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100% renewable grid not just feasible, but “reliable, robust and stable”

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Yet another study has affirmed that Australia could – and should – shift to a 100 per cent renewable energy grid, as a “robust, reliable and stable” supply of clean electricity.

The discussion paper, released on Friday by not-for-profit group the Alternative Technology Association, found that a fully renewable electricity grid would provide long-term economic and social benefits for Australia, while also playing an important part in its commitments to fight climate change.

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The publication of the paper coincides with Friday’s meeting of COAG, to discuss the preliminary report of the Finkel Review into the security and stability of the national electricity market.

The ATA report, 100% Renewable Grid – Feasible?, reviewed evidence from recent developments in Australia and overseas, as well as previous studies including those by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

“We found all experts agree that a 100% renewable grid will be reliable and stable, as long as it uses an appropriate mix of renewable generation sources, energy storage and upgraded infrastructure,” said Andrew Reddaway, the paper’s author and ATA energy analyst.

During periods of calm, cloudy weather electricity could be sourced from sunny or windy parts of the country and supplemented with energy stores such as hydroelectric dams, molten salt heat storage, batteries, renewable gas and stockpiles of pelletised woody waste, the report found.

“This grid would be robust, with smarter renewable generators and batteries automatically injecting extra electricity when required for grid stability,” Reddaway said.

“Similarly, smart appliances would detect disturbances in the grid and independently adjust their power level to compensate.”

The ATA report also found that the cost of such a smart and diverse grid would be manageable, and compared it to a “21st century version of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.”

The Snowy hydro scheme, said Reddaway, cost the equivalent of 16 per cent of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product in its commencement year, but these costs were spread over the project’s duration, and were balanced by the creation of many local industry jobs.

“During the transition energy costs are likely to be slightly higher than ‘business as usual’, but in the longer term it would place downward pressure on electricity bills because renewable energy generation is cheap to run,” Reddaway said.wind-solar_9fs8

“Widespread energy efficiency measures would further offset costs.”

On the technical side of things, the report noted that there were “many possible solutions to maintain grid stability as levels of wind and solar generation increase.”

For example, to maintain inertia in the grid, the report recommends retaining the steam turbines of decommissioned fossil fuel power plants, keeping them connected to the grid, and allowing them to continue to rotate in synch with grid frequency, without burning fuel.

For wind farms, the report notes, when a slowdown in grid frequency is detected, the wind turbine’s controller could immediately increase its power output by temporarily sacrificing some blade speed – an app roach known as synthetic inertia that ATA says is already required in part of Canada.

As for rooftop solar, the report says this is already evolving to help keep the future grid stable.

“As of October 2016, all new grid-connected inverters must be capable of reducing their generation or export, in response to a signal from the grid operator,” it says.

“Known as Demand Response Mode (DRM), this feature allows solar generation to be curtailed when it exceeds overall demand – although this is not expected to be implemented for many years, the ATA notes, and requires and additional device known as a Demand Response Enabling Device (DRED) to be plugged into the inverter.

And, like other reports released recently on this subject, the ATA notes that battery storage will play a big role in future renewables-heavy grids.

“Batteries are especially well suited to support grid stability,” the report says, “as they can discharge electricity into the grid with zero start-up time.

“Large batteries have already been installed in the grid for such purposes overseas,” it says, adding that household batteries can also provide this service, while also delivering savings and other benefits to consumers.  

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  • John McKeon

    Hell. The more I read the more I realise they’ve got fossil fuels on toast. Yeah, I know, not an appetising metaphor. By the ….. well, you know what I mean.

    Related RenewEconomy article: http://reneweconomy.com.au/enough-enough-time-honesty-climate-energy-policy-27476/?utm_source=RE+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=dd172b60b8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_12_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_46a1943223-dd172b60b8-40308521

    is frightening.

    This situation explains the frantic politics of the past 48 hours.

    • Henry

      Yes, seems that way. The responses are on the verge of ‘panic’.

