The Australian wind industry had a quiet year in 2015. The most significant development was that the large-scale component of the national Renewable Energy Target (RET) was revised downwards and legislated to remain in place without further changes to 2020.
While the downwards revision of the target was disappointing, the certainty provided by the revised legislation should allow the industry to get back on track after a two-year hiatus during the review of the policy.
While confidence slowly returns to the sector, the activity levels behind-the-scenes are encouraging. Wind farm developers are working hard to ensure that their sites are ready to go, with many development permits being revised to allow for larger, more modern turbines.
MAIN MARKET DEVELOPMENTS IN 2015
Australia added 380 MW in 2015 bringing total installed capacity to 4,187 MW, which was made up of 2,062 turbines across 76 wind farms. Wind power accounts for about 5% of national electricity consumption. Main market players in Australia are Vestas, Senvion, GE, Siemens, Acciona and Goldwind.
Australia’s wind farms are primarily located in the south of the country, with the strongest wind resource along its southern coastline and to the west. Most states have multiple wind farms, with the exception of Queensland, which has only one small wind farm. All Australian wind farms are land-based and no proposals currently exist to develop an offshore industry.
State-based renewable energy schemes were a lifeline for the industry during 2015. The Australian Capital Territory’s first reverse auction scheme for 200 MW of wind capacity awarded contracts to three wind farms. The low prices awarded for these contracts (the lowest was AUD 81.50/MWh (EUR 53.1/USD 58.1) for the 20 MW Coonooer Bridge wind farm) surprised everyone and demonstrated how much progress the wind industry has made in bringing costs down. All three of these projects are currently under construction, creating jobs in rural Australian communities.
Other states have announced renewable energy procurement programmes to complement the national RET, and 2016 will see contracts awarded for these.
Most states in Australia take part in the National Electricity Market (NEM), which is one of the largest interconnected power systems in the world. The market is regulated by the Australian Energy Market Regulator and operated by the Australian Energy Market Operator. The states participating in the NEM include the entire eastern side of the country and South Australia, with an undersea cable connecting the island state of Tasmania. The southern part of Western Australia has a separate grid called the South West Interconnected System, and small power grids exist in more sparsely populated areas of the country.
LATEST POLICY DEVELOPMENTS
In 2015 the Renewable Energy Target was revised downwards from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh per year. The new target has been legislated to remain in place until 2020 without review, which will serve to promote investor confidence in the scheme.
The RET scheme encourages the cheapest available renewable energy to be built, which is currently wind power. However, the price of solar projects continues to decrease and additional government support mechanisms for the technology help it to become more competitive with wind projects. The final target is likely to be fulfilled by a mix of the two technologies.
While 2016 is expected to be a big year for the Australian wind industry, the second half of 2015 remained quiet while waiting for the market to fully recover. A leadership change in September also helped to boost confidence as the new Prime Minister has shown a more forward looking attitude to technology and innovation.
There has been an increase in activity with companies seeking funds and existing approvals being amended to allow for newer, larger turbines. Progressive state governments have also been driving growth. Of particular note is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)’s reverse auction scheme, which has so far funded four wind farms with a total capacity of 300 MW. Victoria and New South Wales are also progressing purchasing schemes, with NSW announcing a tender for 137 GWh in order to offset the electricity used by a regional train system. Furthermore, South Australia committed to zero net emissions by 2050, on top of its ambitious renewable energy target of 50% by 2025.
A report by the Senate Select Committee on Wind Farms in August led to the announcement of a new National Wind Farm Commissioner and an Independent Scientific Panel investigating wind farm noise and health. The Commissioner and the Panel both report to the Minister for the Environment. The Commissioner will act to monitor and progress public complaints and the Panel will seek to increase public understanding of the issues.
KEY BARRIERS TO WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT
With the revised Renewable Energy Target legislation passed with bipartisan support, the industry expects that the next four years will be an exciting period of rapid construction. With that will come challenges for the construction industry which will need to increase capacity, as well as challenges for public acceptance as some members of rural communities come to terms with the changing landscape.
High levels of renewable energy penetration in South Australia, which has limited capacity in its connection to the east coast is presenting some technical challenges. As fossil fuel generators close down there may be some issues in that part of the network.
OUTLOOK FOR 2016 AND BEYOND
The Clean Energy Council is expecting a big 2016 for the wind industry, with new projects signing deals and construction getting into full swing. Wind energy enjoys broad support across Australia, including in the regions in which wind farms are situated; and the newly-revised Renewable Energy Target will mean almost doubling the installed wind capacity in the next four years.
By getting on with building wind energy projects and improving both community engagement and benefit sharing practices, the industry will be able to retain its support from the Australian community.