Coal heartland to receive major solar energy investment

PM unveil $1b solar panel program

Source: ABC News

Australia could soon transition into a renewable energy superpower as the government commits $1 billion to solar panel manufacturing in the nation’s coal heartlands.

One in three households have panels on their roofs, which means Australia has one of the highest uptakes of solar power in the world.

Australia, specifically the University of NSW, is also the birthplace of the global solar power industry. UNSW Professor Martin Green and his team invented the PERC solar cell, which powers almost 75 per cent of the world’s solar panels.

However, China produces and exports 90 per cent of the world’s solar panels – only 1 per cent is made in Australia.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a plan to take back a share of the global solar panel manufacturing and supply chain.

“We’ve missed opportunities, but we are not going to miss the opportunities of this generation,” he said.

“We need to acknowledge that in today’s changing world – as the world transitions to net zero – the nature of our economies will change as well.”

The Solar SunShot program will receive $1 billion to support the production of solar panels across the nation, even at fossil fuel hubs like NSW’s Hunter Valley.

Making his announcement from the decommissioned coal-fired Liddell Power Station, Albanese said the commitment would bring hundreds more jobs than what was previously created by fossil fuel plant, and create positive flow-on effects for the entire region.

Transforming Liddell into a solar manufacturing hub was just one example of how Australia could transition coal jobs and investment into renewables opportunities, Energy Minister Chris Bowen said.

“You hear a lot of doom and gloom saying this transition is terrible, it’s hard – but there are massive opportunities in it as well,” he said from Muswellbrook.

“The world’s climate emergency is Australia’s jobs opportunity.”

Australia will not be able to make its panels cheaper or faster than China, but John Grimes – CEO of the peak body for Australian solar, storage and smart energy management Smart Energy Council – said the nation had a different edge.

“I don’t think we should ever plan to be the cheapest, we should plan to be the smartest and the best,” he said.

“Australians are sophisticated –you might pay 10 per cent more for your solar system but you’ll get a 15 per cent greater production over the life of the system.

“It’s pretty easy economics to understand.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the announcement, with its climate and clean energy campaign Ella Factor calling it an ambitious and essential investment.

“Powering Australia with sunshine, harnessed by Australian-made solar panels, is an important step towards decarbonising our energy systems,” she said.

“Programs like Solar Sunshot chart a course for Australia to future-proof its economy by becoming a world leader in renewable know-how and making things with renewables.”

While Greens senator David Shoebridge also applauded the SunShot program, he noted inconsistencies in the government’s climate policies.

“The Albanese government is investing some billions of dollars in renewables while opening up fresh coal and gas projects,” he said in Canberra.

Investment in renewable energy also could not end there, Grimes said, otherwise Australia would experience accelerated brain drain as other countries such as the US committed hundreds of billions to their net-zero transitions.

The government on Wednesday introduced legislation to set up a Net Zero Authority. It will provide architecture for a renewable transition programs rollout.


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