By Hugh Finlay
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) is awarding government grants to start 12 solar plants. This puts Australia's large -scale solar industry on the way to greater development. 9 of the plants have already begun to be built. The 12 plants will be able to supply 150,000 homes with electricity, increasing the output of Australia's large-scale solar power from 240MW to 720MW.
After numerous setbacks to previous attempts to set up solar plants, Ivor Frischknecht, the chief executive of Arena now is pleased with the progress of solar in Australia, saying "From zero to more than 20 plants in five years, Australia's large-scale solar industry has grown at a tremendous pace thanks to concerted efforts by Arena and the CEFC (Clean Energy Finance Corporation)." Arena has helped to expand the solar industry in Australia by attracting private investors, which has meant that the $92 of government investment in these 12 solar plants, spurred investment of $1billion from private investors. Arena has created greater cooperation between the different solar plants through a policy of setting up "knowledge sharing agreements". This has helped all the plants to develop in a more fast, efficient and cost-effective way.
It was feared that the Australian government would stop all its funding for solar power, but it is still funding, although at a lower rate. The continued growth of the solar industry in Australia shows that solar is now a self-perpetuating industry, which does not necessarily need government help.
Josh Frydenberg, the Australian minister for the environment, said "The support for these projects has fast-tracked large-scale solar in Australia and is part of the Turnbull government's technology neutral approach to affordable and reliable energy as we transition to a lower emissions future. The projects will provide benefit for local communities by providing opportunities for direct employment during the construction phase, and indirectly through local service providers."
Kane Thornton, the chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said "The holy grail, I think it's fair to say, is now within reach. And that is the ability to produce electricity from the sun cheaper than any other form of new electricity generation."
The biggest Australian state to benefit will be Queensland, which will produce over 300MW of solar power. Mark Bailey, the state's energy minister said "For Queensland, today is a momentous day. We are seeing a new industry start. It means more than 500 regional jobs, with hundreds of indirect jobs consequently as well, which is fantastic news for communities."