Climate change no threat to cheap wind power – except in Sunshine State

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The changing global climate should have little impact on the continued success of wind energy generation in Australia, a new study has found – and will in fact boost it in some parts of the country, helping to drive a possible further 30 per cent reduction in costs.

The research, published this month in Environmental Research Letters, weighs up changing winds conditions caused by climate change, advances in technology and investment risk factors to forecast the economics of generating energy from wind farms in Australia in the near future (2020-2039) and the far future (2060-2079).

The study found that the states south of 20° latitude look set to “come out ahead,” particularly Tasmania and the southern half of Western Australia, which the study found would be the biggest winners in terms of power generation and profitability.

In general, these parts of Australia were expected to experience small reductions in wind speed as a result of climate change, but profitability was expected to increase.

“Wind energy production appears resilient to the projected small decreases in wind energy potential, and once technological innovations are taken into account wind energy remains a viable source of energy at least to the end of this century,” the report said.

Even better, “once improvements in technology were factored into the equation, we calculated that the cost of generating power across Australia is likely to decrease by 30 per cent, meaning existing and future wind farms are likely to be more profitable than today,” said author Dr Merlinde Kay from the University of NSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering.

But in Queensland, and the northern half of Western Australia, wind generation was expected to become less competitive with other states, due to a slight drop in wind speeds and the increased threat of cyclones in those regions.

“North of the 20° latitude the risks increase as wind turbines are subject to cyclonic conditions and investment becomes subject to a potentially increased infrastructure replacement issue,” said Dr Kay.

“However, that doesn’t mean renewable energy has no place in our far north.

“As long as the Sunshine State can maintain a climate that is – as they like to say – beautiful one day and perfect the next, it is likely solar energy will play a key role in renewable power generation in Central Queensland and our far north.”

That may or may not be reassuring for the builders of large wind projects in Queensland, such as Windlab’s Kennedy energy park, although that will be paired with solar, or AGL Energy’s Cooper’s Gap wind farm. Queensland hitherto has only one small (12MW) installation at Windy Hill.

The key takeaway of the research, according to Professor Jason Evans – lead author from the University of NSW’s hub of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes – was Australia’s un-tapped wind energy potential.

“Importantly, the research revealed prime locations in Tasmania and Western Australia for wind farms near existing transmission networks that have yet to be exploited,” Prof Evans said.

“And our research shows these regions will only get better with time as wind speeds in those locations are expected to increase.”  

  • Peter F
  • john

    I would expect across the south of Australia the wind energy potential is so much greater than anywhere north.
    In the afternoons in Northern regions one would expect the thermal winds from ocean to land would have some effect however that is not much significance over a 24 hour period.
    On the other hand the inland with little cloud cover lends itself to solar and concentrated solar and storage a combination of both makes sense.
    In those areas where PHES can be powered by either wind or solar so much the better.
    Put these generators all over the grid the sooner the better for the stabilization of prices for power and further more the lower overall cost to consumers in the long run.
    Just remember that 100 MW pumped into the grid where it has 10% loss of delivery due to distance results in it being 110 MW.

  • itdoesntaddup

    But didn’t Blakers claim that wind in FNQ is the solution to the fact that wind further South is heavily correlated? Seems to have taken the wind out of his sails.

    • David Osmond

      If you look at Fig 2, wind in northern QLD is expected to increase. In Southern QLD, the decrease in wind speed is less significant than it is in SA and Vic. And cyclones are unlikely to be an issue further than 50km from the coast. I don’t think this study will give Blakers any cause for concern.

      • itdoesntaddup

        Pity he failed to notice the doldrums in high summer in FNQ (when there isn’t a typhoon). Then again, I suppose it is the difference between blind misuse of statistics, and properly looking at the data rather than relying on invent data, as his studies (and the AEMO 100% renewables study and now Jacobsen all do).

        • David Osmond

          Two points:
          1. the 100% renewable studies have 10s of GW of PV. Matching supply and demand in summer is relatively easy, it is winter that is the challenge.
          2. What evidence do you have that Blakers failed to notice the doldrums in high summer? Do you have any evidence that the modelled data that they used didn’t adequately represent the low wind season over summer?

  • David Osmond

    Given that Coopers Gap (in SE QLD) got away with a PPA of under $60/MWh, I think we can deduce that the LCOE estimates for QLD are way off the money. Indeed, the estimates in most states are a too high by a factor of 2-3, but in QLD they are seem to be 3-4 times too high.