rss
2

SA must adapt energy infrastructure for changing times

Print Friendly
Shuttershock

Shuttershock

We are in the midst of an energy transformation. South Australia is working hard to drive renewable energy uptake, and will likely  meet its target of 50% renewable energy this year, nearly a decade ahead of schedule, and has a further goal of getting as close to 100 per cent renewable energy as possible.

This places South Australia on the front line of a transformation that will by necessity flow much deeper through the energy networks of the entire nation.

South Australia is leading the nation with 41 per cent of their energy coming from renewable sources, and more on the way.

Last week a joint study released by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and ElectraNet, operator of South Australia’s transmission network, set out the limits to secure operation of our power system.  It identified legitimate concerns about stretching the energy system under its current outdated infrastructure. However, the problem has occurred because insufficient effort has gone into modernising the system and adapting to the challenges of a renewable energy future.

The report into South Australia’s energy infrastructure from AEMO and Electranet should be received with optimism and encouragement. We have a State that is already world leading in embracing renewable technologies.

Premier Jay Weatherill has pointed to the exciting opportunities for jobs, capital investment and advanced manufacturing industries that lie ahead as the State transitions to more renewable energy.

The opportunity to drive jobs and investments for the future while supporting communities to adjust is also very clear. Yet at present, government investment, market settings and policy continue to preference an outdated energy network, when instead they should be focussed on the changes happening now.

Last December at the Paris COP21 climate conference, 195 countries came together to form an agreement to stop global warming, and committed to cut pollution to net zero before the end of the century. The outcomes from Paris are clear. All countries will need to do their part to cut pollution, and in Australia that means replacing our old, inefficient and polluting power stations with the clean energy of the future.

The good news is that industry is already moving. Andrew Vesey, Chief Executive of Australia’s biggest polluting company AGL recently said: “We need to be out of the CO2 emissions business… We’ve done a lot of thinking around this and we believe our view of the future will be restraints on carbon emissions.”

Australia has one of the highest average levels of solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world and some of the best wind resources. We have all the clean renewable energy we need, and new technologies can assist develop a baseload supply such as better, cheaper battery storage that is rapidly coming into the market.

A good example of a technology ready to be embraced is concentrated solar thermal power that combines storage to achieve baseload power. A project proposal on the table would bring clean energy and new jobs to help replace the coal-fired generators in Port Augusta that are closing this year. This would be the first of its kind in Australia and deserves further support.

Moreover, the significant drop in the cost of renewable energy technologies is changing the game – new renewable energy facilities are now being built at lower cost than would be required for new fossil fuel facilities.

Origin’s CEO, Grant King, recently estimated that the cost of large-scale solar in Australia was dropping to around $80/MWh. At this price it would be cheaper than most gas-fired generation and even cheaper than wind energy which has until recently been the cheapest renewable energy source in Australia.

We now need leadership at all levels to ensure Australia’s energy infrastructure is up to the task of transforming to a clean energy future.  Surely, with all of Australia’s ingenuity and innovation, the task of achieving a goal of a 100 per cent renewable energy is achievable if there’s the will to get there.

Suzanne Harter is a climate change campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation

RenewEconomy Free Daily Newsletter

Share this:

  • howardpatr

    How many concentrated solar thermal power plants that combine storage to achieve baseload power could be built in Australia with the savings from not building two submarines but instead used to seed fund Australia’s first ASX listed Renewable Energy Investment Fund?

    Great possibilities but seemingly beyond the imagination of most of the nations politicians.

  • Malcolm M

    Having read the AEMO/Electranet report, I don’t think the writer has assimilated much from it. The report dealt with how the system frequency and voltage could be maintained in SA when the connection with Victoria through Heywood is out of action. Since 1998, this has been for an average of 17 minutes per year. The report did not deal with the renewable mix into the future, apart from noting that the number of generators on stream for load balancing had been declining as the renewable share had been increasing. Several actions were recommended to reduce problems should SA be separated from the rest of the network, but none of these appeared to require large investment.

    For load balancing, AEMO purchases stability services within SA of plus or minus 35 MW within each 5 minute bid period. The generators registered for this service are Pelican Point (gas), Torrens Island B (gas) and one unit at Quarantine (gas), plus 2 others due for closure at Torrens Island A (gas) and the Northern brown coal power station.

    There is currently no mechanism for the network to accommodate an excess of solar energy, apart for “load shedding” the feeders that are feeding too much solar into the network. My own speculation is that the network needs some additional balancing services that would “burn off” this excess, such as water heaters at a gas combined cycle power plant. Relatively small amounts of energy would need to be burnt off this way, because the market would normally respond, such as switching on water supply pumps.

    In the current generation of wind turbine controllers, there is also no mechanism for them to correct the AC frequency. If the grid frequency is 45 Hz and the target 50 Hz, the wind generators only follow the 45 Hz without trying to correct it to closer to 50 Hz. Solar controllers likewise only follow grid frequency without attempting to do their share of correcting it. Frequency-correcting wind or solar controllers should be relatively easy to develop, but to date there has been sufficient generation from fossil fuel and hydro generators that these enhancements have not been required.