Senate knocks out regulation allowing ARENA to fund carbon capture and blue hydrogen

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Senate on Tuesday night disallowed a government regulation that would have allowed the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to invest in technologies such as carbon capture and storage and blue hydrogen using fossil fuel.

Labor, Greens and crossbench votes defeated the regulation, so preventing the expansion of ARENA’s remit beyond its present area of solar and wind renewable energy.

The regulation would have enabled ARENA to support a wide range of technologies.

They would have included energy efficiency projects, carbon capture technologies, blue hydrogen from gas using CCS, energy storage technologies to back up renewable energy, technologies that reduce emissions from aluminium and steel, and soil carbon.

The $192.5 million new funding involved included money for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, microgrids in rural and regional areas, and technologies to make heavy trucks more fuel efficient and to reduce the energy consumption of heavy industry.

Energy minister Angus Taylor tweeted after the vote: “Labor have shown their true colours – opposing investment in new clean technologies which will create jobs and economic opportunities”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said the disallowance was “a massive blow to this coal and gas-fired government”.

“First the Liberals tried to abolish ARENA and then redirect its funds to coal and gas, but by backing the Greens motion, the Senate has just saved ARENA,” Bandt said.

Labor’s energy spokesman Chris Bowen tweeted: “The LNP keeps attacking ARENA and the CEFC [Clean Energy Finance Corporation] and Labor will continue to defend them”.

Mark Vaile declines chancellor position after campaign over coal connection

Education Minister Alan Tudge and outspoken Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon have condemned the campaign that led former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile to withdrew from becoming University of Newcastle chancellor because of his association with the coal industry.

University staff, alumni and a group of donors to the university reacted strongly at the prospect of Vaile, who is chairman of Whitehaven Coal, taking the position.

The university is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2025, a policy Vaile had said he supported.

But after the backlash he said, “I’ve just taken the view that it’s in the best interests of the university and the community that it serves if I decline the invitation and withdraw from the process.”

Tudge said it was very concerning Vaile had “been forced to turn down this role because of ideological pressure”.

“At a time when we are trying to promote and enforce free speech and academic freedom on campus, we should not have a very competent person forced out of an important job because of this cancel culture,” Tudge said.

Fitzgibbon, who represents the seat of Hunter, went further. “A new form of McCarthyism has crept into Australian culture and it’s alive and well in the Hunter region, deep in coal economy heartland”, he told parliament on Tuesday night..

He said “this 21st Century version of the Cold War doctrine has been on display at our local university where a quite extraordinary, misleading, ideological, and shrill campaign” resulted in Vaile declining the offer to be chancellor.

Fitzgibbon said “the crime” Vaile had been “publicly shamed for” was his association with the coal industry.

“It’s a slippery slope. Today the excessive progressives target those associated with the coal industry. No doubt tomorrow it will be anyone associated with the oil, gas, and fuel refining industries. What’s next? The meat processing industry? The steel manufacturing sector?”

Fitzgibbon pointed out that while chairing Whitehaven Coal, Vaile also chaired an investment fund which had $1 billion worth of wind and solar technologies under management.

Vaile was deputy prime minister from 2005 to 2007.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Attacks on renewable energy policy are older than the climate issue itself

Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The recent battles over the budget of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), and before that over the size of the Renewable Energy Target, are the latest skirmishes in a long-running war over support for technologies that harvest Australia’s abundant wind and solar resources.

Perhaps surprisingly, the conflict even predates the popular awareness of climate change, which is generally dated to 1988.

UNSW Australia’s Mark Diesendorf has described how in early 1983 he and his colleagues had identified an ideal site in northern Tasmania for a wind farm. They presented their proposal to Labor’s newly appointed resources minister, Peter Walsh.

We submitted a proposal that the federal government fund a demonstration wind farm and assist in establishing a local wind generator manufacturing industry in the region, which was suffering from high unemployment. The next day, Senator Walsh announced that a northwest Tasmanian wind energy project could be a part of a development package, if the Commonwealth was successful in the High Court challenge to the construction of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam.

The Commonwealth won its High Court battle, but the wind industry did not get its windfall. As Diesendorf recalls:

The federal government did not implement our proposal. It was soon obvious that the coal lobby, which was already very strong in the Department of Resources, had succeeded in turning the minister against wind power.

At the same time, CSIRO, a world leader in several areas of renewables, closed down all of its renewable energy research. In Diesendorf’s view this was brought on by “powerful coal and nuclear energy interests within the CSIRO”. In the absence of deathbed confessions by those who made the decisions, Diesendorf’s suspicions can’t be proved correct, but renewables did indeed disappear from CSIRO’s research agenda and annual reports from that time.

