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Households will be at centre of Australia’s transition to 100% renewables

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Australia’s households and small businesses will be at the centre of the dramatic energy transition occurring around us, and will play a critical role in the switch to 100 per cent renewable energy, and saving around $100 billion in costs from the business-as-usual fossil fuel scenario.

That dramatic outline is the key takeaway from the final draft of the report of the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap that has been painstakingly put together over the last three years by the government’s premier research body, the CSIRO, and Energy Networks Australia, which represents the grid owners across the country.

The key conclusion is that Australia can and should reach 100 per cent renewable energy for its electricity by 2050, and therefor zero emissions. It can, because the technology is there to do it. It should, because of climate change and the economics.

As it concluded in its earlier report in December, this consumer led transition to a grid centred around distributed generation, solar and storage, will save a heap of money in network investment ($16 billion), and network costs to consumers ($100 billion) by 2050.

future grid solar storageConsumers will play a critical role and lead this transition. The report suggests that by 2050, households and businesses will have installed a phenomenal 80GW of rooftop solar, accompanied by some 97GWh of battery storage.

The 10 million households who have distributed energy resources like solar, storage, smart homes and electric vehicles by 2050 will play a critical role in how Australia manages its grid, which will no longer be based around a scenario of centralised baseload and peaking plants.

Instead,it will be based around wind, solar, storage and other flexible generation. And the key to providing that flexibility lies in the distributed nature of the grid, and taking advantage of the consumer investment in solar and storage, which will provide half of all the power needed and much of the storage.

But the stunning falls in the cost of renewable energy technologies, solar in particular, and of battery storage, means that Australia not only needs to get its transition policies and roadmaps into place, it is running out of time to do so.

The risks, the report says, is that without significant market reform and long term climate policy, the transition will be uncontrolled.

“We thought we had about 10 years to change pricing incentives,” CSIRO chief energy economist Paul Graham says. “We don’t, and if we leave it too late, we will  get more customers buying distributed energy systems in places where isn’t such a need, or they are calibrated wrongly.”

That, he says, is about ensuring that consumers are reacting to signals of not just how much electricity they are using, but when they are using it. And ensuring that their assets – solar and storage – can be accessed to help manage the entire grid.

The big risk, the networks say, is that without the right pricing signals, many customers (at least 10 per cent will simply leave the grid.

The key measures, the report says, are having a stable, bipartisan, and ambitious climate policy (40 per cent reduction in 2005 emissions by 2030), cost reflective network pricing (to ensure that peak demand is addressed) and clear transition plans at state level for the local networks.

These need to be in place by 2020 or 2021. The CSIRO and ENA are hopeful that the Finkel Review will lay much of the groundwork, although it is fairly obvious to RenewEconomy that if these policies are to be delivered it is going to require a complete change in the nature of political rhetoric around energy policy and energy supply.

That means a change in the politics as well as the policy. There is not a snowflake’s chance of hell of setting the path towards a 100 per cent renewable energy grid if politicians are still saying stupid things about wind and solar.

state by state

Interestingly, the network transformation report goes into details about the 100 per cent renewable energy grid would work, and its implications for individual states.

It notes that each state grid can comfortably reach around 40 per cent penetration of variable wind and solar without much problem: from that point on, battery storage and technologies such as synchronous condensers need to be considered.

But it is only in the latter stages of the transition that new wind and solar has to be backed up like for like with storage. And that is based on assumptions that each state grid is distinct from the others.

In reality, the variability of supply will mean less back-up is needed, and the greatest need for backup will not come from those hot summer peaks, because there will be plenty of solar and storage to address that – but in the mild winters after days of cloudy weather.

2050 100% energy mixBut that also means that the back-up simply need not be as great, and will likely come from gas peakers that transition to biogas or a similar technology. We go into those assumptions in a separate story.

As this graph on the right suggests, brown coal will be gone by 2045 at the latest, and the remnants of black coal also gone by 2050.

Now that may come as a surprise to the likes of AGL Energy, which launched a much-vaunted rebranding campaign this week that talked of its intention to start getting out of coal by 2022 and all of it by 2050, by which point either Bayswater or Loy Yang A will be more than 60 years old. It only bought the plants in the last few years.

