Australian government commits $1bn to clean energy initiatives

The Australian federal government has promised to contribute $1bn (£530m) to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to help boost the country’s transition to clean energy, including improving the reliability of the power grid.

The plan will commit further public funds to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, an agency founded by the Labor Party in 2012 to manage public and private investment in clean energy resources. The agency finances projects involving energy sources contributing to less than half of the emissions of the grid average, ruling out coal.

The plan is a major change in direction for the ruling Liberal Party which had, under its former leader Tony Abbott, attempted to scrap the agency and which has suggested that it could support the continued operation of heavily polluting coal-fired power plants.

According to Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor, the investment has been awarded to ensure that there will be enough energy in Australia’s power system during periods of high demand. “It’s no secret that the National Electricity Market is under pressure", Taylor said. "This fund is designed to tackle that and is part of a suite of initiatives that the government is delivering to ensure when people flick the switch, the lights come on and stay on.”

Taylor also commented that the government would not be “excluding” coal as part of Australia’s energy mix, but would be “dealing with it in a different way”.

The government has not specified to what projects the extra $1bn funding could be awarded. However, Taylor’s comments strongly suggest that the new funding is likely to support research and development into energy storage solutions and other technologies to stabilise the grid, as well as solar, wind and other renewable projects. Given the unpredictability of weather-based renewable energy compared to traditional fossil fuels, it is vital to build up energy storage infrastructure alongside turbines, solar panels and other infrastructure for harvesting energy.

The government has said that it hopes that this initiative will help households get a “fair deal on energy”.

While the investment has been welcomed by environmentalists and the opposition Labor Party (which had originally proposed more public spending to stimulate new energy projects), it is likely to be a drop in the ocean given the enormous expense of transforming a country to lower carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

Frank Jotzo, director of Australian National University’s Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, told ABC television that this “thoroughly positive” investment represented just a tiny percentage of what was necessary in the coming years. For instance, the former UK Chancellor Philip Hammond has estimated that the cost of the UK going ‘zero carbon’ by 2050 could be more than £1tn.

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