Once climate change hit the headlines, things changed – a little. In 1990 the Hawke government established the Energy Research and Development Corporation (ERDC) and launched a National Energy Efficiency Program. Meanwhile, research commissioned by the Victorian government found that renewable energy, paired with energy-efficiency measures, could save A$3.14 billion a year by 2005, create almost 14,000 jobs, boost economic productivity by A$800 million a year, and cut greenhouse emissions into the bargain.

But privatisation took hold in Victoria, and the Keating government in Canberra seemed indifferent at best. In 1994, green groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation called for a carbon levy to provide funds for renewable energy. Their request was ignored.

Renewables back on target

In 1996 the new Howard government disbanded Bob Hawke’s ERDC and energy efficiency program. In late 1997, in the run-up to the Kyoto climate summit, John Howard announced a new Renewable Energy Target (RET).

Greens leader Bob Brown was underwhelmed. He pointed out that the scheme’s A$65 million over five years was less than the A$75 million that had been axed the year before, while the target of an extra 2% of electricity from renewables (making a total of 11% including existing large-scale hydro electricity generation) fell short of the ambition shown by other nations. Britain, for instance, was aiming for 20% by 2010.

The RET finally came into place in 2001, after the fossil fuel lobby succeeded in getting it watered down, and was subjected to constant reviews.

Infamously, at a secret meeting whose minutes were leaked, the then energy minister, Ian MacFarlane, lamented to the chief executives of companies like BHP and Rio that the RET was working too well – renewables were growing too fast.

In the run-up to the 2004 Energy White Paper, the renewables industry had hired well-connected lobby firm Crosby Textor (yes, Crosby as in Lynton Crosby) in a bid to get the RET raised to as much as 10%.

According to Age journalist Richard Baker, a Liberal backbencher warned the renewables advocates that “you guys are stuffed”. And so it came to pass – the white paper spruiked carbon capture and storage, not renewables.

In the white paper’s aftermath, CSIRO boss Geoff Garrett announced that the organisation would be reducing its renewables research and instead focusing on “clean coal” technologies such as coal gasification and carbon capture and storage.

Months later, a draft copy of an August 2005 CSIRO report describing solar thermal technology as “the only renewable technology that can make deep cuts in greenhouse emissions” was leaked to The Canberra Times. Before the leak, sources claimed the report had been “passed around like a political hot potato” with no date set for its release. It was eventually released to the public later that year.

Bloody public battles

Since 2007 the battles have been more public and even bloodier. An attempt to harmonise (and perhaps increase) different state and federal targets (all with different baselines, target years and amounts) was a dispiriting process. This was due in part, it seems, to federal bureaucratic intransigence and arrogance.

The major changes have been an increase in the renewables target, split into large-scale (wind farms, solar farms and the like) and small-scale (mostly rooftop solar). That increased target was of course subjected to significant watering down by the Abbott government.

Meanwhile, the two agencies that were set up to support renewable energy have also come under attack. The Greens, whose support was a life-and-death issue for the Gillard government, had managed to insist on the creation of ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Between them, these two organisations were designed to ensure funding both for basic research and development and for commercialisation of the resulting technologies, thereby smoothing the path for renewables to enter the electricity sector.

The attacks on these organisations have helped create investor uncertainty in renewables. Efforts to close them down ultimately failed, so the Abbott government switched to changing their terms of reference. The Turnbull government has continued this, along with salami-slicing ARENA’s budget.

This investment uncertainty, deliberately created, is a kind of “divestment campaign” against renewables. It can also be seen as a way of provoking an “investment strike”.

Whereas the mining industry threatened to take its investment dollars elsewhere while fighting Kevin Rudd’s proposed Resources Super-profits Tax in 2010, in this case, the supporters of the status quo energy system are hoping to dissuade external investors from coming to Australia. Thus do incumbents defend their patch.

Australia is famously the “lucky country”. But of course, Donald Horne meant it ironically, believing that the country was richly endowed with resources but “run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck”.

Given what we know of the trajectory and probable impacts of climate change, nobody, surely, will be able to be claim surprise as the future arrives.

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Despite the funding cut, ARENA’s glass is still half full – here’s how to spend the money

Andrew Blakers, Australian National University and Richard Corkish, UNSW Australia

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will suffer a A$500 million funding cut, after being saved from a far worse fate during negotiations over the government’s proposed budget savings package. So does this mean the ARENA funding glass is half full, or half empty?

