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Renewables confidence rises as solar boom shows no sign of fading

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The lift in confidence came despite the lack of federal support for the industry as the 2020 Renewable Energy Target has already been filled. Instead, it was competition among the states that was shoring up sentiment, Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said.

“State governments are leaning in, and it’s working,” Mr Thornton said.

He singled out NSW’s new renewable energy zones, including the Central-West region, which drew expressions of interest for about nine times the 3000-megawatt capacity target.

“We saw extraordinary interest in [the renewable energy zone],” Mr Thornton said. “I’m expecting we’ll see more [zones] from other states.”

A blade for a new wind turbine heading for inland NSW. The state is now topping an investor confidence survey.

A blade for a new wind turbine heading for inland NSW. The state is now topping an investor confidence survey.Credit:Janie Barrett

NSW’s Energy Minister Matt Kean, who announced the zone’s results last week in Dubbo, welcomed the survey’s findings.

“Following the overwhelming interest investors showed in our Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone, the first of its kind in Australia, these results are further proof that NSW is the best place in Australia to invest in renewable energy,” he said.

The survey found more than half of those surveyed plan to increase jobs in the next 12 months, in part because of the many projects in the pipeline. The main concern, however, remains securing grid access, Mr Thornton said.

Such an issue so far is not holding back installations of solar panels on the roofs of homes and other buildings.

According to data from Green Energy Markets, Australia added 1357MW of new rooftop solar photovoltaics in the first half of 2020, a fresh record for the industry and 40 per cent higher than for January-June 2019.

June’s tally of 238MW was the second-highest for any month and the ninth month in a row of installations topping 200 MW. Last month’s installations were also 57 per cent higher than June 2019’s.

Should the first-half pace be maintained, the 2700MW result would be more than a quarter above last year’s previous record installations for any year, Tristan Edis, a director of analysis at Green Energy Markets, said.

“We keep hearing about a possible COVID-19 slowdown – but it hasn’t happened,” Mr Edis said. “It’s a major uptick on last year – which was a stellar year.”

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Should the pace of the past year be maintained then Australia will have more installed solar capacity than the country’s ageing fleet of coal-fired power by 2025, Mr Edis said.

That calculation takes in the expected exit of AGL’s Liddell power plant and two units of a WA-based plant, while adding in some expected upgrade capacity work at a couple of existing power stations.

For rooftop solar, the main challenge may come from falling feed-in tariffs paid for surplus power that households or other generators export to the grid, Mr Edis said. Still, falling battery prices may prompt more of those exporting their surplus during the middle of the day to store more of it when they need it later on.

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