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Spending on large-scale renewable energy in Australia plunges

The drop in Australian investment was out of step with global trends.

Investment in renewable energy capacity worldwide was $US282.2 billion in 2019, up 1 per cent from the previous year, BNEF said.

Spending quickened in the second half of 2019, particularly for US onshore wind while Europe and China saw a big jump in offshore wind projects. That sector was the main driver for the annual increase, with investment surging almost one-fifth from 2018 to almost $US30 billion.

Growth sector: Wind turbines sit in the North Sea at the London Array offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary, UK.

Growth sector: Wind turbines sit in the North Sea at the London Array offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary, UK.Credit:Bloomberg

Mr Quong said construction of new renewables in Australia was still significant, with 2.7 gigawatts of solar farms and 3.2 gigawatts of onshore wind still in the pipeline.

The industry endured a bust when the Renewable Energy Target’s future was in doubt during the Abbott government. It then boomed in the years up to 2020 when the target was reset.

Among the “rays of hope” for the industry was the push by major companies to sign power purchase agreements to “decarbonise their operations and de-risk their electricity bills”, Mr Quong said.

“We expect them to continue to grow,” he added.

Another source of demand for new projects would come from the states, such as Victoria, with its own renewable energy targets.

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Spending on rooftop solar was also a positive last year. “Record demand for behind-the-meter solar, from households and increasingly businesses, secured $US2.4 billion of new investment – a 15 per cent increase from 2018,” Mr Quong said.

Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said his industry group’s figures showed a similar slide in investment as Bloomberg’s.

“There was definitely a material step down in 2019,” he said, adding that falling costs meant the actual drop in new capacity would not be as great as the plunge in investment.

With some coal-fired power plants likely to bring forward their exit dates, it was even more important that investors were given greater certainty to boost capacity, he said.

Angus Taylor, the Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister, said Australia was “installing new renewable capacity at four or five times the per capita rate of the US, European Union, China or Japan – and we have more than quadrupled our installation rate since 2016”.

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“The key challenge to ensuring continued strong growth in new renewable capacity is to drive down the cost of storage and backup,” he said.

Globally, investment in onshore and offshore wind totalled $US138.2 billion in 2019, up 6 per cent on the previous year, BNEF data shows.

Solar investment trailed at $US131.1 billion, down 3 per cent.

“Falling capital costs in wind and solar meant that the two combined are likely to have seen around 180 gigawatts added last year, up some 20GW on 2018,” BNEF said.

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