17/04/2015 - 14:55

Slowdown in renewables

17/04/2015 - 14:55

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Full-time employment in the renewable energy sector fell in Western Australia during the past financial year to reach its lowest level since 2009-10.

Slowdown in renewables
GALE: Economic forces are moving away from investment in renewables, for now. Photo: Tim van Bronswijk

Full-time employment in the renewable energy sector fell in Western Australia during the past financial year to reach its lowest level since 2009-10.

The latest update from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that, at 820 people employed, the sector is at its lowest ebb in the five years when it employed 730 across WA.

Employment peaked in 2011-12, at 1,740.

The greatest drop in employee numbers across the renewables sector came in solar energy, with full-time employment down from 1,060 people in 2012-13 to 730 in 2013-14, a fall of around 30 per cent.

Nonetheless, the most recent data shows that WA households are the third most likely in Australia to use solar energy, with more than 16 per cent using solar electricity.

The state is also the second most likely in the nation to rely on solar hot water, at 19.2 per cent of households, behind the Northern Territory’s 42.3 per cent.

Wind energy also fell, from 360 employees in WA in 2010-11 to 100 in 2012-13, with the slide continuing to 50 in the 2013-14 financial year.

Despite this, WA was home to 21 of the nation’s 68 wind farms at the end of 2013, with a combined state capacity of 491 megawatts.

Biomass and government employment in the sector were unchanged, however.

The latest employment statistics followed the federal government’s highly anticipated energy white paper, which recommended a 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target, or about 32,000 gigawatt-hours, by 2020.

That would compare with the 41,000 GWh currently legislated to be reached by 2020.

Despite last year’s falls, however, current national employment levels in the renewables sector are 3,840, or 44 per cent, above levels recorded five years ago. As of last week, the federal government and opposition were at an impasse about the level of the RET, with industry representatives arguing that the uncertainty was damaging the sector .

The paper, which noted that electricity generation contributed around a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, added that there was a surplus of electricity production in the country.

Capacity modelled shows an excess of almost 15,000MW in the National Electricity Market, around a third of the total supply.

Nationally, a sharp fall in demand for electricity, despite forecast increases, has been the main driver of the oversupply.

WA faces a similar oversupply problem in the South West Interconnected System network.

“The cost competitiveness of new technologies typically improves as production efficiencies evolve,” the white paper said.

“Ongoing product improvements also typically follow product maturity.

“Prematurely forcing new technologies in the energy market through policy interventions runs the risk of early adoption coming at a higher cost and lower efficiency than if that product found its way into the market on a competitive basis.”

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