100% Renewable Energy: Campaigning for large-scale solar power in 2012

Since 2010, 100% Renewable Energy has been working to build up grassroots capacity to effectively campaign for a complete transition to clean energy in Australia. Galvanised into action by the lack of leadership in the upper levels of government, founder Lindsay Soutar started the organisation with the intention of educating and empowering local communities to effect change through their representatives, as well as to spread the message to their friends and family. 100% now works with over 100 local action groups around the country, and has become a recognised player in Australia’s renewable energy debate. The organisation will be focussing on a push to ‘Build Big Solar’ power for the year 2012.

Pressuring the government on clean energy

There are are fundamentally two key ideas that have driven 100% Renewable’s creation and activities: 1) Australia unquestionably has the resources to become a world-leader in renewable energy technology deployment and electricity generation, and 2) the barriers to reaching this goal are not technical, but instead mainly political and social. The problem, in a nutshell, is that politicians are not hearing enough about renewables from their constituents to prod them into more significant action.

100% Renewable founder Lindsay Soutar, recently interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald after winning the Federal Environment Minister’s ‘Young Environmentalist of the Year’ award, 2 years ago gave up paid work to start up 100% from her bedroom. The basis of the founding of the organisation was her personal passion, but what has made 100%RE a force in the climate change debate is its network of volunteers and their shared vision and commitment to political and social action. 100% Renewable complements the likes of not-for-profits such as technically-minded Beyond Zero Emissions, and business-minded peak industry bodies such as AuSES by facilitating grassroots participation in the climate and renewables debate, harnessing the power of thousands of individual voices to influence policy in the top tiers of government.

Target 2012: Federal government commitment to 2000MW of large-scale solar power

Although 100% Renewable, as the name would indicate, advocates the broad-

100 Renewable Let's build big solar logo

scale uptake of all types of renewable energy generation, for 2012 the organisation will be pouring its efforts into pushing for what it considers to be an obvious and attractive choice for the sun-blessed continent of Australia: “Big Solar”.  Numerous large-scale commercial solar power plants are already up and running or under construction globally, and there are no particular environmental or technical impediments to the deployment of similar plants in Australia.

Opponents of broad-scale deployment of renewable energy sources often argue that the cost of the technology is too high to be economically viable. However, as Andrew Bray, Communications Coordinator for 100% Renewables points out, “The debate around the economics of installing large-scale solar misses the wider point that as the price of power from coal and gas rises inexorably, our only choice is to look to solutions like solar where the price is dropping rapidly.” Bray’s viewpoint is backed up by renewable experts such Mark Diesendorf, who envisions an energy future without conventional coal or gas base-load power.

The goals of 100% Renewable’s Big Solar campaign seems to take some inspiration from the Federal Government’s Solar Flagships program, but on a grander scale: It calls for the accelerated uptake of both Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) and large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) generation plants across the country through Federal Government financial assistance. Specifically, 100% wants there to be 2000MW (or 2GW) of large-scale solar power announced by the end of the year. 2000MW–not an arbitrary number–is the generation capacity that would be required to match the capacity of several coal-fired plants set to be decommissioned in the near future.

Support for funding bodies under the Carbon Price

If achieved, the 2GW Big Solar goal would be the icing on the cake of 100% Renewable’s more general strategy of ensuring that Federal Government renewable energy finance bodies to be established under the Carbon Price legislation are given the support they will require to fulfil their purpose. Namely, 100% will raise awareness about and support for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation ($10b of funding for the deployment and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies), as well as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency ($3.3b for research and development).The practical focus of the campaigns will therefore be 1) to “make sure the government get the legislation right, passed, and gets the money flowing into big solar projects fast” and 2) to ensure that the opposition doesn’t manage to derail or dismantle the renewable funds once they are set up.

Big Solar Bootcamp

100% Renewable Big Solar Bootcamp
100% Renewable Big Solar Bootcamp

To kick off the organisation’s activist activities with on 11-12 February with its “Big Solar Bootcamp”–2 days of training, speakers, action, and local community survey planning. High profile speakers such as Greens Senator Christine Milne and Mark Ogge from Beyond Zero Emissions gave talks at the bootcamp, which took place in Port Hacking, Sydney. Participants were not only trained up on how to most effectively lobby their MPs for increasing support of renewables, but also how to garner positive media attention for the organisation and the cause, and how to get friends and neighbours involved and active.

For maximum impact, dates and guidelines for activities are coordinated through the ‘head office’ in Sydney, with separate volunteer groups across the country carrying them out independently. A perfect example is the official Big Solar Launch, which will take place on Saturday 3 March.

© 2012 Solar Choice Pty Ltd 

(All images via 100% Renewable)

James Martin II