The 2014 Abbott/Hockey budget aimed to destroy ARENA altogether. Thankfully it was blocked by Labor, the Greens and the crossbench in the Senate. In March this year the Turnbull government claimed to have saved ARENA but intended to divert most of its funds and prevent it from offering grants. The ALP supported that position before the election.

The government’s omnibus savings bill, which in its original form would have chopped A$1.3 billion from ARENA, would have doomed Australian renewable energy research and development (R&D) – despite our country’s recent pledge “to double government clean energy research and development investment by 2020”.

The Greens and Nick Xenophon Team opposed the cuts to ARENA. Labor compromised with the government, allowing A$500 million to be diverted elsewhere and leaving ARENA with A$800 million over the next five years.

The axe that previously hung over ARENA’s granting process has been lifted. So to answer the earlier question, our glass is now half full, because substantial funding will still flow to renewable energy R&D, this time with bipartisan political backing which hopefully confers greater funding stability. But it is also half empty, because clean energy innovation has taken another huge cut.

International support

Two weeks ago, some 200 Australian solar energy researchers signed a letter of support for ARENA, amid a groundswell of community support for the agency – not just here but from abroad too.

Australian solar energy R&D is held in very high regard within the international community. Nearly 300 overseas scientists, engineers and company executives signed a petition calling on Australia’s parliamentarians not to axe grants for renewable energy research, innovation and education. Many included complimentary comments, such as:

The Australian renewable energy program is an international treasure. It would be a disaster worldwide for the Australian government to end the program. These are world-renowned scientists.

For decades Australian scientists have been world leaders in the critical area of renewable energy research and development … the legacy of Australia’s great scientific contributions must be saved and their future excellent work supported.

The ARENA funding program has helped Australia lead the world in photovoltaics for decades, which enabled the worldwide economic boom from manufacturing and installing solar panels.

The quality of the work done by Australian researchers in this field is outstanding… to cut back on funding for ARENA is to cut back on the future of Australia’s science and Australia’s economy.

I have been involved in solar research for 35 years in the United States. Solar technology, including advances made at UNSW and ANU in Australia, have made [a] great impact on the world’s energy infrastructure.

Australia has some of the finest PV research on the planet and has been an inspiration to us all.

Where next for ARENA?

ARENA’s role is to support a rapid transition to renewable energy. So what should it do with its reduced funding of A$800 million over the coming five years?

Given that energy use accounts for three-quarters of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the electricity sector the biggest contributor, the fastest way to make deep cuts to emissions is to accelerate the introduction of renewable energy into the electricity system. This is the route successfully pioneered by the ACT government, which will reach 100% renewable electricity by 2020.

Other important energy goals will be to electrify road vehicles and trains, and to encourage the use of electric heat pumps in place of natural gas for building heating and hot water systems.

Reducing the emissions from other sectors such as shipping, aviation and high-temperature industries will be more difficult. But these sectors are less important in terms of overall emissions, and if we can push ahead with decarbonising electricity, transport and heating, that will give us more time to devise low-cost solutions for these remaining sectors.

It is important for ARENA to provide strong support at the grassroots level; help universities support undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral training as well as research itself. These young people are the future of research, education, engineering and start-up companies.

Consistent grant support for new companies allows entrepreneurship to flourish, encouraging bright people in universities to commercialise their ideas. With the right backing, these people can often cycle back and forth through universities, completing a virtuous circle.

Success stories

Efficient silicon cells have been by far the greatest success story of Australian renewable energy research. With silicon cells now making up 95% of the worldwide solar market and likely to dominate for at least the next decade, improving their efficiency still further should be a prime research focus.

ARENA’s new large-scale solar energy program announced last week represents an outstanding success: A$92 million of ARENA funding has leveraged A$1 billion of investment to construct 0.5 gigawatts of solar farm capacity in three states. Another A$100 million to bring the total capacity to 1GW would give this nascent industry a great start.

Solar PV and wind now constitute virtually all new generation capacity in Australia and half of new generation capacity worldwide. They are being installed at more than 100 times the rate of the other non-hydro renewables because of their lower cost, and are growing much faster.

Soon PV and wind will constitute more than half of annual generation in many states and regions, and so attention has to be paid to managing their variability. Options include detailed integration studies, demand management, mass storage (using both the 99% market leader pumped hydro and the newcomer, batteries), and high voltage powerlines to move energy between regions – all of which will benefit from ARENA support.

