The global renewable energy boom: how Australia is missing out

Australia is lagging behind the world's major economies when it comes to renewable energy generation despite having enough renewable energy resources to power the country 500 times over.

Globally, renewable energy is now cost-comparative or cheaper than fossil fuels for generating electricity, and the cost of wind and solar in particular is projected to continue to fall steeply.

Investment and jobs in renewable energy have surged internationally. Clean energy investment grew in China (32%), the US (8%), Japan (12%), Germany (3%) and the UK (3%) in 2014. Whilst in Australia, investment fell 35% ( with investment in large-scale renewable energy falling 88%), due to policy uncertainty.

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FOUR KEY FINDINGS

1.Renewable energy is booming globally, with strong growth in investment and jobs. In contrast, though, Australian jobs and investment in the renewable sector have fallen sharply.

  • In 2014, clean energy investment grew in China (32%), the US (8%), Japan (12%), Germany (3%) and the UK (3%); however it fell 35% in Australia (with investment in large-scale renewable energy falling 88%), due to policy uncertainty.
  • 800,000 jobs were created in the renewable energy sector globally between 2012 and 2013. In 2014, the US solar industry added over 31,000 new solar jobs, an increase of 21.8% on the previous year. Jobs in the renewable energy sector fell by 13% in Australia in 2013 while global employment grew by the same amount.
  • The global boom is a lasting shift, with greater investment now flowing into new renewable energy capacity than other energy sources, including coal.

2. An important driver for the global renewable energy acceleration is the steep decline in costs of wind and solar. Hundreds of thousands of Australian households have benefited with solar PV panel prices falling 75% in the last 5 years.

  • In the period 2009 – 2014, global wind power costs fell 14% and solar module photovoltaic (PV) prices fell 75%. 1.4 million Australian homes have solar installed.
  • Solar PV costs are projected to fall another 45% over the next five years, which would make it the cheapest form of electricity generation in many parts of the world.
  • Globally, renewable energy is now cost-comparative or cheaper than fossil fuels for generating electricity.

3. Countries with consistent long-term renewable energy policies are attracting growth.

  • Countries with a clear, consistent, long-term energy strategy and specific policy initiatives are the most likely to attract substantial private investment. On the other hand, instability, uncertainty or changes in policy measures can negatively affect perceived sovereign risk, in turn resulting in low levels of investment.
  • In 2014, Australia and Italy experienced reduced investment in renewable energy as a result of regulatory changes and uncertainty.

4. Australia has excellent renewable energy resources, but is missing out on the global renewable boom due to policy uncertainty and threats to wind back the Renewable Energy Target.

  • Australia is the sunniest country in the world and one of the windiest; it has enough renewable energy resources to power the country 500 times over.
  • In Australia, Federal Government threats to wind back the Renewable Energy Target, multiple reviews of that target, and on-going debate, has substantially undermined investor confidence.

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