Last week was Clean Energy Week - the one week each year when people from the renewable energy industry across Australia come together to conference, share ideas and showcase their products and businesses to others across the industry. The 100% campaign, led by an enthusiastic team of volunteers, was on hand to learn about the latest in technology development, policy and what needs to happen to get more renewable energy up in Australia.
What struck us all walking into the huge exhibition hall on the first morning was the scale of the event, and the reality that renewable energy is now a multi-billion dollar industry. With huge displays of solar panels at the Conergy stand, flashing TV screens giving the latest examples of wind monitoring technologies, GE giving out free barista made coffee and and solar giants like Trina and Suntech hanging massive banners and balloons across the hall it was clear these companies have seen the future and are ready to invest. Renewables ain't niche no more.
Giles Parkinson of RenewEconomy (and winner of the Clean Energy Week media prize - congrats Giles!) put together a great summary of the week here. I highly recommend anyone interested in following developments in the renewables industry to sign up to his up-to-the-minute newsletter.
For the 100% team, there were a few highlights:
Learning more about the increasingly bullish projections for solar PV. With prices continuing to plummet, new models like solar leasing mean people will soon be able to install solar panels with no upfront cost. Together with falling demand for energy, it's clear that rooftop solar is proving a game changer in the energy market. With market analysts predicting solar consumer demand will keep racing ahead - even without subsidies - Australians are democratising our energy system and taking power back into their own hands. Scary for Origin and AGL - exciting for the rest of us!
Consolidating our thoughts on the need to expand the Renewable Energy Target. Much of the talk at the conference was on the need to make sure the Renewable Energy Target was not messed around with and that investment certainty is maintained. For us though, it's clear that with rapid changes in the industry (including the aforementioned uptake of solar) Australia could be far, far more ambitious. It's time to start talking about increasing the RET.
There's a risk the Coalition is stuck in the dark ages. After hearing Shadow Energy Minister Ian McFarlane lecture the industry on how expensive solar and wind are and how he thought they should be investing more in research and development in technologies like wave, the conference served to remind us just how out of touch sections of the Coalition are with the renewables revolution going on beneath their nose. There is much work to be done to see Mcfarlane, Abbott and the rest of the Coalition start to take up the opportunities associated with renewable energy. This will be the focus for the next phase of the 100% campaign.
And hearing stories from hundreds of people who now work in this industry. Like the former librarian who with her husband started up a solar company a few years ago after importing panels to put onto their own and friends' roofs. Today she employs 25 people, has annual turnover of $10 million and says business is going gangbusters. Or the Tamworth solar salesman who left his job in retail at The Good Guys to work in solar. Now he has more job flexibility, spends more time with the kids who are proud of what he does, and says "its good to feel you are doing something worthwhile."
Hearing these stories were inspiring and provided a good reminder - that despite the setbacks to date, despite the naysayers, despite the work to still be done to get technology like big solar up and running, and despite the fights lying ahead, the renewable energy revolution is well and truly underway.
Now it's time to speed it up.