It is time for all politicians to recognise that the faster we move to renewable energy, the cheaper it will be to cut emissions and adapt to climate change. ARENA has an important role to play in a rapid and sustained shift to renewable energy – and we look forward to a doubling of ARENA funding before the next election.

Andrew Blakers will be online from 9.30-10am AEST on Thursday September 15. Leave him a question in the comments below.

The Conversation

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University and Richard Corkish, Solar-photovoltaic researcher, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Renewable Energy Agency saved but with reduced funding – experts react

Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has been granted a funding lifeline of A$800 million over the next five years, after the federal government and opposition came to an agreement that will save the agency.

ARENA had faced being wound down as a result of the government’s earlier proposal to strip A$1.3 billion from the agency. This was part of a wider package of measures designed to save the federal budget more than A$6 billion.

Renewable energy researchers had reacted with dismay to that proposal. An open letter to the government in defence of the agency attracted 190 signatures.

Below, our experts react to the news.

Nicky Ison, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

Today the Coalition government and the Labor Party struck a deal to:

  • slash half-a-billion dollars from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; and

  • save the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

These statements seem like a contradiction, but both are true. However, it is also true that the need to save ARENA exists because of the Coalition government’s efforts over the past three years to dismantle Australia’s renewable energy policy.

If the benchmark is that we keep our existing renewable energy institutions, today was a win. However, if the benchmark is that we have institutions and policies that have sufficient funding and scope to tackle the policy challenges of climate change, our changing energy system and driving innovation, then today was a loss.

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

The Australian research community is pleased that the government’s proposal to debilitate ARENA by removing A$1.3 billion and ending its granting function will not go ahead. At the same time, we are disappointed that yet again ARENA is subject to huge funding cuts.

The fastest and surest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to accelerate the introduction of renewable energy into the electricity system. ARENA has focused heavily in this area (among others), covering the full gamut from support for early-stage research, through grants to young renewable energy companies, to acceleration of deployment of large-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

ARENA will need to heavily prune its activities to cope with a A$500 million budget cut. We look forward to restoration of ARENA funding, and to a concerted effort at the national level to move rapidly to 50-100% renewable electricity.

Tony Wood, Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute

The silver lining amid the cloud of the political compromise on ARENA funding represents a welcome return to the art of the possible. Of course it is a pity that ARENA has been cut again, given that among Kevin Rudd’s climate change children this one had bipartisan support, at least until the 2014 budget.

Grant funding to drive down the costs of renewable technologies with real potential has been ARENA’s model and the funds now secured will allow this to continue. The next challenge is to create an integrated model that connects grant funding with the recently announced Clean Energy Innovation Fund, which will provide debt and equity funding to emerging renewable technologies, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s role of developing innovative financial models to
commercialise clean energy.

Living for another day is never a bad outcome.

The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can, or should, we save ARENA?

John Hewson, Australian National University

Once again the essential development of the renewable energy sector has been stymied by short-term, opportunistic politics.

Included in the Turnbull government’s “omnibus” savings bill is a A$1.3 billion cut in the funding of ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, a cut, coming on the heels of a couple of previous cuts, that basically wipes out any future role for ARENA. The proposed cut is part of the Abbott legacy that sought to effectively close down the renewable energy sector.

Although the government has presented the bill in the name of budget repair, it is also very much a political manoeuvre designed to wedge opposition leader Bill Shorten, by claiming that he had committed to these cuts during the election campaign, and recognising that a couple of the proposed cuts are either inconsistent with “traditional Labor values”, or with declared Labor policy, such as their commitment to a 50% renewable energy target for 2030.

Shorten is under considerable pressure to demonstrate his bona fides on budget repair, and especially as he has expressed a willingness to “reach across the aisle”, to work with the government on this urgent policy challenge.

However, both sides seem to still be stuck in campaign mode, moving from one stunt to the next. It is all about short-term politics, not good policy and good government.

Much attention has been focused on the savings bill as fundamental to the budget repair task. But it is important to recognise that, even using the very optimistic budget assumptions, the forecast/projected budget deficits for the 4-year budget period total nearly A$70 billion. The savings bill offers savings of just A$6 billion over the period.

It is also worth noting that if all the expenditure cuts and tax increases proposed by both sides in recent years were aggregated (but of course they won’t be) they would still fall well short of the budget repair task.

One view expressed to me recently was that Shorten may punt on the Turnbull government only lasting a year or so, so he could just essentially roll over on the omnibus bill now, including the cuts to ARENA, in support of budget repair, but with the intention of committing to refund ARENA in the run up to an early election.

