Right now, there is a tightly contested election occurring in South Australia, and the future of renewable energy is front and centre of the political debate.
As the ACT's former Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Environment and Climate Change, I watch renewable energy policy and politics very closely.
Here's 3 insights to help you understand why renewable energy shaping up to be so important for this election.
#1 - Labor is racing to the top on renewable policy
Jay Weatherill’s SA Labor Government is doubling down on the role of renewable energy in the future energy system for the state, announcing a sweeping platform of policy proposals which are designed to build on South Australia’s reputation as a leader in renewable energy.
So how is Labor upping the ante on renewables? Weatherill has promised that, if reelected, Labor will:
- Build a 50,000-household virtual power plant to grow distributed rooftop solar generation
- Create new generation battery storage technology, in partnership with Tesla and other battery providers
- Establish a hydrogen fuel manufacturing facility at the old Tonsely Park car plant and power it with abundant, clean and low-cost wind energy
In addition to these election promises, the announcement that German battery manufacturing giant Sonnen will open a manufacturing facility, creating over 400 jobs, has also captured the headlines and peoples’ imagination.
#2 - Other parties are scrambling to keep up
The other political parties are also engaged in an election which is dominated by the energy policy debate and the role of clean, renewable electricity.
Steven Marshall’s Liberal Opposition has announced it will abolish the 50% Renewable Energy Target established by SA Labor. But, the Liberals have also unveiled their own battery storage proposal with $100 million of funding to support 40,000 households with the costs of battery installation and steps to accelerate improved interconnector links into the National Electricity Market.
Nick Xenophon’s SA Best has unveiled the establishment of a community owned electricity retailing company to be set up along cooperative lines.
There’s no doubt that the state wide blackout which hit South Australia in September 2016 has been a galvanising moment for energy policy in the state and across the nation, but what is just as clear is that there is no going back from the current shift to renewable energy across the state.
#3 - Steel will for ambitious renewable energy targets
Despite attempts by conservative commentators, and the Federal Government, to blame renewables for the 2016 state wide blackout, renewable energy development has continued to grow.
The Wetherill Government announced the development of a new renewable energy target if returned to government of 75% by 2025, yet the Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed that South Australia is already projected to reach 73% by 2020/21, up to 5 years earlier than SA Labor has promised.
On top of this billionaire Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, owner of the Whyalla steel mill and Australian renewables company Zen Energy, continues to develop proposals for up to 1GW of renewables to power his steel and manufacturing sectors. This demonstrates that renewable technologies - solar, wind and pumped hydro storage - can power traditionally emissions intensive heavy manufacturing with clean, cheap competitive energy solutions.
What it all means
All this speaks to the changing dynamics of the energy sector.
Low cost, abundant and increasingly efficient wind and solar, paired with storage at both large and distributed scales, is already transforming our energy system.
Importantly, the rapidly growing renewable energy industry is reshaping our political debates. Politicians who seek to protect the incumbent fossil fuel industries are being left behind.
Just like in Queensland, which saw the pro renewables state Labor Government returned over the pro coal and gas generation policies of the state LNP, the South Australian election is shaping up as a battle between the clean energy future and the fossil fuel past.
The trend is clear. Voters, just like investors, are responding to those who can present a comprehensive plan to transition us to a clean, affordable, renewable energy future.