Green power target will require 'huge' investment surge

·2-min read

The government's ambitious renewable energy target is achievable but requires a "huge" investment surge, senators have been told.

Senior officials from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water say investment in solar is on track, but wind is lagging far behind what's needed.

The federal government wants renewable sources to meet 82 per cent of the nation's energy needs by 2030.

"With solar, we've got the pace of investment we need. Where we don't have it, at the moment, is wind," the department's deputy secretary Simon Duggan told a budget estimates hearing on Monday.

"We've had, broadly, on average, about one gigawatt of wind capacity added in the past five years. We need that to increase to about three gigawatts of wind capacity, per year."

Mr Duggan said a "huge" acceleration in renewable energy investment was needed and there were signs that was beginning to happen.

"The forward indicators we have around the investment pipeline also indicate to us that we will now start to see more of an acceleration as some of the enabling activities are put in place."

Liberal senator Hollie Hughes asked if anyone was keeping track after Energy Minister Chris Bowen outlined what was needed in a speech last September.

Mr Bowen said Australia needed to be installing about 40 seven-megawatt wind turbines every month until 2030, and 22,000 five hundred-watt panels every day.

"This means we should have had 5,302,000 solar panels installed and more than 320 wind turbines built (by now)," Senator Hughes said.

"If we're not on track that number of 22,000 per day is going to significantly increase as we go forward because that was 214 days ago."

Mr Duggan said the Australian Energy Market Operator was paying close attention but was only reporting on progress annually. He took a question about what's occurred since the speech on notice.

When Nationals senator Ross Cadell asked if the department believed the target was likely to be met, Mr Duggan echoed Mr Bowen's comments that it was ambitious but achievable.

"In recent years we have started to see - particularly around solar, but also around wind - a very significant increase in the penetration within the electricity grid," Mr Duggan said.

Senator Cadell noted major delays to the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme, asked if there was a Plan B and if the department was looking at extending the life of existing coal and gas facilities.

Mr Duggan said he was aware of a body of work commissioned by the former NSW government on what might happen if a coal-fired power station exited sooner than replacement capacity was available.

"We got update (on that work) at the energy ministers' meeting in February.

"We've obviously had a NSW election in that period. It wasn't discussed at the energy ministers' meeting held last week."