Whatever. All this short-term politics simply burns the limited time we have to start to respond significantly to the urgent climate change challenge, and burns the considerable business and employment opportunities that such a response carries with it.

Few recognise the little progress that has been made so far, nor the magnitude of the task to base our electricity generation on renewables, moving forward.

For example, only about 15% of our electricity is generated by renewables, still 85% from fossil fuels, and more than 60% from coal. Despite having achieved one of the world’s highest rates of solar PV installation on household roof tops etc., solar PV still only accounts for a mere 2% of our electricity generation, and wind about 4%.

The renewables industry doesn’t help itself politically in this respect by exaggerating the emissions reduction benefits. As the sun doesn’t shine all day, nor the wind blow all day, these renewables need to be backed up by open cycle gas turbines, or by drawing from coal-fired power stations, to satisfy the demand for 24/7 power. The emissions from these negate many of the benefits from sun and wind.

Also, the intermittent nature of solar and wind creates significant morning and afternoon/early evening peaks, forcing consumers to pay. As in South Australia recently, intermittent wind left some consumers exposed to very high gas prices.

Until the renewables sector can develop cost-effective storage, renewable energy will never go anywhere near reaching its full potential to be able to provide 24/7 base-load power, or cost effective peak power, at prices competitive with coal, such that we can hope to make the essential transition from coal-fired to renewables-based electricity generation.

This situation is also not helped by the dishonesty and basic hypocrisy of some of our major power companies that spent a lot of time and money working with the Abbott government to try to close down the renewable energy sector, while at the same time running PR campaigns about how green they were, and how much they supported renewables, as well as exploiting the remaining life out of dirty coal-fired power stations they acquired cheaply.

I now spend considerable time developing working to develop cost-effective heat and battery storage, as well as base-load solar, and the development of natural graphite to enhance the efficiency and reduce the cost of storage. This will, I believe, be the essence of the renewables revolution.

Against this background, it is important to consider why we need an institution such as ARENA.

It is important to recognise that, as shown in the recent UNESCO Science Report, in 2014 Australia produced 3.7% of the world’s scientific publication output, well above what you would expect given the size of our population. But, in 2012, we produced less than 1% of the world’s share of triadic patents – those filed concurrently in Europe, the US and Japan – about a 40% decline over a decade.

So, we clearly “punch above our weight” in research excellence and in the generation of new technologies, but we fall down in commercialising those innovations, in driving significant and appropriate policy development, and creating new industries and new jobs.

This also clearly emphasises the hollowness of mere slogans such as “jobs and growth”!

Renewable energy is one of our most “shovel ready” business opportunities, especially given our natural endowments of sun and wind, and the range of technologies still basically sitting on the shelf in this country. The commercial development of these could easily and quickly establish us as world leaders in this space.

To capitalise on this competitive edge, much needs to change, everything ranging from basic attitudes to science and education and their funding, through approval processes, finance, and a host of government policies.

In this context, institutions such as ARENA can and should play a very significant role in kick starting the development and commercialisation of essential technologies, in a sense laying the basis for the full funding of viable renewables projects.

Given the reluctance of our financial/investor community to fund early stage technology, there is a clear role for ARENA, but the realization of a complete renewables revolution will also require reform of government (at all levels) project approval processes, and a significant shift in attitudes. It will require new funding structures, by our banks and major institutional investors.

I have been involved with several approaches to ARENA for early stage funding on a range of projects – none successful as yet. I can therefore comment, from personal experience, on the role ARENA has played to date.

It is fair to say that some of ARENA’s past grants have been misdirected, on research and projects that will never be commercially viable, or where the benefits have been exaggerated.

One of the most excessive was a grant to AGL of some A$166 million (together with some A$65 million from the New South Wales government) to build a paddock full of solar PV panels in Nyngan, which they claim is enough to power some 17,000 houses. But without storage, no matter how much the plant generates it will not do so at all times of the day.

So, any commitment to fund ARENA moving forward should consider carefully focusing their mandate – for example, no more solar or wind projects should be supported unless they include cost effective storage. ARENA should also not just make cash grants, but also consider loans/convertible note structures as well.

The policy challenges of budget repair, and climate change, are probably the two most significant and urgent confronting government today. An effective response to both necessitates genuine bi-partisanship that, unfortunately, seems inconceivable given the state of our politics today.

On climate, if we are to meet our Paris commitments on emissions reductions (that are about half what they should be to make our national contribution to the global objective of net zero emissions by 2050), there is an urgent need for a genuine National Energy Policy, a centrepiece of which must be innovation and renewable energy.

