Windorah Solar Farm

Renewables provided 17.3 per cent of all electricity in Australia in 2016, the highest levels achieved this century, new data from the Clean Energy Council has revealed.

Hydro made the biggest contribution – at 42.3 per cent – thanks to high rainfall in catchments.

It wasn’t all due to rain though, with non-hydro renewables, including solar, wind and bioenergy, hitting 10 per cent of supply in 2016 for the first time in history.

Solar was a standout performer, with household, commercial and large-scale production increasing by 29 per cent, thanks to diminishing costs.

Batteries also showed massive growth, with installations in 2016 13 times the levels achieved in 2015.

Effects of Abbott’s sabotage now clearing

However, 2016 could have been much bigger for renewables, had investment certainty not been damaged by the Abbott Government in 2014 and 2015, particularly through the Renewable Energy Target review.

The report said the last of the uncertainty from the RET review had “washed out of the industry’s system” by the end of 2016.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said state governments and agencies like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation had “sought to repair the damage to investment confidence which had lingered since the review of the RET by the Abbott Government in 2014 and 2015”.

“All this is now bearing fruit.”

Now it’s boom time

Mr Thornton said investment in large-scale renewables this year had already outstripped 2016.

“Every month brings new project announcements. While total investment in large-scale renewable energy was $2.56 billion last year, $5.2 billion worth of projects have secured finance in just the first five months of 2017 and have either started construction or will begin this year,” he said.

Rooftop solar had remained steady in 2016, but industry had poster the largest ever March quarter, and the highest overall quarter since August 2012.

“The changes that are happening across the country right now are extraordinary. Renewable energy is now the cheapest kind of new power generation that can be built today – less than both new coal and new gas-fired power plants. The price of gas in particular has skyrocketed,” Mr Thornton said.

Projects that progressed in 2016 and will go to construction in 2017 will provide half of the energy needed to get to the national target of 33,000GWh of renewables by 2020. This will deliver $6.9 billion in investment, 3150 megawatts in new capacity and 3725 jobs.