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  • solarguy

    Why not burn bio gas from sewerage and green waste in retained FF steam turbines, instead of wood pellets? It would be cleaner.

    • Farmer Dave

      Both biogas and the use of green waste have an important place in our fossil fuel free future. I think the specific reference to wood pellets was due to their being able to be stored in hoppers for extended periods as a backup energy source. Pellets are also a good source of renewable heat in regions where there are wastes available to make them.

      • solarguy

        Most decent sized towns have a sewage system and need to dispose of green waste, which often is sent to land fill. As sewage treatment plants have a lot of solids to process, making bio gas from it solves a problem, same for green waste. Gas can be economically stored for use at times of prolonged inclement weather, in more locations than wood pellets. Wood pellets would only be economical if produced and used locally. That can’t be most places, but shit and green waste can be found everywhere. And I’m not talking shit. LOL.

  • Ian

    The idea of using old FF turbines and generators as ‘spinning reserve’, how viable is that? These would basically be flywheels with no motive force driving them on. Would there be enough inertia to last more than a few minutes? There are purpose build high speed flywheels available, pumped hydro could be another resource for frequency control. The water turbines and generators could continuously adjust rotation speed to stabilise the grid frequency. Could this be a justification for developing pumped hydro for areas like South Australia or Western Australia. Queensland already has a pumped hydro scheme that can provide this frequency control function. The grid should be robust enough not to have to rely on mum and dad solar to control it, seriously, that’s asking too much. ( demand response mode curtailing exports when there is too much solar for the grid to handle. Boo Hoo, poor grid can’t handle little baby solar, baby solar put big grid’s dummy back in?)

    • solarguy

      As you know Ian, Redflow’s battery is like pumped hydro, as it can store loads of energy in it’s electrolyte, which would have to be the cheapest component of the battery. That’s a delightful feature, as you could store weeks of power from roof top solar. Talk about backup power. Once Redflow’s battery is proved reliable and the price point gets better it could become the dominant technology from residential use to whatever.

      • Ian

        There are so many edge of grid towns and settlements that could do with just this sort of thing, probably a mix of storage technologies, from home lithium type storage, to EV, to silicon thermal storage to flow battery storage. The incumbent’s barrier to islanding edge of grid settlements is no longer high, in fact grid operators seem delighted at the idea of off-loading these expensive commitments.

        • solarguy

          Although I agree with what your saying, I think I need to elaborate. If for a given max power output capacity of a battery , let’s say 5kwp in say a lithium battery, the cost of having 50kwh storage currently would be very expensive. But if a flow battery has the same max output capacity being 5kwp and has the electrolyte tanks sized for 50kwh storage and is a lot cheaper than lithium with same amount of storage, then it’s a no brainer that some home owners will go for that. Now that’s a real game changer!

          Yesterday, I exported back to the grid 36.9kwh of excess solar, now if I could store that much over 2 days instead of exporting it for SFA FIT, I would be able to power my home for about a week with little PV input, as such that one would get when there was a rain event that lasted that long.

          A real game changer for off grider’s especially.

          • Rod

            I hope Redflow succeeds (I had shares at one stage) but my biggest concern is the daily maintenance cycle.
            This makes off grid with one ZCell out of the question as far as I understand?
            I think they may have missed the boat ($) for residential storage but their bigger units are ideal for business and grid scale storage.
            They had a storage container unit on test at Queensland Uni (I think) would love to know how that is going.

          • solarguy

            The maintenance cycle is something that would happen every 4 days to 14 days I believe, depending on the depth of discharge. The problem can be solved a number of ways. 1) would be to have 2 electrode stacks, shut down one for cleaning, whilst the other supplies power at a reduced rate, for 2hrs until completed. That could be designed that way for a special SAPS model (are you getting this Simon)
            2) use a small AGM battery bank auto switched at times of low load, say 3am.
            Redflow’s success will depend mainly on pricing in the long term.

