Professor Andrew Blakers from the ANU in the solar lab at the university. Photo: Andrew Sheargold Associate Professor Kylie Catchpole, Professor Andrew Blakers and Fellow Dr Matt Stocks are among dozens of researchers at ANU whose jobs are in doubt if the government slashes ARENA funding. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Nanjing Night Net

Australia’s clean energy research efforts are heading for “the valley of death” if Parliament passes the Coalitions’s omnibus package of cuts, according to leaders in the sector.

Hundreds of researchers around Australia, including dozens at both the Australian National University and the University of NSW, will be faced with the dole queue if cuts to Australia’™s renewable energy research agency are passed by the Parliament, according to one of the sector’s pioneers.

Deep cuts to the funding of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, contained in the Turnbull government’s omnibus “œbudget repair” bill before the Parliament this week, is an “existential threat” to clean energy innovation in Australia, Professor Andrew Blakers says.

Professor Blakers of the ANU is a world leader in renewables research and he says many of his colleagues nationwide will lose their jobs if the government gets its bill through Parliament and advances that would deliver major economic benefits to the country would be lost.

The ANU and the University of NSW are world leaders in solar energy research with PERC solar cells, now the commercial standard globally with more than $9 billion in sales, invented by Professor Blakers and his colleague Martin Green at the NSW institution.

ARENA was established in 2012 by the Gillard government and abolished by the Abbott government in 2014.

The agency received a stay of execution in March 2016 but Coalition policy now wants to strip $1.3 billion of funding from ARENA and merge its funding role with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which expects to see a financial return on money it invests in research.

The Clean Energy Council has published a briefing paper that likens de-funding ARENA to “plunging into the clean energy valley of death”.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht told Fairfax that existing commitments would be met even if Parliament agreed to back the Coalition’s cuts.

“The proposed reduction in ARENA’s uncommitted funding will not affect existing commitments,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Projects currently receiving ARENA funding will continue to receive funding and ARENA will continue to oversee ongoing contract management and knowledge sharing outcomes for these projects.”

The office of Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg did not respond before deadline on Tuesday to a request for comment and Labor says it has not arrived at a position on the ARENA cuts.

Professor Blakers said the decision, if passed, may mean the end of Australia’€™s clean energy research effort and said both sides of politics would shoulder the blame.

“€œThere is an existential threat to renewable energy research, innovation and education in Australia,” Professor Blakers said.

“€œIf ARENA is dismantled, then many people would lose their jobs including dozens at ANU.

“œIn the longer term, Australia’s leadership in solar energy would vanish.

“After the fiasco involving CSIRO climate scientists, we now have a potential fiasco in mitigation of climate change.”

The research leader called on the Labor Party not to just “waive through” the proposed cuts.

“œIt appears that the ALP might waive through a change to the ARENA Act, which would allow the end of ARENA granting,” Professor Blakers said.

“€œFor 30 years there has been a renewable energy funding agency in one form or another in Australia.

“€œThis has led to phenomenal success in generation of technology and education.

“The worldwide silicon solar cell industry owes its existence in large measure to Australians who were supported by grants from government renewable energy agencies.

“Billions of dollars of benefits have accrued to Australia.”

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