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Aimless ACRE? ‘Emerging Renewables’ terms for project funding Issued.

August 10, 2011

This week, the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy (actually embedded within an existing Federal Government super-agency) issued terms for renewable energy and enabling technology projects and preparatory activities under the AUD$126.7 million ‘Emerging Renewables Program‘.  Key documents issued thus far are guidelines, and an information guide.

In ACRE’s Strategic Directions paper, the thrust and focus of the agency is set out.  The objectives are clearly the support of incremental advances, and there are no suprises as to the technology focus.  The focus of the Emerging Renewables Program reflects ACRE’s Strategic Directions paper.

‘At least’ $40 million is allocated to renewable energy and enabling technologies.  A further $26.6 million is allocated specifically to geothermal.  Individual project grant funding size and matched funding requirements are not specified.

Singling out geothermal for special treatment is obviously controversial and smacks of political interference.

The biggest criticism of the program (reflecting Strategic Directions) has to be the focus on the ability of technologies to ‘contribute to increasing the proportion of competitively-priced renewable energy in Australia’s total energy mix’.  This implies a parochial vision without an eye on global market opportunities for technology development, despite our previous interpretation of the stated objectives of the Emerging Renewables Program (which now seems flawed).

Any company basing technology development in Australia without an eye on the global market export prospects should be examined to see whether it should be a serious contender for funding.  Technologies with real growth prospects which will contribute substantially to economic development must have a significant overseas application potential.  This export potential is a more important proposition in this regard than the potential for application in Australia, given the relatively small size of the Australian market for any technology.  However, there are technologies with extraordinary global growth prospects which are largely excluded from program priorities.

This latter point, and the focus on incremental improvement, brings into question the over-arching purpose of ACRE:  is it to fund the development of real technology, industrial, and economic growth potential, or is it just to fund a few projects to help Australia get to some politically-derived renewable energy target?

We have previously commented on the lack of ambition in the proposed expanded renewables commercialisation agency ARENA.  Should that extra $300m per annum be forthcoming, then the current lack of ambition demonstrated by ACRE needs to change.


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