          • DJR96

            I really like the whole concept of Redflow’s system.
            But I equally dislike the their pricing model.

            I’m sure they have a product that lends itself to mass production and high volume sales that could add an enormous amount of storage to not only households and businesses, but also to the grid as well. But for as long as they insist on selling the product at prices comparable to other storage (battery) technology, they price themselves out of the market. Disappointing.

          • Phil

            Yes Rod there are so many issues with Redflow. Yet their shares have had a bounceback. But not back to the levels pre the Tesla Powerwall 2 release.

            The Redflow system is very large and not wall mountable and is around half the available inverter (current draw) and charge energy of the Tesla. And there is no inverter supplied and you need 2 of them for off grid use.

            Tesla Powerwall 3 is a likely 2018 release and that will be a mainstream storage option for many based on the doubling of capacity and power output for the same cost philosophy that Tesla seems to be following

            That’s when the “crunch time” for the Grid model as a primary energy source will become questioned.

          • Ian

            Flow batteries would fit the requirement for standby storage , no need to have a huge peak power output, but a definite need for cheap and plentiful storage capacity . Well, at least for a week of cloudy weather.

            What is the purpose of the maintenance cycle. Is that to clean out the electrode chambers or to recondition the electrolyte?

          • solarguy

            Yes that’s right Ian with the emphasis on cheap, plentiful storage. I can’t see that the electrolyte would be anything like expensive as its 80% water. If the PV array is oversized enough for a reasonable output on bad days, then 5-7kwh/day of battery storage should get a household through a week.

            The maintenance cycle is to clean the electrodes of excess zinc build up.

          • trackdaze

            You could store that excess energy in a tesla or mitsubishi outlander phev.

          • solarguy

            Mate, we were talking about storing 50kwh in Redflows big electrolyte tanks as a cheap form of extra storage. that’s if they would build it. You can only store 12kwh in an Outlander and you would need 4 x Tesla2 for that.

          • Greg Hudson

            I think he means storing it in a Model S, not a PW2…

          • Greg Hudson

            Even better if you could sell it in real time, at a price point of your choice on the wholesale market (AEMO). See:
            https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard

          • solarguy

            How can you sell electricity when your off grid.

    • Rod

      “For example, to maintain inertia in the grid, the report recommends
      retaining the steam turbines of decommissioned fossil fuel power plants,
      keeping them connected to the grid, and allowing them to continue to
      rotate in sync with grid frequency, without burning fuel”.

      I am really interested in this. How could they do this with no fuel used? Yes, there is inertia but once load increases without any fuel to increase pressure on the turbines how would they maintain inertia?

      If there is minimal fuel needed to maintain inertia in the turbines that means ongoing maintenance of boilers which is a major cost.

      I’m thinking Torrens A is an ideal candidate if this is an option. Mothballed AFAIK and unlikely to come back online anytime soon.

      • DJR96

        Using “retired” generating plant as a “synchronous condenser” certainly is a valid means of providing extra “inertia” to the grid. But that doesn’t help at all in getting away from a grid dependent on inertia.

        Ultimately the grid has to be designed to be controlled by power conversion technology – inverters. And any remaining FF generation must supplement that. Not the other way around as we have now.
        Yes this is a long way off yet of course, but such a transition to that end goal needs to be designed and incorporated very soon.

  • George Papadopoulos

    This is more of the same propaganda we have been hearing for years: comparing baseload to intermittent sources.

    There is no doubt that wind turbines can be generate energy more cheaply than many other sources. The real cost of wind turbines however lies in the messy patchwork solutions to keep supply constant and that includes idling coal plants…

    So much for the ‘cheap’ side of renewables!

    • solarguy

      You clearly don’t understand much do you, Coal plants are being shut down, because they can’t compete with cheap wind power. As more RE penetrates the grid more and more coal plants will go tits up. If idling coal plants were a problem, then power would be much more expensive.

