Australia had been a big investor in fossil fuels and a low one in renewables, according to International Energy Agency data, but Arena grants changed that
September 11, 2016 — Australia has consistently led the world with its funding of fossil fuel research and consistently lagged other nations when it comes to developing renewable energy, according analysis by the Australia Institute.
The only time in Australia’s recent history that research and development for renewables outstripped R&D for fossil fuels was when the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) began making grants to renewables in 2013, the study of International Energy Agency figures found.
The federal parliament is considering the “omnibus” bill, which includes all the savings both Labor and the Coalition costed into their election promises. It includes a $1bn cut to Arena over the forward estimates ($1.3bn to 2018), which will remove its ability to make grants, essentially abolishing the agency.
If the cuts go through, grants made by Arena last week which will result in Australia tripling the electricity it can get from large solar farms, will the be the last it will make.
Labor has indicated it might consider blocking the bill in the Senate.
“Australia has a long history of prioritising fossil fuels over renewables in R&D funding. Arena turned this around, briefly making Australia a world leader in renewables,” said Ben Oquist, the executive director of the Australia Institute.
Among members of the International Energy Agency, Australia has been in the top three nations for its funding of fossil fuel R&D most years since 1979, when measured as a percentage of the country’s GDP. And in absolute dollar terms, Australia has been in the top three six times.
But when it comes to funding for renewable energy R&D, Australia was only once in the top three in 2013-14 – the year Arena first started making grants.
“Australia’s renewable energy R&D performance has made the podium just once since 1979 – and that was thanks to Arena, which the government now wants to abolish,” Oquist said.
“Abolishing Arena’s grant funding will send Australia back towards the bottom of the international pack in terms renewable energy funding.”
In 2014-15, Australia’s ranking dropped back down. Report author, Tom Swann from the Australia Institute, wrote that although the Senate blocked the Coalition’s attempt to abolish Arena, the government didn’t update its reporting to IEA accordingly.
The comparisons were made with the 28 other members of the International Energy Agency, which are all net oil importers and have programs to reduce demand for oil. They include the New Zealand, US, Canada, the UK, Japan, Korea, and 21 European countries.
“It appears that when reporting to the IEA the government assumed Arena would be abolished, which the Senate refused,” Swann wrote.
“Current government policy risks sending Australia back to an energy research policy from the 1980s and 90s. This is not what the public wants and it is not in the nation’s interest. The Senate should oppose the government’s proposal to cut renewable energy funding,” the report concluded.
The report follows several other open letters from researchers and energy companies, calling for the cuts to Arena to be blocked.