A record share of Australia’s electricity came from renewable energy in 2016, largely thanks to improved rainfall in key hydro catchments and a series of new wind and solar projects, according to a new report released today by the Clean Energy Council.

The Clean Energy Australia Report 2016 says more than 17% of Australia’s electricity came from renewable energy during the year – the highest proportion at any time this century, putting Australia well on track to deliver the 2020 Renewable Energy Target.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said 10 large wind and solar projects had been completed last year, with continued reductions in project costs contributing to unprecedented levels of commercial activity, setting the industry up for another record year in 2017.

“Every month brings new project announcements. While total investment in large-scale renewable energy was $2.56 billion last year, $5.20 billion worth of projects have secured finance in just the first five months of 2017 and have either started construction or will begin this year,” Thornton said.

The installation of rooftop solar systems was steady during 2016, he said, with 135,370 systems installed.

Simple economics

“The changes happening across the country right now are extraordinary. Renewable energy is now the cheapest kind of new power generation that can be built today – less than both new coal and new gas-fired power plants. The price of gas in particular has skyrocketed,” Thornton said.

Large-scale solar power is almost half the cost it was just a couple of years ago, and is now playing a huge role in meeting the national Renewable Energy Target.

“Innovation continues right across the renewable energy supply chain and new technologies such as energy storage are beginning to get their time in the sun,” he said.

“While the latest available employment figures show an industry contraction to 11,150 direct jobs in the 2015-16 financial year, these figures cover a low point for the sector following the Abbott Government’s RET review. Employment figures are likely to increase substantially in 2017 with over 35 large-scale projects already under construction or starting this year, adding up to more than $7.5 billion in investment and more than 4,100 additional direct jobs.

“These projects are more than half of what is needed to meet the rest of the RET between 2016 and 2020,” he said.

Some highlights from the report:

  • 17.3% of Australia’s electricity came from renewable energy last year, the most of any year this century.
  • Hydro made the biggest contribution, providing 42.3% of the total renewable energy following high rainfall in key hydro catchments.
  • Non-hydro renewable energy such as solar, wind and bioenergy delivered 10% of Australia’s power in 2016.
  • The ACT Government’s reverse auction program led to the cheapest wind power ever contracted, for $73 a megawatt-hour at Neoen’s Hornsdale 3 Wind Farm.
  • About half of the projects which are under construction or will start in 2017 under the RET are large-scale solar, due to a plunge in costs over the past few years.
  • Support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and innovative finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) have pushed the price of large-scale solar down to almost half what it was a couple of years ago.
  • Ten new renewable energy projects came online in 2016 – seven solar plants and three wind farms.
  • 6,750 battery systems were installed in 2016, 13 times the number installed in 2015.

The Clean Energy Australia Report 2016 is available on the Clean Energy Council website.