Global Warming Is A Greater Moral Challenge Than Budget Repair

Australia is at a critical moment.

02/09/2016 1:22 PM AEST | Updated 05/09/2016 1:45 PM AEST
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Somewhere over the rainbow is a great alternative to dirty energy.

Cutting carbon emissions remains one of the key challenges of our time. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described it as "the greatest moral challenge of our generation" and Barack Obama has stated "we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations".

Between 2012 and 2016, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) supported 254 renewable energy projects across a range of technologies including new storage technology, ocean energy, solar thermal, and solar PV or enabling technologies. These projects have advanced clean technologies and brought the benefit of thousands of new jobs to every Australian state and territory.

Yet the future of ARENA is currently seriously imperilled. Scott Morrison's Budget Savings (omnibus) bill, currently before the parliament, includes a cut of $1.3 billion to ARENA, which effectively would mean the end of ARENA.

Right now, ARENA has 135 new renewable energy projects in the pipeline -- representing $3.5 billion worth of new clean energy developments. Each of these, whether they support new storage technology, ocean energy, solar thermal, solar PV or enabling technologies, represent future jobs and opportunities that are at risk if the budget cut to ARENA currently being mooted under Scott Morrison's Omnibus Bill is advanced.

The Prime Minister has stated that budget repair is a "moral challenge". Yet surely the future of the planet poses an even greater moral challenge. Renewable energy is one of the best solutions to our greenhouse pollution -- as well as a solution for regions that need jobs. ARENA has a critical role to play in Australia's renewable energy future and needs to be pulled off the chopping block.

As well as generating meaningful employment, often in regional areas, ARENA has helped sustain domestic researchers that are making world-leading discoveries in their fields of science and renewable technology.This is surely a great example of the Prime Minister's much-vaulted agile and innovative vision for Australia.

Take, for example, the Carnegie Wave project in WA, which is the world's first array of wave power generators connected to a grid. Or the RayGen central receiver system in Victoria, which is the world's first pre-commercial pilot of concentrated solar PV technology.

More recently, an ARENA-backed project saw scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) set a new world record of 97 percent efficiency for converting sunlight into steam. This new design alone could result in a 10 percent reduction in the cost of solar thermal electricity and help to provide power at night without fossil fuel power stations.

ARENA has helped put Australia in the enviable position where doing the right thing for the planet coincides with doing the right thing for innovation and the economy.

The tremendous potential related to renewable energy research and development is evidenced by forecasts that $28 trillion will be invested internationally in renewable energy and energy efficiency over the next two decades -- more than coal, oil and gas combined.

So taking into account the current global energy trajectory, the world adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds from all fossil fuels combined; and renewable energy is now responsible for 8.1 million jobs globally.

ARENA was created to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia and it has successfully helped to speed up technology innovation, reduce renewable energy costs, support domestic research and develop and drive new renewable energy projects.

These projects will help to transition our electricity grid to clean energy and to bring large-scale solar PV technology costs closer to parity with other technologies. Large-scale solar has enormous potential to be one of the most competitive forms of energy in the world -- and Australia stands to benefit immensely by being at the front of the wave with research that is making this happen.

Australia is at a critical moment. We will either be a leader in the global transition away from dirty fossil fuels toward clean, renewable energy or we will hang on to the past and subsidise big polluters rather than the new technologies and innovations that will sustain jobs and economic growth into the future.

ARENA needs to be part of building that better future. Australia needs to position itself ahead of the pack if it stands a chance of competing as a renewable energy provider in a clean energy hungry world.

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