INTRODUCTION The recent success of the Australian renewable energy industry makes it easy to forget just how far we’ve come. Back in 2015 when the Abbott Government threatened to abolish the Renewable Energy Target, there were serious doubts about the industry’s survival, let alone its ability to provide a significant proportion of the country’s electricity. Yet just six years later, 32.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity came from clean energy sources and the industry is growing faster than ever before. The acceleration of the renewable energy transition in 2021 shows that a future where Australia’s electricity costs less, is more reliable and has zero emissions is no longer a possibility, it is a certainty.The almost 3 GW of new large-scale capacity that was added in 2021 included some of Australia’s largest renewable energy projects, with the country’s three largest solar farms and two of its three largest wind farms all beginning to send power to the grid during the year. The rooftop solar sector also continued its remarkable run in 2021, adding 3.3 GW of new capacity to chalk up five record breaking years in a row.
Wales Interconnector. A further 30 utility-scale batteries were under construction at the end of 2021, representing a combined capacity and storage duration of 921 MW/1169 MWh. The development of the hydrogen sector continued to accelerate in 2021, with the industry having a pipeline of more than 100 projects worth $163 billion by the end of the year. The industry received significant government backing in 2021, led by the Federal Government’s $464 million Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs Program and the NSW Government providing up to $3 billion in support to the industry. The private sector also upped its investment in 2021, with iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest leading the way via several announcements that will significantly boost the emerging sector.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
The ACT continued as a renewable energy leader in 2021, maintaining its position as one of the few jurisdictions in the world that gets 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. However, despite its world-leading status, the territory continued to look for new ways to improve its renewable energy credentials as it strives to achieve its ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2025. In February 2021, the ACT Budget committed $300 million to tackle climate change over the next five years. This included $150 million towards interest-free loans of up to $15,000 per household to install solar panels, battery storage and heat pumps, and $100 million for the Big Canberra Battery system.3 The Big Canberra Battery system is a unique energy storage solution that involves the ACT Government establishing a 250 MW network of distributed battery systems across Canberra that can be coordinated to operate as if they were one big battery. The distributed battery system will be used to increase network reliability by reducing pressure on the grid, better integrate the increasing supply of renewable energy in the network, reduce electricity price spikes and generate new revenue opportunities for the ACT.4 Although it is still only in the early planning stages, the battery and its innovative operating model demonstrates the exciting possibilities enabled by energy storage.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Political turmoil in NSW, which saw the resignation of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro over a three-day period, didn’t slow New South Wales’ clean energy momentum in 2021, with a flurry of new announcements confirming the state’s commitment to a rapid clean energy transition. The most significant development was the formal declaration of Australia’s first renewable energy zone (REZ). Located near Dubbo, the Central-West Orana REZ will host at least 3 GW of solar, wind and storage, generating $5.2 billion of new investment and creating 3900 construction jobs. The next step will be for the NSW Government to hold a series of auctions to select the projects to be constructed in the REZ, and there is expected to be no shortage of bidders after an expression of interest (EOI) process held in 2020 received 27 GW worth of proposals, more than nine times the capacity of the REZ.
Despite facing some challenges in 2021, the Northern Territory continued to put measures in place to set itself up to achieve its target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030. The Federal Government gave the NT’s clean energy plans a boost in the 2021-22 budget, providing $15 million towards the 35 MW battery that will be constructed to enable more renewable energy on the Darwin-Katherine grid and $15 million to deploy microgrids to provide up to 10 remote Indigenous communities with more secure, reliable and affordable electricity by reducing their reliance on diesel generators.
Queensland took some important steps towards its goal of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030 in 2021, making significant investments in new renewable capacity and storage. However, the state’s clean energy progress has slowed in comparison to its peers in recent years as other jurisdictions have increased their ambitions and accelerated their renewable energy transitions. In an effort to boost the Queensland clean energy industry, the Queensland Government announced a $1.5 billion top-up of the state’s renewable energy fund, bringing the total available funds to $2 billion. The fund will be used to
help state-owned power companies increase their renewable generation and storage capacity and allow the government to invest in new hydrogen projects and clean manufacturing jobs.
RENEWABLES FOR BUSINESS
While not reaching the heights of 2020, corporate renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs) had another strong year in 2021. There were 18 corporate renewable PPAs announced in 2021, directly contracting just over 800 MW.
HYDROGEN The biggest commitment to the hydrogen industry in 2021 came through the Federal Government’s Clean Hydrogen Industrial Hubs Program. The $464 million program has designated seven regions in Australia for the construction of hydrogen hubs, where hydrogen users, producers and potential exporters will be concentrated to create economies of scale. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency made its first foray into hydrogen in 2021 when it allocated more than $100 million to three renewable hydrogen pilot projects that will produce hydrogen for export and blending into existing natural gas pipelines.97 The Clean Energy Finance Corporation also made its first hydrogen investment in 2021, providing $12.5 million to a project that will produce renewable hydrogen to power the world’s heaviest fuel cell trucks.
Installed capacity in the medium-scale solar sector has fallen in each of the past two years as businesses have felt the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet despite the difficult economic conditions, 2021 was the fourth-straight year that the sector has seen more than 100 MW of new capacity installed, bringing the sector’s total capacity to 667 MW. Medium-scale solar was responsible for 1.1 per cent of Australia’s total renewable energy generation in 2021, which was slightly down on the 1.4 per cent it contributed in 2020. The implementation of IdentiFlight at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm has significantly reduced the risk to eagles, and the system’s highly advanced AI means that it can be easily adapted to other bird species. This will allow for IdentiFlight to be deployed at other wind farms around Australia, significantly reducing the prevalence of bird strikes and reinforcing the Australian wind industry’s positive impact on the environment. The deployment of IdentiFlight by Goldwind Australia at the Cattle Hill Wind Farm was recognised with the Innovation Award at the 2021 Clean Energy Council Awards.