Renewables Progress In Australia

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It’s time once again to look at the progress being made in Australia towards a renewables dominated grid. At 9:00 am on a Tuesday morning, Tasmania and South Australia are once again the stars of the Australian grid. Tasmania is producing all of its power from hydro (871 MW), wind (14 MW), and small solar (93 MW), with no battery storage listed. South Australia — home of Tesla’s big battery — is using a little gas to produce 86 MW. The rest of the generation is coming from renewables: wind (1096 MW), small solar (954 MW), large solar (372 MW), and 4 MW of battery storage.

South Australia has generated enough electricity over the past week to cover 90% of its needs. It is spring in Australia, with mild temperatures modifying demand. Over the week, South Australia was able to export 26 GWh and needed to import about 24 GWh. Renewables kept the prices low at AU$12 per MWh. Batteries are helping in the evening peak. Will South Australia get to 100%? Probably. Does it need to?

Due to neglect by the previous federal government, interconnectors between the states have not been upgraded to cope with large exports of solar, so the Australia Energy Market Operator has had to curtail the energy production at some large solar farms in South Australia (SA). The good news is that interconnectors are being added and current ones are being upgraded. SA has 4 operating batteries and 3 more under construction. SA will need them, with more renewable energy sources (like the Goyder South 412 MW wind farm) under construction.

Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland make up the rest the east coast grid. Victoria is still using brown coal to generate electricity, but the state is only 50% dependent on this polluting energy source. NemWatch gives us the details — hydro (9 MW), wind ( 526 MW), small solar ( 1972 MW), large solar ( 468 MW), and 5 MW of battery storage. Brown coal is producing 2624 MW. Victoria is planning to install 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy storage capacity by 2030 — “that’s enough renewable energy to power around half of Victoria’s current homes at their peak energy use.”

Victoria’s and New South Wales are at the early stages of a massive offshore wind industry. You can read about it here.

New South Wales is currently producing 60% of its power from renewables: hydro (89 MW), wind (370 MW), small solar (2482 MW), large solar (1881 MW), and 1 MW of battery storage. Just a few years ago, these numbers would have been unimaginable and conservative commentators were running around predicting blackouts, grid meltdown, and the end of the world as we know it.

What about beautiful sunny Queensland? We are also producing 60% of our power from renewables and the sun has not yet reached its zenith (I’ll check in again at noon). However, since sunrise is just after 5:00 am, my battery is full and powering the pool pump, after already filling up the Tesla! Hard data for those who like that sort of thing: hydro (54 MW), wind (183 MW), small solar (2672 MW; at 1pm, 2820 MW), large solar (1907 MW; at 1 pm, 2300 MW).

Western Australia has a separate grid from the rest of the country — it is, after all, 3000 km and a couple of time zones away on the other side of the Nullarbor plain. Wind (188 MW) and small solar (623 MW) provide much of the power. It’s currently 50% renewables. There are large solar farms under construction in the state.

The Guardian reports that rooftop solar uptake in Australia continues at a rapid pace. Much of this demand has been spurred by the recent increases in electricity bills for households. My own costs have gone from a 13¢ per kWh off-peak rate to 24¢ per kWh. The first half of the year saw about 1.46 gigawatts added to the roofs of businesses and ordinary Australians. This is a 20% jump over last year. Many of these installations were upgrades and included a home battery. Sadly, due to supply chain issues, delays in transmission projects, and lack of battery storage, there has been a significant fall in the number of large-scale solar farm proposals.

In Western Victoria (which borders on South Australia), generation capacity regularly exceeds the capacity of the grid interconnectors, leading to curtailment. This area has earned the nickname “the rhombus of regret”  because of the shape of the area and the lack of profitability due to the inadequate grid. As mentioned above, plans are in place to resolve this issue. In the meantime, between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, much of the generation is “spilled.”

One of these plans is the 1.2 GW/2.4 GWh battery proposed by Equis development, approved by Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, this week. It is being cofunded by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board. It will be the Asia Pacific’s largest battery and is expected to be in operation by 2025.

Equis is currently developing 39 renewable energy and battery storage projects worth more than $6.5 billion in Australia. “Equis has also announced plans to develop a 300MW/1,200MWh battery near Tamworth in New South Wales, a 200 MW/800 MWh energy storage system near Brinkworth in South Australia, and two battery projects totalling 250 MW in Queensland.”

Australia has the highest penetration of rooftop solar in the world. Domestic solar for home use doesn’t require any infrastructure upgrades and so is low-hanging fruit for the transition. Even in the midst of winter in southern states, sunny days can mean that 25% of needed electricity is coming from the roofs of homeowners, even more so in the deep north of Queensland where they don’t really have a winter.

Australian households and businesses have collectively installed around 3.5 million solar systems, representing about 20 GW of potential generation capacity. The Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) expects that rooftop solar could generate up to 50 GW by 2040. This is causing AEMO some concern and it is seeking the power to turn off rooftop solar at times when too much power is entering the grid. Another problem looking for a solution. The evil duck strikes again!

“An oversupply of energy from solar rooftops — when supply of electricity becomes greater than demand — can cause the grid to lose balance and lead to serious consequences,” AEMO chief Daniel Westerman said at the recent AFR Energy and Climate Summit. 20 GW: “That’s more than seven Eraring power stations at full output, and capable of meeting almost half [48%] of our energy demand when the sun is shining at its brightest.” AEMO is seeking to tame the duck with the power to stop rooftop solar from exporting to the grid. Similar to the power they have over solar and wind farms.

As the Australian grid rapidly turns green, problems are being encountered and also solved. The future looks bright and sunny with lots of wind and some big batteries.


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