Experts want more big solar projects, less nuke talk

Governments and industry bodies need to stop getting distracted by debates over nuclear power and start investing in large-scale solar projects to keep up with electricity demand, a summit has been told.

The Clean Energy Council’s Australian Large-Scale Solar and Storage Summit heard local companies have invested heavily in ways to store renewable energy but were falling short when it came to projects that generated solar power on an industrial scale.

Firms including LONGi, Tesla and Genex urged investors to back more solar, wind and hydro projects to replace coal-powered electricity generation or warned they could risk losing momentum.

The call came after the Clean Energy Council released a report showing renewable energy combined with storage would be the fastest and cheapest way for Australia to decarbonise its electricity supply and despite a Lowy Institute poll that this week showed one in four respondents strongly supported nuclear energy.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton told the summit claims nuclear power plants would cut carbon emissions faster were unproven and could derail more efficient efforts to cut pollution.

Mr Thornton said analysis of nuclear projects showed the technology would be “six times more expensive” than renewable alternatives and would not be available in Australia for another two decades.

“A protracted debate about nuclear power will be yet another distraction,” he said.

“It risks confusing the public, undermining investment confidence in new renewable generation that will slow down the energy transition, drive up power prices and put at risk energy security.”

He said Australia had shown great progress in the installation of solar storage, with 15 projects announced in 2023, but he warned investments in large-scale solar projects was slowing.

“Last year saw the pipeline of new large-scale projects stall,” he said.

“New financial commitments for large-scale generation equated to just over one gigawatt for the full year when what we need to be doing is closer to five, six and seven gigawatts per year.”

LONGi Solar business development manager Rayyan Hasan said the slowdown could affect plans to shut down coal-fired power stations.

“The decline in new financial commitments towards large-scale solar projects is concerning,” he said.

“Only seven projects totalling 912 megawatts reached financial close in 2023, compared to 10 projects and 1.5 gigawatts the year before.”

Genex Power chief executive Craig Francis said some delays to large-scale solar investments were due to long approval processes and a lack of transparency and certainty for developers.

Some state governments were making the process easier, he said, but renewable energy investments should be prioritised nationally.

“The key bottleneck is more at the federal level,” Mr Francis told attendees.

“We saw some increased budget allocation in the federal budget recently for resourcing and and it very well could be down to resourcing … trying to get to hundreds if not thousands of applications does take its toll.”

The solar and storage event will hear from Queensland energy and battery firms on Wednesday.


Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson
(Australian Associated Press)


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