Resignation but no regrets

ARENA: accelerating Australia’s shift to an affordable and reliable renewable energy future

Six years, 320 projects, 12 large scale solar plants, 11 world records, $3.5 billion in investments, now that’s quite an achievement. Having heen at the helm of the organisation that has helped drive the solar sector from the ground up, ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht is hanging up his hardhat.

 During his tenure, ARENA has provided more than $1 billion in funding which has been matched by $2.5 billion in private investment, and has helped to make large scale solar commercially competitive in Australia.

Frischknecht’s 320 projects have led to more than $3.5 billion dollars of investment in technical and commercial innovations in solar PV, batteries, biofuels, hydrogen, solar thermal, tidal energy, pumped hydro, distributed energy and demand response, which form the backbone of Australia’s burgeoning clean energy sector.

Among the many significant projects, ARENA has invested in a variety of battery projects and the feasibility study for Snowy 2.0 and the construction of 12 new large-scale solar farms.

Now, thanks to ARENA funded projects, national large scale solar is on the cusp of cost parity with wind power, and the milestone has been struck a whole five years earlier than anticipated. Still on numbers the agency has helped generate 231 MW in power by supporting four solar farms and achieve 14 world or Australian-firsts, ten of which occurred in 2015–16, just four years after the Gillard government founded ARENA.

Projects have helped to break at least 11 solar cell efficiency world records, including a record for sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency using unfocused sunlight.

Frischknecht has also strengthened key relationships between ARENA and AEMO, the AEMC and the CEFC.

But the path to progress has not always been smooth, successive governments have hacked away at the initial budget of $3.2 billion and ARENA’s future was threatened on several occasions.  The Smart Energy Council which has been a firm ally and staunch supporter of ARENA over the years went into bat when the Coalition ramped up its attempts to whittle down the agency.

Despite continued threats Ivor Frischknecht remained committed to the task of bringing clean affordable energy to Australia while driving down prices – and that is his legacy.

“The cost of solar has been cut by 25 per cent in the space of a year, and now it is competitive with wind,” he told media. “That program over-delivered even our expectations.”

The new large-scale solar round will create more than 1400 new jobs across the country, reviving rural towns and creating new industry supply chains in regional Australia, and the ground breaking off-grid and fringe of grid portfolio projects allow remote communities to access the benefits of solar energy.

ARENA was the first in the world to trial a large-scale residential community battery, and is now assessing opportunities to produce renewable jet fuels for sale throughout the world.

Frischknecht’s achievements will be hailed for many years to come.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved at ARENA and the organisation is well respected and positioned for an exciting future,” he said [but] “After six years, I’ve decided now is the right time to move on to new challenges and spend more time with my family.

“This has been a difficult decision, but I’m pleased to be able to hand over at a time when ARENA is playing a more integral role than ever in the transformation of the energy sector.”

“I’m confident I am leaving ARENA in very capable hands with a team of dedicated, smart and inspiring people who are making a significant contribution to changing our energy system for the better.”

He reminded the community that ARENA has more than $550 million of funding remaining to invest over the next four years, “so there is a lot of work still to be done but we have the best team on the job and a clear plan for future investments.”

Frischknecht will remain in the role until a new CEO is appointed, and the search has already commenced.