Once a leader in renewable energy, Australia is now going against the tide. Claims that renewable energy is pushing up electricity prices are dishonest. As articles in last Saturday’s Age (14 June 2014) make clear the major cause of power price increases over the last few years has been the huge investment in transmission costs due to upgrading of poles and wires. Most industry observers call this ‘gold plating of the network’. Instead of taking more imaginative measures to control peak demand for a few days in summer, the industry has invested heavily to increase its reliability and capacity to provide uninterrupted power on those few days. This has come at a great cost to consumers. Renewable power has accounted for only 9% of the increase in electricity costs.
So why the war? The coal industry and the big generators have campaigned heavily for an end to renewable subsidies. Solar power, particularly, is hurting their business as solar’s peak output occurs in the afternoon when the profits for the generators are highest. Solar has cut peak demand for grid electricity in Australia. It has challenged the business models of those who are doing most damage to our environment.
What’s the likely outcome? In the end solar will win. Its price continues to fall as the technology develops and battery strorage is not far off. The more that the utilities raise their service fees and tariffs, the more people will leave the grid altogether. Eventually, perhaps within 4-5 years, the utilities will realise that it’s futile to oppose renewables; in the meantime however they will help set back Australia’s renewables progress.