At this point it is worth repeating who is making this prediction of 100 per cent renewables by 2050 – not an environmental NGO, or a solar enthused university researcher. It is the government’s primary scientific research group and the owners of the networks whose responsibility it is to maintain supply.

In an ideal world, CSIRO and ENA would like greater co-ordination and for the states to move, more or less, in lockstep with each other as they transition towards 100 per cent renewables.

This graph below illustrates how the two bodies see the state-based renewables share evolving. It probably shows a conservative view, if anything, given  that South Australia is already approaching 50 per cent renewable energy and the solar and wind plants already under construction will take it to her 60 per cent within the next two years.

future grid renewables by state

Victoria is expected to be the next state to follow, given it is the only other state with a legislated renewable energy target. But the roadmap also suggests Western Australia will quickly adopt renewables, reading 48 per cent by 2030, even though it has not yet a formal target, but plans to pull back the massive subsidies to fossil fuel generation in the state.

The targets will require significant amounts of new renewable energy generation to be built at various points as fossil fuel plant, particularly large coal fired power stations, are retired.

“To achieve deep decarbonisation while keeping the lights on, it’s likely the eastern states will depend on the equivalent of 25 new large-scale solar or windfarms being built in just a five year window with new building activity focussing on Victoria in the 2020s, New South Wales and Queensland in the 2030s and Victoria and Queensland in the 2040s,” Graham said.

But the biggest change remains the “behind the meter” investment by households and businesses. If this is done right, the CSIRO and ENA say, it will reduce network costs by 30 per cent, cut household bills by between $400 and $600 a year, and save a total of $100 billion in spending on networks over the “centralised” or business as usual scenario.

ENA chief John Bradley notes that by 2030, the amount of solar  in the current leading state, Queensland, will increase by more than 500 per cent, with more than 10,000 MWh in small-scale battery storage. By that time, the solar capacity will be greater than the current coal capacity.

 

This is what Audrey Zibelman of the Australian Energy Market Operator describes as the “consumer-led” transition, that will result in a grid that is cheaper, cleaner, faster and more reliable than the current one.

AEMO understands this, the networks understand this, most other energy insiders understand this too. Bradley says in the consultations held since the last version of the report was released in December has been positive.

“There has been a surprising strong level of support for the et of measures for roadmap,” he said. “The need for a clear transition plan seems to be widely endorsed.”

So, what’s the delay?

  

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  • trackdaze

    Agl to start getting out of coal by 2022?

    Tomorrow is a promise to no one.

    • Joe

      It is really laughable from AGL. We are in 2017 and they want to park the bus until 2022 before starting the engine. But when they own all those “stranded assets”, aka coal fired power stations, they want to party for as long as they can. Now if we had a price on carbon emissions AGL wouldn’t be missing in action until 2022.

      • Alastair Leith

        especially the ones they bought within the last decade in the full knowledge that they were buying stranded assets at fire sale prices with no social licence. But hey, they know “things have to change”. What is this, “The Leopard”? change a bit so things can stay the same il duce?

    • Chris Fraser

      It was going to be 2050. A slightly improved promise perhaps.

    • Rod

      AGL gives us the finger.

  • Robert Comerford

    Despite all of this, what do we get as a lead story on 9 national news 2 nights ago?
    “Average power bills to rise by $400 a year due to closing coal fired power stations and renewables”

    • Joe

      Yeah gotta Channel 9…is that one of Rupert’s ?

      • drescaped

        Not at the moment.

      • Alastair Leith

        Even ABC are running this kind of nonsense. Not that exact story but similarly incorrect assumptions about the nature of energy grids. And said with such authority by journalists and presenters of flagship TV current affairs shows. People who for the most part specialise in nothing more than regurgitating Media Statements with a smile here and a knowing look there and running “he said, she said” analysis when not just doing downright celebrity/pollie gossip columns.

    • MaxG

      I am glad I do not watch TV… didn’t know people still watch it… what on earth is there to see?

