The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)

  • September 2, 2020

I rise tonight to speak about the important role being played by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, or ARENA, in supporting the technology which will be at the heart of Australia’s energy and economic future. Since the industrial revolution, the world has been shaped by the ingenuity of humanity through the development of new technology. I am now of an age where many of the innovations that occurred during my childhood and teenage years have already become museum items. Things that had us in awe as youngsters are now relics, such has been the pace of technological change. I know that there are some in our community who are apprehensive, at times, about the speed of those developments. For me, they are exciting and show that we, as a global community, can tackle most problems if we set our mind to it. That’s why I’m always an optimist about the future, including when it comes to our capacity to address the challenges of climate change.

The work of ARENA will help be a catalyst and an enabler for that kind of problem solving, for, while science and technology have something of a life of their own, government support has so often been essential to realising the ideas of our scientists, engineers and technologists. In ARENA’s case, it bridges the gap between great ideas and commerciality. In other settings, it would be considered an angel or early VC investor, bridging what is sometimes called the valley of death for innovators.

ARENA has rightly developed a world-class reputation for developing clean tech, aided by the fact that Australia has some of the greatest renewable resources in the world. It’s a natural fit, really, for our potential as a nation. Federal government bodies like ARENA, the CSIRO and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation have the capacity to secure Australia’s place as a renewable energy powerhouse and provide thousands of jobs for Australians as we recover from the current pandemic.

Since 2012, ARENA has invested $1.58 billion across 543 projects, leveraging a total value of $7 billion. That’s a leverage ratio of one dollar for every $3.09 raised, a remarkable feat by any standards.

ARENA has a string of success stories under its belt. For example, its support for solar has unlocked over $1 billion in private investment from $90 million in federal government funding. ARENA and the federal government have also contributed to the world’s largest battery in South Australia. The Hornsdale Power Reserve uses Tesla’s utility-scale Powerpack system, and, based on an impact study from consulting firm Aurecon, the battery saved consumers $116 million in 2019. This project has been such a success that the project has now received further funding to allow for its expansion.

Earlier this month, I had the great pleasure of visiting the University of New South Wales School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, or SPREE, as it’s more easily known, which is responsible for much of the innovation in technology behind solar panels. It’s one of Australia’s great success stories. In fact, more than 75 per cent of commercial solar PV cells available in the global market are based on UNSW’s technology. We should be celebrating this, as much as we do our other great national achievements, and the late Stuart Wenham and Martin Green should be household names for their contribution to our involvement in solar energy.

Today ARENA is helping fund some of the cutting-edge work that the current crop of UNSW scientists are conducting. Last week I joined several of my parliamentary colleagues to learn about some of the exciting work ARENA is funding in the area of electric vehicles in one of their ACT projects. This project is testing the potential of EVs to also serve as batteries on wheels, helping grid reliability. In one of the most exciting opportunities for Australia, in conjunction with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, ARENA’s renewable hydrogen deployment funding is helping to build momentum for a clean and competitive domestic hydrogen sector. It’s an industry of the future for Australia which will support more jobs and industry on our own shores.

It is all these reasons and many more that make me so passionate about the role of ARENA as we come out of COVID and move forward as a nation. Their work will help unlock our potential in a low-emissions future. They will ensure great ideas don’t remain dreams but can be backed financially. I’m very focused on ensuring support for ARENA continues beyond its legislated funding, which is technically set to conclude in the next financial year, so that it can continue its strong track record, investing in innovative renewable projects well into the future. I’ve already met with the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction to discuss this issue, and I will continue to advocate for the ongoing role of ARENA with the strong backing of the federal government. While our technology has advanced so considerably in just a few decades, we are still scratching the surface of the potential.