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A Lack Of Ambition On Renewable Energy Is Keeping South Australia In The Dark

We are on the cusp of an energy revolution and it's time our national grid got ready for it.

21/04/2017 9:38 AM AEST | Updated 21/04/2017 9:39 AM AEST
Stefan Postles via Getty Images
"Every time the Prime Minister blames renewables, he's letting the power companies off the hook."

It's true that South Australia's renewable energy target is ambitious, and ambition is exactly what we need to solve our state's energy crisis.

We are on the cusp of an energy revolution and it's time our national grid got ready for it. We South Australians know all too well that this national grid, and the archaic rules that run it, simply aren't up to the job.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy investment are going to be spent on projects all over the state, reviving communities hit by job losses and giving them hope. But if we are to turn this hype and excitement into reality, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needs to fix the way the energy market operates.

We know renewables are cheaper, since sunshine and wind are free, and with batteries and storage they can be more reliable too. If we had a concentrated solar thermal and storage plant in Port Augusta there would have been no need for the load shedding that caused blackouts across the state in February. Or, if 20,000 homes in Adelaide had batteries attached to their existing solar panels, no one would have been left in the dark.

We know renewables are cheaper, since sunshine and wind are free, and with batteries and storage they can be more reliable too.

Markets work when there is diversity and healthy competition. But the big power companies have been resisting and no wonder, they've been sucking big profits out of regular consumers and small business for years and government has kept turning a blind eye. Just look at AGL's latest 11.3 percent jump in profits, just when, not-so-coincidentally, power prices have gone up 10 percent.

Key steps need to be taken now, such as reducing the settlement periods for energy providers from 30 minutes to five, if we're going to step confidently into the renewable energy future. Under the current rules, generation is dispatched and priced every five minutes, but only settled every 30 minutes. With a change to the rules, by introducing five-minute settlement periods, the instantaneous nature of batteries and storage can compete against old fossil fuel generators.

Together with this change, a market-based carbon trading scheme and the extension of the Renewable Energy Target would help to give investors in energy storage certainty and encourage the battery boom that is already ramping up across the country.

These recommendations came from a senate select committee into the future of energy storage infrastructure in a warming world. What we need from Canberra is a little ambition from our self-proclaimed innovation Prime Minister. He is the one who needs to fix the market rules to make batteries and storage a truly viable option.

South Australians are right to be angry that we're being screwed with huge power bills, and we should be even angrier if nothing is done to fix the system to give renewables and battery storage an even playing field with old power, which will push prices down.

Since when has ambition been a dirty word in Turnbull's lexicon? Ambition is what they usually tell the rest of us we need as young people struggle to find a job making a decent wage, or buying their first home. The truth is, if we had a bit more ambition from the Federal Government on tackling global warming, reducing pollution and lowering electricity prices, we could fix this power crisis for good. The problem is the Turnbull Government is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and every time the Prime Minister blames renewables, he's letting the power companies off the hook.

Much to the detriment of South Australia, we are losing out every day ambition is not harnessed and action is not taken. South Australians are right to be angry that we're being screwed with huge power bills, and we should be even angrier if nothing is done to fix the system to give renewables and battery storage an even playing field with old power, which will push prices down.

It's not too much ambition that's the problem; it's the total lack of it coming out of the Prime Minister's office that's keeping SA in the dark.

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