02/06/2016 10:02 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

If We Want Jobs And Growth We Need To Renew Our Approach

Clean energy is popular across left, right and green electorates.

One in four Australians want to create and store power so they can unplug from the grid.
One in four Australians want to create and store power so they can unplug from the grid.

The first free-to-air leaders debate was, by most accounts, underwhelming. Despite the top-line slogans, neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Bill Shorten explained in any practical ways how they would build economic growth and jobs.

The commentators complained that the leaders hid behind talking points and spoke to their core audience. Michael Gordon decried: "There were attempts to penetrate beyond the sound bites, but they were universally unsuccessful." Lenore Taylor said simply: "What a waste."

The reason that both leaders were shy about the detail of their competing plans for 'jobs and growth' could well be that they don't really have any. Econobabble, trickle-down economics and alleged 10 (and now 20) year 'economic plans' ring hollow in the absence of any real, tangible growth industries or specific jobs to point to.

If only there was a high-employment growth industry, underpinned by innovation, which was immensely popular with the electorate.

Jobs and Growth

Last week, the International Renewable Energy Agency put out its annual review which showed that solar PV jobs rose 11 percent, to 2.7 million workers. New renewable energy overall employed 8.1 million people worldwide, and that does not even include large scale hydro. The UN Environment Program recently reported that 2015 was the first year when new renewable energy installations -- excluding large scale hydro -- accounted for the majority of generation capacity built (53.6 percent of generation, US $285.9 billion invested).

In Australia, there is the added benefit that renewable energy centres are likely to be in regional areas, which continue to suffer higher unemployment rates than our cities.

Got innovation?

We seem to hear every day about a new record or breakthrough in renewable energy efficiency and capacity. Couple this with the staggering fact that lithium battery prices fell by 93 percent between 1995 and 2014, renewable energy now threatens coal and gas generators with competition and Australian networks are already testing large-scale battery storage.

According to The Economist "the lithium-ion battery is the technology of our time", and Australia is well placed to take advantage of this job-creating, emissions-reducing innovation. It's driving rapid change in renewable energy, and the public is enthusiastic about it. One in four Australians want to create and store power so they can unplug from the grid. 1.5 million Australian households have invested in rooftop solar on their homes and our research shows that over 80 percent of those households are considering buying batteries to boost their array.

So hot right now

Recent polling has again demonstrated renewable energy's massive popularity with three in four voters supporting stronger renewable energy targets. Additionally 71 percent of voters say they would consider voting for a party that supports distributed small-scale solar and storage.

Clean energy is popular across left, right and green electorates. Indeed last week we released poll results for the seat of Indi showing 85 percent of voters are in support of going to 100 percent renewables, with only nine percent against.

Political Opportunity

Renewable energy offers the chance for Australia to get stable, bipartisan support for climate action locked in for the first time. The wrecking ball of Tony Abbott's campaign against climate action has dulled Australia's competitive edge in the global renewable race. But his negativity was his undoing, and entrepreneurial Malcolm took the leadership on a pledge to change the perceived backwardness of the Coalition.

Labor's 2030 target is great as planning but too far away to excite voters, who need something immediate to believe in, like boosting solar and storage. People love renewables but they are jaded about political parties and think that election promises are just words and that a long-term target is just a slogan drawn in the air.

At this point in the campaign, either prospective Prime Minister could propose vigorous measures that immediately boost household investment in clean energy. This could be centred on battery storage.

Renewable energy is more popular than carbon markets and thus more powerful politically. It is also more tangible as an economic lever. It produces tangible benefits for local communities in the form of jobs and infrastructure you can see and touch, such as solar panels and windmills. It would be a big missed opportunity if Prime Minister Turnbull is unable to convince his party room to support the jobs and growth boom the renewable sector is ready to provide.