      • George Papadopoulos

        And the blackouts will become ever more frequent…

        • solarguy

          Go away fossil fuel moron!

          • George Papadopoulos

            I think you are a moron assuming I’m an advocate for fossil fuels.

        • Rod

          If you are concerned about blackouts, get yourself some solar panels and some storage and witness the future.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Well I’m on a standalone system and already appreciate the inconvenience of managing a backup generator

          • Rod

            I don’t understand your negativity then.
            Are you saying blackouts are causing you to use your backup?
            The Sep blackout in SA IMHO was 100% due to fallen towers
            The most recent outage at the interconnector had nothing to do with RE and for most people was short in duration.
            I have no doubt geographically and technology diverse RE as the main energy source and Hydro (pumped or stored,used once) as a back up for peaks, cloud, still days, is a viable solution.
            Household or business PV and storage will benefit the individual but most will self consume unless they can participate in a true market

          • George Papadopoulos

            No Rod I am saying that I have a standalone system and no degree of solar PV or battery capacity removes the need for my diesel generator backup unless I have a system that is huge and very expensive.

            You don’t understand my negativity? We have as an economy spent billions on installing wind turbines, ruining the country side, turning communities upside down, ridiculing and laughing concerns over their impacts, and each time something goes wrong (like the string of blackouts in SA) we stick our head into the sand and keep repeating the mantra: ‘coal is evil’.

            I am sorry to say that unless we stop this mania to keep installing wind turbines our energy prices will go through the roof (as they have been since wind energy started to be installed in Australia), businesses will continue to close down and we will end up exporting our coal to foreign countries instead, so they can burn it on our behalf to make our products.

          • Rod

            Ah, now I understand.

            “I don’t like wind turbines so they will never work, are too expensive, keep me up at night, kill birds, etc. etc.”

            End of discussion.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Yes Rod, and horizontal axis wind turbines are the black sheep of the renewables industry – the faster we move away from them the more likely we will see meaningful reductions in carbon.

          • solarguy

            Picked you for a troll right off the bat, either your have a piss ant sized system or you don’t have one at all. AND I BET YA DON’T.

          • Ian

            George, presumably you have a standalone system because you are remote from the grid. If you didn’t have solar or batteries then you would have to rely on FF generators, yours sounds like a biggish system if you have gone for a diesel generator. The inconvenience you mention is the FF generator, the batteries and solar are then the cheap or convenient part otherwise you would not have bothered with these. I would have thought a FF generator, especially if used seldom and properly integrated into a standalone minigrid with solar and batteries would be very much a set and forget system.

          • George Papadopoulos

            No I am not that remote from the grid – just decided to be as ‘green’ as possible and installed a standalone system.

            The ‘cheap’ side of solar PV ends at night time. It also ends with battery storage. The ‘cheap side’ also becomes expensive when you need large loads for a brief time.

            In case you haven’t understood my point: in the event that Australia goes down the 100% renewables path chiefly with wind turbines, we will probably need the same capacity installed with alternate sources such as gas (think of polluting CSG).

            Cheap isn’t it? Lots of money thrown around on generators.

          • trackdaze

            A bloke i know is thinking of selling his low hours oversized generator 7kw and using his 2kw camping one due to how infrequently its been required.

          • Ian

            Why would you want a standalone system whilst batteries were still pricy. You could have shifted the majority of your electricity consumption to the day such as hot water heating, pool pumping , cloths washing etc and installed roof and wall insulation to reduce heating or cooling costs. That’s on the personal side. On a national scale, this site has been at pains to show the viability of a 100% renewables grid and there are numerous articles on this subject over the years, as Giles nicely he might email the lot to you!

          • George Papadopoulos

            Because I go to work…

          • trackdaze

            Good point Rod.

        • trackdaze

          ……As coal plants frequently go down for non scheduled maintenance. Thats why they build more capacity than is needed. Typically you may have 1of 4 out of action at anyone time.