  • Gordon Bossley
    • Joe

      Thanks Gordon, just did the survey.

  • Joe

    I am all in favour of 100% renewable by 2050. Looking at the charts there is a huge leap from 2030 to 2050 to get to 100% emissions free. How are we going to get there when Turnbull is pushing ‘Big Coal’ like Adani / Carmichael and ‘Big Gas’ with pipelines from all over the country…I don’t suppose Turnbull will turn of the fossil fuel taps in 2049 ?

    • Tom

      Turnbull won’t be there for long.

      • Alastair Leith

        Agree. Reminding more and more of Barnett every day. Loads of cheshire cat smiles, flipping ineffectual and transparently so.

    • Ian

      Seriously, he will be part of the atmospheric CO2 as will most of us by 2049:(

  • ben

    Yes but electricity is only a proportion of our emissions. What about transport, non-electricity industrial energy uses and in particular agriculture? The latter especially given how significant its CO2e emissions are – land clearing and cattle agriculture need to be similarly wound back. Can you imagine how difficult, nay impossible this will be??

    • RobSa

      You are correct. Reform of the electricity sector alone is like celebrating the recovery of a broken arm when the other three limbs remain injured.

      • Ian

        There are four ways we harness energy differentials for our needs. Direct heat transfer such as fires, solar hot water systems, North facing windows, insulation . Human and animal power: walking,riding, carrying, pulling. Chemical/mechanical: pistons, linkages, drive shafts, planes, rockets ,ICE cars, sailing boats: Electrical, the most sophisticated of all. You cannot power modern transportation without electricity, you just need to find an effective way of transferring the energy produced by a stationary generator to the mode of transport. The problem is that liquid fuels are so cheap and well established that we don’t even realise that we need them so much. The alternatives have been very much hopeless up to now. The low hanging fruit is the electricity grid and we are seeing some momentum there. Electrified public transport, trains, trams, buses etc have their place but struggle in this country to fully cover people’s transport needs. What remains is to electrify private transport. This is in its infancy, and we rely on the energy and efforts of one man in the whole world to do the job, rather pathetic , a Goliath, or a Hercules, to fight our battles for us. Better not say it, but we are doomed.

        • RobSa

          How about electric planes?

          The problem for someone like me is that its getting very difficult to actually get in a fossil-fueled car. Public transport yes, but to generate a conventional vehicle trip seems like a burden too great to ask from society, especially when their is no tangible policy to mitigate global heating. I really don’t know how some people with huge carbon footprints look into the eyes of young people. I guess they choose not to consider the consequence of their actions and think I will not be alive when the temperature anomaly is 3 or 4 degrees hotter.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c1839eb382dcf3667b66b5afc894611bd6f48d0487b27489bbc28559d425cbea.png

          • Alastair Leith

            Hyperloop over land. Some kind of submerged hyperloop that emerges above water for the period a large shuttle is passing through it? Don’t know but this is the golden age of engineering and if the emissions on aircraft were costed at $200/t like all emissions could be if we really cared then you’d see either massive reforestation of desserts and marginal land to “offset” aircraft and some new tech. Four seater electric craft with electric fan propulsion are in development. Some students got a few million in funding for one with about 20 fans that has a 300km range. Major corporates playing in this space too. As soon as there is a Tesla to force their hands they’ll all jump on.

          • Joe

            Electric planes you ask RobSa. Solar Impulse 2 just went around the world on solar charged batteries. Just like the Wright Brothers…from small things, big things grow, yes.

          • RobSa

            Yuri Gagarin and his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth in 1961. 55 years later journeys into outer space are rare. We don’t have time for experiments as you suggest or for things like clean coal and gradual market transitions.

            Imagine if instead of banning the gases which created the hole in the ozone layer we relied on unproven methods to remedy the problem with a hopeful wink. Its too late for that. Everyday we do something other than limit your production of greenhouse gas emissions we contribute to an environmental process which undermines everything we cherish. Its not a debate, its not a game, everything is at risk and its a very inconvenient truth. Many people have a long way to come before they truly comprehend our situation.

