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Diversity and new energy plan welcome: Kane Thornton -

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MARK COLVIN: Kane Thornton is chief executive of the Clean Energy Council.

When he joined me on the line a short while ago I asked him if this plan was so good why no government had put such a thing into place before.

KANE THORNTON: Oh, obviously it's the recent events in South Australia have highlighted the importance of having a clear plan to transition the energy sector and now, you know, that plan's now arrived and we welcome it.

MARK COLVIN: But, I mean, programs like Background Briefing, for instance, have been warning of the gas crisis since 2014 at least.

KANE THORNTON: Yeah, I think a whole lot of things have really come together in the energy sector at the one moment in time, and that includes some fairly extreme weather events late last year.

It has included substantial increases in the cost of gas, but it also includes dramatic reductions in battery storage.

And so, I think all of those things together has obviously driven the South Australian Government to create a new energy strategy and they released that today.

MARK COLVIN: But again, the increases in battery storage, the cheapness and the improvements in storage have been predicted for many years now, certainly the last four or five years.

Is this really a case of governments being blind to what was coming down the track?

KANE THORNTON: Look, it's been a common trend, in fact, around Australia, and indeed globally, that governments have generally underestimated how quickly the cost of renewable energy, things like wind and solar, have come down in costs.

And it's not surprising, therefore, that the cost of batteries has come down much quicker than governments, or indeed parts of the energy industry, might have ever imagined.

MARK COLVIN: But you mentioned extreme weather events. How is this plan going to help if half of your pylons go down in a freak storm?

KANE THORNTON: Yeah, the reality is, is if your network falls over, and is indeed lying on the ground, then it doesn't really matter that much what form of electricity generation is at the end of it.

But what this will do is actually help to diversify the sources of energy and indeed the amount of energy stored in the energy system.

And, I think, like anything, that diversity can be our friend.

Diversity actually means that the energy system is more robust. It can, it's better able to cope when there are extreme weather events.

Or, indeed, if an old gas generator was to trip out, then having a diversity of different forms of energy, and indeed, having some storage on the system will all help the system to ride through and continue to keep the lights on.

MARK COLVIN: Why is gas such a key factor in all of this?

KANE THORNTON: Look, gas obviously plays an important role today in terms of helping to balance up the energy system, to support coal generation and to support those different renewable technologies.

Now, we've obviously seen the cost of gas go up significantly over the past couple of years, and so that has a big impact.

The reality is that gas tends to set the power price in most parts of Australia, most of the time, and so, when gas prices double, electricity prices tend to follow.

And so that's why I think the Prime Minister and indeed all governments around the country are quite concerned about rising gas prices.

MARK COLVIN: We began by talking about government failures to predict the future. Could this be another example of that?

I'm wondering if, in five, 10, 15 years' time a lot of people will have simply taken themselves off the grid altogether because battery storage has gone down so much in price and we will have built all this infrastructure for a market that no longer exists.

KANE THORNTON: I think it's pretty clear that there hasn't been a very good job in anticipating what might happen in the energy sector, and whether that's about the rapid development of renewables or storage, or indeed what's happening in the gas sector.

Now, all of these things obviously do, you know, they create a bit of a mess - either in terms of what investors might put their money into, and also I think it confuses the public out there.

And so, I think we have seen, we've seen over 1.6 million Australians put rooftop solar on their houses.

We're seeing very strong interest in battery storage units as the cost comes down.

And so I think we can expect more people to say, well, if we're not going to have a carefully managed energy transition, we are going to see prices jump around, then yeah, we'll take control of our own energy production and indeed store power within our own home.

And so, I think that will certainly be a trend that we'll see just keep accelerating in the future.

MARK COLVIN: Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council.