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The remarkable energy transition in South Australia

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South Australia could become a text-book case for the transition to a low carbon electricity grid, if the most up-to-date forecasts from the Australian Energy Market Operator are any indication.

As we noted in our main story today, AEMO’s National Electricity Forecasting Report for 2014, released on Monday morning, shows that solar is already turning the tables on incumbent generators.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in South Australia, where AEMO suggests that rooftop solar PV and energy efficiency will account for more than 20 per cent of South Australia’s projected electricity demand by 2023/24. That will reduce overall grid demand at that time from an estimated 14,500GWh, to around 12,000GWh, despite a growing population and economic growth.

This is a textbook case of the technologies that need to be adopted, and changes in consumption that need to be seen in any grid/

As the International Energy Agency said in a recent report, energy efficiency – and not consuming energy (the so called Negawatts) are a crucial and efficient way of reducing emissions. There is nothing cleaner or cheaper than electricity not consumed, and the IEA estimates this will need to account for at least one third of abatement out to 2050.

As this graph below shows within ten years, South Australia will be achieving nearly a 7 per cent per cent reduction in consumption through energy efficiency. It should be noted that this only includes “post modelling” gains of 1,009GWh. If gains from already implemented programs are included, then the total savings are estimated at 2,957GWh.

Given that the demand on centralised generation is further reduced by a trebling in rooftop solar PV by nearly 15 per cent, then it could be argued that within a decade, 5,000GWh, or nearly one third of demand (business as usual) is being accounted for by rooftop PV and energy efficiency. Remarkable.

aemo SA

South Australia is currently the state with the highest percentage of solar power, with 5.2 per cent contribution of total demand from an estimated 704 GWh of generation from rooftop solar in 2013-14. By 2023/24, AEMO estimates this will grow to 2,034GWh.

Here’s another mind-boggling percentage figure. Given the high level of wind energy in the state, which will jump to around 4,500GWh with the completion in the coming week of the 270MW Snowtown 2 wind farm, the overall share of variable renewables in the state is already around 40 per cent.

Should another three wind farms be built in the state of a similar size, or even if the 600MW Ceres wind farm is built, then the share of wind energy in about 2020 could be about 55 per cent.

That would mean that close to 75 per cent of the fossil fuel generation used in the state’s peak in 2008/09 would no longer be required. Under AEMO’s low demand scenario, the share of wind energy (presuming the RET is retained) could be 70 per cent of annual generation.

That is a stunning transformation – achieved in just 15 years. Even if the numbers don’t work out exactly that way – there is every chance they could be higher if the RET is retained – it gives a fantastic demonstration of the scale of change that can be achieved.

The biggest losers from this transformation? The incumbent generators of course. Alinta, which owns the two brown coal generators, is seeing its plant marginalised well before it had planned, so it is arguing of the RET to be ended immediately.

The gas fired generators are also suffering, because they are being marginalised from acting as base load generators to only intermediate and peak roles. The peaks in the state’s grid have also been pushed back at least one hour, and shrunken in duration – which is good news for consumers, but not for generators.

This second graph reflects the reduced demand per capita (the black line) – a result of more efficient domestic devices and the growth of rooftop solar PV. It shows that residential and commercial consumption – per capita – will have fallen by one third by 2023/24.

That is another extraordinary result, and one that was simply not predicted just a few years ago. So, don’t let anyone tell you that such a transformation is not possible.

aemo SA average demand

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  • Beat Odermatt

    When
    ETSA ( the former Electricity Trust of South Australia) was the sole
    electricity generator, distributor and retailer, the current
    situation was already an option. The ETSA Environmental Team at the
    time was busy gathering wind date across South Australia and wind
    generation was regarded as an viable option to generate electricity
    .South Australia did not have cheap black coal and the coal produced
    at Leigh Creek was of low quality and had to be transported a long
    distance to Port Augusta. Coal production was becoming increasingly
    more expensive and South Australia was potentially dependent on
    importing coal or electricity from other States.

    The current move towards renewable energy was necessary for South
    Australia and was foreseeable. Arguments about “stranded assets”
    in order to oppose the RET are just plain stupid. Current electricity
    generators would have done a “due diligence” process before
    buying generation assets. They made a commercial bet that electricity
    consumption and prices would continue to increase.

    • RobS

      Perhaps part of their due diligence was that a coordinated campaign against the RET to paint it as antibusiness would be successful as it certainly appears to be being and they are simply playing out that strategy.

      • Beat Odermatt

        It makes me sick thinking about bad management decisions resulting in companies begging for more charity. Some of the electricity companies made very bad decisions and they should take the losses.

        • Chris Fraser

          They just want to be the only sellers of electricity, just like in the good old days. None of this sharing of the energy business … or, heaven help us … deregulation !

  • David K Clarke

    I would like to get a copy of the AEMO report, but have not been able to find it.

  • caskings

    Are any analysts running a book / estimate on which coal fired plant operator will be next to blink and shut down a generation unit to reduce the oversupply in the market?

  • Zvyozdochka

    I once saw Barry Brook quote an American nuclear-proponent’s claim that all the energy efficiency gains had already been wrung from the system and there was very little left to uncover.

    Damned if I can find it right now.

    • Thomas Britz

      There are loads of energy efficiency measures available, especially in the US where energy consumption is far higher than in other countries, and here in Australia where cheap energy and favourable cimate has meant that the notion of being efficient or prudent about energy usage is also pretty new. More interstate grid connectedness is an example of a large-scale efficiency measure; insulating houses properly (or even to make energy-plus houses, as in Germany and Sweden) is an example of small-scale efficiency; and getting rid of TVs and extra fridges are examples of person-scale efficiencies.

  • Alan Baird

    What an unpatriotic bunch the South Aussies are. They should remember to “switch on for Australia”. Coal is cheap and long term. Arx Tony. And Dick. And all the rest of the T party crew in or out of parliament.