The renewable energy sector desperately needs a stable, long-term policy framework against which to invest. The proposed cut to ARENA funding, reflecting as it does just more short-term, opportunistic politics, simply compounds the uncertainties of the Abbott years that sought to close the industry down.

The Conversation

John Hewson, Professor and Chair, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cutting ARENA would devastate clean energy research

Nicky Ison, University of Technology Sydney and Chris Dunstan, University of Technology Sydney

This week’s first sitting of the 45th Parliament of Australia is considering a A$6.5 billion “omnibus savings bill”, including a proposed cut of A$1.3 billion to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). If adopted, it would effectively mean the end of ARENA and would devastate clean energy research in Australia.

From driving innovation and economic growth, to creating jobs, to addressing climate change and ensuring a reliable and affordable energy system for the future, ARENA plays a critical role. Most perversely, by reducing Australia’s role in the booming global clean energy industry, closing ARENA would likely reduce Australia’s capacity to balance its budget in years to come.

What is ARENA?

ARENA, an independent Commonwealth agency, has driven most of Australia’s innovative renewable energy projects in recent years. This includes Australia’s world-leading solar photovaltaics research centre at UNSW, the Carnegie wave energy pilot in Perth, AGL’s virtual power station trial and UTS’s own research into local electricity trading and network opportunity mapping.

ARENA has funded 60 completed projects and is managing a further 200. Many more are in the pipeline. It has also leveraged A$1.30 in private-sector R&D funding for every dollar of government funding – a fact that is often overlooked amid talk of budget savings.

Without ARENA’s grants and leveraged co-funding, very few of these projects would have happened. While its sister organisation, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, plays an important role in helping to finance established renewable projects and technologies, only ARENA can provide the research grant co-funding to develop these technologies in the first place.

ARENA was formed in 2012 as part of the Gillard government’s Clean Energy Future package. It drew together a range of clean energy programs and funds such as the Solar Flagships, the Australian Solar Institute and some, such as the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, which the Howard government established. ARENA was given the twin goals of:

  1. Improving the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies

  2. Increasing the supply of renewable energy in Australia.

ARENA was one of five key elements of the Clean Energy Future package slated for abolition by the Abbott government. While the carbon price and Climate Commission were cut, ARENA, the CEFC and the Climate Change Authority were saved by opposition and crossbench support, albeit with a A$435 million cut to ARENA’s original budget.

Now, three years on, the Turnbull government has chosen to keep the CEFC but its plan to slash ARENA’s budget remains. The Labor opposition has yet to announce its position on the proposed cut. Meanwhile, clean energy researchers across Australia have written an open letter calling on all parties to support the agency.

ARENA’s innovation role

The process of energy technology innovation can be thought of as having a series of phases, which have different funding needs (see below).

The innovation chain for renewable energy technologies.
ISF, based on ARENA’s Commercial Readiness Index, Author provided

The first phase is typically fundamental research and development. Two examples are the world-leading research programs at UNSW Australia and ANU, which have developed the world’s most efficient solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies. Both are ARENA-funded; neither could have been effectively funded by loans.

Technologies then need to be piloted in the real world – as in the case of the Carnegie Wave Energy project in Perth. This stage is often still too risky for most commercial lenders, so some public grant funding remains critical.

Next comes the large-scale demonstration phase – bringing technologies down the cost curve by developing viable business models and supply chains, with the aim of making them cost-competitive. Here, a mix of loan and grant funding is needed.

Australia’s large-scale solar industry is an example of a sector in this stage of development. In 2015, ARENA realised that despite having 1.5 million solar roofs and plenty of sunshine, Australia had a dearth of large-scale solar projects (only four operating and four in development). As such, it has committed A$100 million to help build more solar farms.

Finally, there are commercial renewable technologies that are already cost-competitive with other energy sources. Wind energy is the prime example of this, which is precisely why ARENA has not funded wind projects.

Our changing energy system

Innovation is not purely about technology development; it is also about addressing complex challenges such as how to manage the changing nature of our energy system. On a cents per kilowatt-hour basis, wind energy is now cheaper than new-build coal and solar power is cheaper than grid electricity. These two trends will continue, but our energy market is struggling to adapt to the new technology mix.

ARENA has a crucial role to play here. For example, it has funded the Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) at UTS to develop a set of Network Opportunity Maps. These show locations in the grid where demand management and decentralised generation (solar, storage etc) can help avoid costly grid upgrades.

