Upgrading the iconic Snowy Hydro Scheme could boost the flexibility of Australia’s energy system and help it make the best possible use of our world-leading renewable energy resources, the Clean Energy Council said today.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said a successful upgrade and expansion to the scheme could open the floodgates to the greater use of renewable energy in the future, as well as making it more resilient during times of high stress.

“Hydro power has a long and impressive history of delivering energy to Australians and meeting peak demand, currently delivering about 7% of Australia’s power each year and acting as the dominant form of energy storage here and across the world.”

Thornton said pumped hydro is a “perfect complement” to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and other forms of storage that are becoming cheaper each year.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement of Snowy 2.0 appears to focus on increasing the ability of hydro power to meet peak demand, a role gas has traditionally played in the market,” he said.

Thornton pointed out that the Snowy upgrade would miss out on helping Australia towards the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, as estimates put completion around seven years away. However, it was an example of how long-term policy and strategy are becoming increasingly important to ensure such projects are commercially viable in the future.

“This long-term strategy must ensure ongoing investment certainty for private investors who are now focused on new renewable energy – like wind and solar – given it is now the lowest-cost new form of power generation in Australia,” he said.

“In the absence of national policy, the regular market signals are not working as they normally would and market interventions are becoming increasingly necessary.

“Collaboration between the state and federal governments is essential to deliver national carbon policy and work towards major reform of the electricity market.

“The lights almost went out for residents in NSW this summer because we didn’t have enough electricity available during the heatwave. Additional measures such as large-scale energy storage can help to secure the energy system during periods when temperatures are high and everyone with an air-conditioner has switched it on,” he said.