ARENA: the government renewable energy agency that refuses to go away

ARENA - the gift that keeps on giving.

ARENA – the gift that keeps on giving.

Remember ARENA? The plucky Australian Renewable Energy Agency that has helped many renewable energy ventures and research with seed funding and other support? The ongoing benefits of ARENA include not only financial support but also because their involvement has helped pave the way for research and development in partnership with the private sector.

Wait. Ongoing? Didn’t ARENA get axed by the feds in their anti-renewables Budget cuts zeal a while back?

Well no. At least not yet. For ARENA, to quote an oft-used phrase, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Though the agency has, as you’ve probably heard, been axed by the federal government as part of its thinly-disguised ideological campaign against renewables, it still refuses to roll over and die.

Despite the best efforts of the Abbott government, which include plans to completely defund the agency and consign it to history, the ongoing deliberations and machinations in the Senate have given ARENA a stay of execution. To the government’s (and their fossil fuel sponsors’) acute embarrassment, the agency is still functioning and continues to provide an excellent support mechanism for Australian solar energy innovators and researchers.

Evidence of their demise being more than a little exaggerated include the agency popping up in the press last week to praise the University of New South Wales’ recent breakthrough in photovoltaics. The world-famous renewable energy research centre recently achieved a remarkable 40 percent conversion of sunlight into electricity — a world first.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht praised the UNSW’s ingenuity and said it reinforced the need for continued investment in the Australian renewable energy sector.

“The clever solution combines advanced triple junction cells with cheaper conventional silicon cells to boost power output,” Mr Frischknecht said. “Light that is normally wasted by triple junction cells is captured by splitting incoming sunlight into different spectra and directing some of it into a silicon cell.

“This approach has achieved a higher efficiency than what is physically possible with a triple junction cell alone.” he added.

However it was reading between the lines of the press release that the real message was made clear. For the Australian-made breakthrough has potentially enormous practical applications in a wide range of solar panel projects, from household systems to large-scale solar such as another ARENA-supported project, the UNSW’s $1.3 million Power Cube.

“This project is an excellent example of ARENA achieving true innovation with real-world commercial application through investment in solar research,” Mr Frischknecht added. “We hope to see this home grown innovation take the next steps from prototyping to pilot scale demonstrations.”

The point made by ARENA is clear: that investment in Australian renewable energy is critical. This is all great news for renewable fans. ARENA still supporting solar breakthroughs that will change the way we live. But how long can it last? After all an agency that is doing good, turning a profit for the nation and supporting an Australian renewable energy industry is anathema to our feds.

But until the grim reapers of Canberra do their dark deeds and then let’s enjoy the benefits of ARENA as perhaps an echo of a bygone era, when agencies were set up to promote fledgling industries for the greater good of society.

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