ARENA has also funded ISF’s research into local energy trading (also known as peer-to-peer energy or virtual net metering). This is aimed at avoiding the predicted “energy death spiral”, by encouraging consumers and power companies to compromise in making the most of existing infrastructure, reducing consumers’ bills and supporting local power generation.

Meeting our climate targets

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ARENA is helping to meet Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions target, which calls for a 26-28% cut relative to 2005 levels by 2030.

The electricity sector is Australia’s largest carbon emissions source. ARENA has a vital role in delivering cost-effective emissions reductions. There are two main mechanisms to decarbonise the sector: increasing energy productivity and efficiency, and switching from fossil fuels to renewables. As outlined above, ARENA is a key player in the latter process and is primed to play a leading role in the former.

It would be a tragic error to cut funding to an agency that is making such an important and successful contribution to fulfilling Australia’s obligations under the Paris climate agreement, as well as driving innovation and energy affordability. No other agency combines all of these facets.

More renewable policy instability?

In a 2010 speech on low-carbon energy, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged the role of government in supporting clean energy innovation, saying:

Government support for innovation and investment in clean stationary energy is important, particularly at the early stages.

The need for this support is not going to go away. If ARENA and its research grant funding is abolished, a similar organisation will doubtless soon need to be re-established. In the meantime, millions of dollars in opportunities would have been wasted and irreplaceable industry and research expertise lost.

After years of policy instability around renewable energy, which has held back the domestic development of one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, do we really want to embrace even more uncertainty?

To paraphrase former Harvard University president Derek Bok, if you think research is expensive, try ignorance.

The Conversation

Nicky Ison, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney and Chris Dunstan, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dear politicians, please don’t endanger world-leading solar research by cutting ARENA

Andrew Blakers, Australian National University

The following is an open letter to parliamentarians from 182 members of Australia’s solar research community.

Dear Members of Australia’s 45th Parliament,

The federal government is proposing to strip the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) of most of its funding, and with it its ability to make grants. This is an existential threat to renewable energy research, innovation and education in Australia.

We call upon all political parties to support the retention of ARENA.

The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry now provides one quarter of all new generation capacity installed worldwide each year and is growing at 20-30% per year. Together, PV and wind energy constitute half of all new generation capacity installed worldwide, and all new generation capacity installed in Australia.

A renewable energy revolution is in progress and Australia is currently at the forefront. However, debilitation of ARENA directly threatens our leadership position.

For 30 years there has been an Australian renewable energy funding agency in one form or another. This has led to phenomenal success in generation of technology and provision of education. The worldwide PV industry owes its existence in large measure to Australians who were supported by grants from government renewable energy agencies.

Billions of dollars of benefits have accrued to Australia in the form of dramatically reduced costs of PV systems, rapidly growing renewable energy business activity in Australia, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, royalties, shares and international student fees. For example, the Australian-developed PERC solar cell has annual sales of $10 billion and will soon dominate the worldwide solar industry.

If ARENA is debilitated then hundreds of people would lose their jobs within a year or two. In the longer term, Australia’s leadership in solar energy would vanish. This would be completely at odds with the government’s innovation agenda and its commitment at the Paris climate conference to double clean energy R&D by 2020 under the international Mission Innovation program, and with the ALP’s Climate Change Action Plan launched in 2015 at UNSW Australia, and reinforced by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at ANU also in 2015.

Support for research and innovation at universities lies at the heart of accelerated growth of the renewable energy industry. It supports later-stage commercialisation directly through technology development. Additionally, university research groups underpin education and training of engineers and scientists.

Echoing the words of another prime minister of a decade ago, Malcolm Turnbull has described budget repair (in which cuts to ARENA are lumped) as a “fundamental moral challenge” because debt should not be passed onto our children and grandchildren.

How ironic if parliament fails to appreciate the many costs to future generations of failing to address climate change now with solutions such as renewable energy.