            Motorsports. Just what are we going to do about the emissions from motorsports? Nothing or something? Tinker around the edges for years to come or shut it down as soon as possible? This should of all been worked through in the 1990s and implemented since but decades later and the discussions are only happening on the fringes, let alone are real progress to decarbonisation.

          • Joe

            Just ban motorsport altogether. It isn’t “sport” at all.

        • Alastair Leith

          Tony Seba says there will be a 13 year transition to full EV dominance over ICE for light vehicle road transport IIRC. tonyseba.com

          His thesis is not without substantiation. Check out his talks.

          • Hayden

            Seba also says the last ICE vehicle will be built by 2024. I think he’s on the right track, but 2024, I can’t see it.

          • Alastair Leith

            well that’s the interesting thing about the future isn’t it?

            Most of the IT world dismissed the iPhone as a toy when it came out. Apple has since paid out US$50 billion to software developers selling on the iOS platform and moved over a billion iPhones at the highest profit margin in the smart phone business.

          • Ian

            Thanks for that, this country has a manufacturing opportunity second to none . With the world’s transition to EV there will be vast demand for batteries. If one gigafactory can produce enough batteries for 1/2 million cars, and the world registers 70 million new cars a year, the world will need 140 gigafactories just for cars. That is the daunting task but also the unparalleled opportunity..

        • Hi – I live 100km from the supermarket. I am 68 and live entirely on solar, firewood and a little fuel, about 30l per month. That includes tractor and chainsaws (working on an electric larger battery version for that too). I regularly use an electric trike or power-assisted bicycle charged on solar. I have done trips up to 1000km at 68 years of age with the trike. It is very light, pedals powered as well as 350W of motor, and I can get 200km per day as a max when the sun shines. The answer is not in large, power guzzling vehicles. It’s in light transport, even in remote areas it works. We are just a sadly oversupplied collection of spoilt grown ups who will have to choose between cutting back or being the last generation or two. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8b77bb447c0b452dfa711924eb018da55f1442ac82d62b05409ba3b0a67b92fa.jpg

          • Joe

            Awesome set of wheels in the picture…and what a story to go with it. I am 59 years of age and I thought I was doing rather well riding my two wheeler Malvern Star to Dee Why most days as well as daily to Collaroy Beach for my rockypool / ocean swim sessions. More power ( Solar as well as Human ) to you youngster!

          • Hi Joe – good on you – it’s all going towards a better outcome for us all. I hope ….

          • Rod

            Totally agree re light transport. Forget your Tesla. Give me a Bafang BBSHD and a deadly treadlie any day.
            Looks like a Bafang on your sweet ride Kay.
            Electric bikes are such a hoot everyone should have one.

      • ben

        Obviously I support moves to renewable low emissions technology and power generation. I would like to see agriculture put on the table for discussion around major emissions reductions

    • Dissenter

      As usual. Just promoting of solar rooftop.

    • trackdaze

      First things first.

    • Alastair Leith

      BZE Land Use Report has Ag at 54% of national emission once you include all the emissions hidden from UNFCCC methodology and put LULUCF emissions in with ag where they belong. 90% of this is associated with ruminant livestock, mostly cattle in QLD and NT. Major three sources Enteric Fermentation, Savannah burning, and land clearing, land clearing being a whooper.

      And yet strangely all I hear is silence on it from eNGOs and Climate scientists who speak in public. May they are consulting to the livestock industry on the side? Notable exception that proves the rule is QLD land clearing issues which TWS have been campaigning on and many eNGOs talk about but usually in context of forestry not livestock production. And there’s no mention of the QLD land clearing being for cattle, themselves a major source of emissions that in totality of their production footprint Out Emit The NEM. By a long margin.

      • ben

        Exactly right @alastairleith:disqus. But if getting phasing out coal and gas is difficult to put on the table, you can only see how difficult it is to have agriculture included. This needs to be a major change to the Australian economy, and will involve bringing the agri-business sector which makes so much money out of animal exports, dairy and meat production under some sort of carbon pricing. Not to mention biodiversity loss or indeed animal welfare issues. Irrigated dairy for example along the Murray irrigation zone has grown rapidly over the past decade and is a major cause of nutrient influx, GHG emissions and of course water use. The Nationals in power make any discussion on this impossible.

