While 2015 was undeniably a tough year for the Australian renewable energy industry, the year ended on an optimistic note as the sector turned its attention towards the future.

According to a new report from the Clean Energy Council (CEC), continued growth in wind and solar power picked up to cover lower-than-average production from Australia’s hydro power plants last year, delivering an increase in the amount of electricity coming from renewable energy.

The main findings from Clean Energy Australia Report 2015 are as follows:

  • Renewable energy provided 14.6 per cent of Australia’s electricity in 2015, enough to provide power for the equivalent of approximately 6.7 million average homes. This was up on the 13.5 per cent of electricity delivered by renewables the year before.
  • Power generation from Australia’s hydro plants was down due to low rainfall, but wind and solar generation each increased by just over 20 per cent to more than compensate for the drop in hydro power.
  • The continued reduction of state feed-in tariff levels led to lower but more sustainable sales of rooftop solar power in 2015. Rooftop solar power passed 5 GW of capacity in early 2016, enough for a virtual power station large enough to power all the homes in Brisbane and Perth.
  • Five new wind farms were completed in 2015, along with eight solar farms larger than 1 MW of capacity. Two of the three largest solar plants in the country, at Nyngan (AGL/First Solar) and Broken Hill (AGL/First Solar) became operational during 2015, while the Moree Solar Farm (FRV) officially launched in the early part of 2016. All of these are in New South Wales and received financial support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
  • Investment confidence in the Australian renewable energy sector languished in the first half of last year. Investment in major projects was $1.2 billion for 2015, although almost all of these received support either from ARENA or state-based renewable energy programs. The Renewable Energy Target (RET) review was finally resolved by a bipartisan legislative change in June, and interest from domestic and international investors has increased as a result.
  • Australia’s top 10 solar suburbs (in order) are: Bundaberg (QLD), Mandurah (WA), Hervey Bay (QLD), Caloundra (QLD), Toowoomba (QLD), Ipswich (QLD), Nerang (QLD), Wanneroo (WA), Mackay (QLD) and Beenleigh (QLD).
  • More than 8,000 MW of wind power and 2,500 MW of solar power projects are either under construction or have planning approval and 1,000 MW of projects were added to the pipeline in 2015 through government approvals processes.
  • Employment in the renewable energy industry contracted by 3 per cent in the 2014-15 financial year, a decline of 470 jobs compared to the financial year before. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the industry employed 14,020 people at the end of the year.

“We will need a lot more projects to move forward during the rest of this year to meet the national 2020 Renewable Energy Target (RET), a $40 billion economic opportunity that has the potential to create more than 15,200 jobs,” said Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton. “We are seeing strong momentum return to the sector with substantial interest from international investors. More activity is expected throughout this year and the future for Australian renewable energy looks bright.”