Yours sincerely,

UNSW Australia: Benjamin Phua, Henner Kampwerth, Mark Keevers, Ziv Hameiri, Catherine Chan, Craig Johnson, Kyung Kim, Li Wang, Mark Silver, Trevor Young, Richard Corkish, Robert Patterson, Binesh Veettil, Christopher Whipp, Dirk Konig, Renate Egan, Bram Hoex, Joyce Ho, Simba Kuestler, Martin Green, David Payne, Robert Taylor, Shira Samocha, Supriya Pillai, Timothy Lee, Udo Romer, Belinda Lam, Natasha Hjerrild, Evatt Hawkes, David Jewkes, Thalia Arnott, Leslie Lay, Muriel Watt, Carlos Vargas, Nathan Thompson, Robert Dumbrell, Daniel Lambert, Nicholas Shaw, Nathan Chang, Anita Ho-Baillie, Ben Wilkensen, Ned Western, Yan Zhu, Lingfeng Wu, Stuart Wenham, Ran Chen, Thilini Ishwara, Steven Limpert, Rolando Vargas, Brett Hallam, Allen Barnett, Santosh Shrestha, Xiaowei Shen, Xiaojing Hao, Saratchandra Tejaswi, Fangzhao Gao, Zhongtian Li, Ivan Perez Wurfl, Qiangshan Ma, Alec Tan, Murad Tayebjee, Ya Zhou, Liam Parnell, Luke Marshall, Jack Colwell, Mable Fong, Alan Yee, Lawrence Soria, Kian Chin, Kamala Vairav, Nancy Sharopeam, Graeme Lennon, Zoe Hungedfold, Bernhard Vogal, Jill Lewis, Ya Zhou, Erny Tsao, Feng Qingge, Yin Li, Thorsten Trupke, Alison Wenham, Ashraf Uddin, Chang Yan, Kaiwen Sun, Yajie Jiang, Yuansim Liao, Marjorie Owens, Shujuan Huang, Sassan Vahdani, Jialiang Huang, Brianna Conrad, Zi Ouyang, Jae sun Yun, Alex Li, Kate Lindsay, Nitin Nampalli

Australian National University: Andrew Blakers, Tom White, Marco Ernst, Fiona Beck, Jie Cui, Andres Cuevas, Erin Crisp, Chris Samondsett, Yimao Wan, Hemant Halmodi, Moshen Goodarzi, Sienpheng Phang, The Duong, Yiliang Wu, Xiao Fu, Kylie Catchpole, Chong Barngkin, Daniel Macdonald, Andrew Thompson, Josephine McKeon, Chang Sun, Kristen Anderson, Anyao Liu, Bin Lu, Matthew Staks, Bruce Condon, Jun Fpeng, Thomas Ratcliff, Hang Sio, Shakir Rahman, Judith Harvey, Klaus Weber, Ingrid Haedrich, Di Yan, Rowena Menkedow, Dale Grant, William Logie, Teck Kong Chong, Hieu Nguyen, Daniel Walte, Sachin Surve, Mark Savvnoeas, Harry Qian, N. Kaines, Nandi Wu

Monash University: Yi-Bing Cheng, Yasmina Dkhissi, Niraj Lal, Jianfeng Lu, Liangcong Jiang, Shannon Bonke, Wei Li, Gaveshana Sepadage, Wemon Mao, Feng Li, Xiangfeng Lin, Udo Bach, Dison Hoogeveen, Iacopo Benesperi, Francsco Paglia, Bin Li, Jiansong Sun, Chanjie Wang, Chunkiu Ng, Maxime Fournier, Boex Tan, Kira Rundel, David Mayeuleg, Jacek Jasieniak, Rebeeca Milhuisen, Masrur Morshed, Kedar Deshmukh, Susaha Frier, Mathias Rothmann

University of Melbourne: Ken Ghiggino, Roger Dargaville, Yann Robiou du Pont, Alex Nauels, Kate Dooley, Malte Meinshausen, Martin Wainstein

Other: Alan Pears (RMIT), Nicola Ison (UTS), Rhett Evans (Solinno), Michelle McCann (PV Lab Australia), Keith McIntosh (PV Lighthouse)

The Conversation

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The body of Vietnam veteran Arthur Booker, of Logan, Queensland, has still not been found following a suspected crocodile attack earlier this week. It is thought that Booker was taken by a large crocodile while checking crab traps along the Endeavour River near Cooktown on Tuesday. All that has been found in the search for the missing 62-year-old man has been his footwear and watch.

The search for Booker has now entered a new stage with police suspending their search of the river. Queensland Environmental Protection Officers (EPA) have now begun to lay crocodile traps in the area so that crocodiles can be examined for remains without harming or killing them.

The investigation into the disappearance of Arthur Booker has yet to determine if he was in fact taken by a crocodile, although this remains the most likely scenario.  There are a number of large crocodiles inhabiting the area, including the 6m ‘Charlie.’

Charlie is known to be responsible for the loss of pet dogs, livestock, eating a 3.5m crocodile and was once seen taking a horse.

The probable crocodile attack has once again brought the call for crocodile culling back into the public arena. At the moment any thought of culling by officials has been dismissed.

BELOW: Footage reporting the disappearance of Arthur Booker