    • The aborigines managed it for 40,000 years.

      • ben

        Yes but they did it with a much lower population, and were obviously not running a large modern consumer economy. They also made use of firestick methods, the ash from which can be detected in the fossil records, and were responsible for the extinction of several species of megafauna, to it was not all “green”.

  • Alan S

    For those in South Australia who want to speed up the process there’s a rally in Adelaide to promote a solar thermal-storage power station for Port Augusta. It’s this Sunday, 30th April 12-30 pm on Parliament House steps, North Terrace.

    • Alastair Leith

      There in spirit!

  • “So what’s the delay?” A hidebound, backward-looking, corrupt and ignorant government, and a political system irrelevant to the 21st century. We have known for maybe 50 years or more what was coming, but our moronic 3 / 4 year election cycles, our colonial constitution’s silly pre-occupations, our backdoor political process, our retarded ruling class, and our media theatre with a few corrupt / deluded puppet masters, and a brain-lazy, beer soaked, spoilt population have made this state of decay possible. Now it’s time to wear the results. see http://www.lifesupportinternational.org for some relevant notions.

    • MaxG

      Yeah baby! :))

    • Ian

      I nearly vomited when I read your manifesto, it sucks big time. I would rather stick to what we have got thank you.

      • Ian – did you read the downloads? Also, it’s not a manifesto – it’s how I see it after watching it for 50 years of adult life. Your lack of constructive criticism just reflects the Australian brain-laziness, the thoughtless, beer or dope-soaked attitude which leaves you a zombie at 45 or so. A life of shortcuts, that takes you around in ever-smaller circles. Until you disappear up your own rear entrance. That’s what happens when you get to age care.

        • Greg Hudson

          I think you meant ‘rear exit’ not ‘rear entrance’ unless you are talking about the new ‘Arse-Vac’ from Godfreys… On special at just $99 until end of May 17 😉

    • First world country with third world politics and heading for even less capability, unless it can get its act together.

  • Tim Forcey

    This Energy Networks Australia study is happy to feature fuel-switching from petrol to electricity…,

    …but degasification of buildings? Not so much.

    Degasification of buildings will have a big financial impact on gas networks in in Australia.

    • Tom

      It won’t matter if there’s no gas because it’s all been sold overseas.

      • Tim Forcey

        With rising gas prices, the economics are now compelling for operating homes and other buildings on zero gas.

        What I am pointing out here is that ENA study did not allow analysis of any economics (compelling or otherwise) that negatively impact (reduce) the use of the gas distribution grid or that impair the finances of those that own that at-risk infrastructure.

        All that is said is:

        “While increasing electrification of buildings could offer some modest benefits for efficient electricity capacity utilisation, this might be at the cost of a greater reduction in capacity utilisation in gas, due to the disproportionately large shift in gas for each unit of loss of market share to electricity.”

        • Ian

          Household gas flows because many people use it. As households switch to electrical heating so the market for town gas will shrink, the economics of scale will be lost and this service will rapidly disappear. Like a switch it would be toggled off. If that happens, then the dispatchability of gas generators will be lost , simply because they will be the only consumers of gas and not one among many.

          • Alastair Leith

            that’s optimistic! hope you are correct that’s for sure.

  • John Leslie

    One problem with this. The state governments don’t talk or trust each other. None of the states talk or trust the federal government. And the Federal government only listens to establishment business and each other.

    • How many levels of government do we really need for what is a relatively small population??

      • Alan S

        Two – a national government that creates a single set of legislation and some decent size (like Brisbane) to administer it.

  • Dissenter

    To save climate, the most important contribution of Australia is to stop export of coal.

    • trackdaze

      That’s happening. But its not at australias initiative.

    • Alastair Leith

      And fossil gas!

  • Dissenter

    Tiny Belgium, just 10 million people, far from the equator, has over 3 GW PV. In the meantime: Australia exports coal.

