technologies and that, “in the future people will not just be buying storage, but will be buying energy packages.”

In terms of specific government support for such packages Hunt was not particularly forthcoming, but he did allude to additional programs the government will look to roll out through bodies such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). Oliver Yates, the CEO of the CEFC attended the session and watched the Hunt address from the front row.

Responding to a question from Green Energy Markets CEO Ric Brazzale, who Hunt noted calls his office with some regularity, the Environment Minister said that instructions delivered to the CEFC preventing it from funding rooftop solar are likely to be modified and effectively withdrawn. Hunt said that the instructions, which he described as a “draft letter”, were part of an agreement struck with Senate crossbenchers to see the reduction in the Renewable Energy Target (RET) passed by the Parliament, but that the explicit instructions preventing it from funding rooftop soar were not in accordance with the agreement.

“I have already said publicly that we will revisit the draft letter [sent to the CEFC] and it will reflect [accurately] the content, tone and tenor of the agreement struck with the Senate,” said Hunt. He noted that since both ARENA and the CEFC have been brought under the administration of his office, “there will be change.”

The future of ARENA and the CEFC is looking healthier since Prime Minister Turnbull has been installed by his party last month, however the CEO of the Australian Solar Council John Grimes noted to pv magazine that legislation to abolish both bodies still currently before Parliament. Both measures have not been passed into law, however Grimes said that the legislation had only failed in the past by the slimmest of margins.

While Hunt’s address was largely well received by the All Energy crowd, Grimes himself was not satisfied by the material content of the presentation. Grimes said that there was very little in the way concrete policy changes being initiated. The ASC has temporarily suspended its Save Solar campaign, which had targeted key marginal electorates and campaigned against sitting government members. Grimes told pv magazine that it was an act of goodwill towards the new administration, however the jury is still out as to what direction support for renewables in Australia will take.

“Storage being a fundamental opportunity, a game changer,” said Hunt. A subsidy or support program for solar may indeed be the material policy the ASC is looking for.