  • Noel Wauchope

    This is probably not the place to mention this. But what ever IS the place? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c615f410f0de01bb4bcee47a1834abe1430d82fa037c31be91d4649231b78ad7.gif

    Renewables should cost more, because the rare earths needed should be sourced as safely and cleanly as possible. We must develop awareness of the dirty “front end” of rare earths. We must develop means of design for recycling, and also continue to promote energy conservation.

    • Alastair Leith

      Rare earth minerals aren’t rare but as you say China has gobbled up the market for them by doing it in such a cheap and dirty way that we in the west are more than happy to outsource our environmental pollution and unhealthy labour practices to China thanks very much. What to do about this and every other china engine room economy problem? I don’t know.

      On the positive side, scientists have developed lab chemical processes for organic sugar batteries and all sorts of much cleaner tech. I think there’s a whole generation of industrial chemists and product designers who both value and prioritise these issues now. The market is starting to also.

      • Noel Wauchope

        Thank you Alastair. Good to see someone else acknowledging the problem. Also good to know that work is being done on the vital issue of clean processing.

        It should be becoming important to Australia. Australian company Lynas got a bad name in Malaysia, for poor planning for its rare earths processing plant. (They showed an extraordinary ignorance of Malaysia dire history of pollution from rare earths processing). Now Arafura plans to mine and process rare earths in NT, near Alice Springs. Environmental protection must be at the forefront.

        • MaxG

          Not with the major parties in play! They can’t even spell environment, let along protect it.

  • Mike Dill

    Quote: The big risk, the networks say, is that without the right pricing
    signals, many customers will simply leave the
    grid.
    I bet that the percentage will be higher than 10%. Maybe twice that amount.

  • john

    It is pretty simple just put as much PV on your roof as possible and get some battery storage that will cover your usage for at least 2 or preferably 3 days, then once the dunces inside the retail industry wake up to the fact your an energy storage unit perhaps you can enable transmission from those batteries at you’r choosing.
    Perhaps the network operators may in fact decide to deal with you as well as many others to try to get some flow into their grid.

    • RobSa

      30% of Australians households don’t own the roof above their heads.

  • Alastair Leith

    “The key measures, the report says, are having a stable, bipartisan, and ambitious climate policy (40 per cent reduction in 2005 emissions by 2030), cost reflective network pricing (to ensure that peak demand is addressed) and clear transition plans at state level for the local networks.”

    Well I think that is not commensurate with the Paris 2º aspiration at all (2035 zero emissions according to Kevin Anderson Deputy Director of TyndallºCentre for CC Research for high p.c. emitters of which Australia is the highest). But say it was. The NEM (or SWIS if you’re lucky enough to be in WA) is about 25% of national emissions using UNFCCC (and I’d dispute that accounting too but that’s for another time). And in order to ‘decarbonise’ Transport, Space Heating, Industrial Processes, Buildings we need electrification of processes currently burning fossil fuels. And for that we need a 100% RE grid. So the NEM and SWIS need to be 100% RE or pretty dam close by 2025 at the latest I’d say or we’re just kidding ourselves (like we have done for the last three decades).

    Antarctica is melting, at least the Western Peninsula is considered in terminal declines and preindustrial polar temperatures would be required to refreeze the land/sea interface glacier system to hold back the land ice. Eastern could be on the way to same. Arctic tundra and sea floor melt could release anthropogenic scale methane and COx bombs at any time, we just don’t know the rates of change around that, and it’s not factored into the IPCC ERPs. There’s no carbon budget left, there’s no time for thinking about starting to get out of fossils, you’re part of the future or part of the destruction of civilisation and every endemic species and ecosystem in Australia.

    • baseload renewables

      Indeed. It was once (well, many times) said by the late Dr. Albert Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics of the University of Colorado, that “the greatest failure of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function”.

    • Hayden

      Joe Romm, April 18; 7,000 massive methane gas bubbles under the Russian permafrost could explode at any time. Scorching March brings Arctic temperatures up to 20 degrees F above normal.

      In general, the Arctic warms about twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

      We are putting the heat of 400,000 Hiroshima bombs into the atmosphere, every single day.

      Enjoy the rest of your day.