Powering Australia with 100 per cent renewable energy is not only possible by as early as 2030, but would be a “cheaper and less risky” way forward for the national electricity market than building new coal-fired power, a new report has claimed.
The report, published on Wednesday by the Alternative Technology Association, says a 100 per cent renewable grid could be achieved by 2030, and generate power at a cost of around $93/MWh, by ramping up wind and solar installations, and balancing that with pumped hydro energy storage and extra transmission lines.
The ATA bases its forecast on recent research by the Australian National University, while factoring in recent trends and developments such as the new lows for the cost of large-scale solar, and new projects like the federal government-backed Snow Hydro 2.0.
“Fully-renewable operation of the National Electricity Market requires 93,300 MW of renewable generation capacity, according to the ANU,” the report says.
“If construction of wind and solar generation continues at the 2017 rate, this level will be attained in 2040. To reach this milestone by 2030 would require an acceleration of 80% from the 2017 rate.”
Put simply, it says, if Australia “commences a proper effort” to roll out renewables by early 2018, a fully-renewable electricity grid is achievable by 2030.
“This 12-year timeframe allows for the renewable industry to ramp up its capacity prior to a full-speed rollout in the final decade.”
Notably, the speed of the transition is almost entirely determined by the wind and solar component of the equation, with energy storage requirements “largely covered” by 2025, assuming the construction of the Snowy Hydro scheme and new hydro in Tasmania, using existing dams.
This doesn’t bode well against latest modelling for the federal Coalition’s proposed National Energy Guarantee, which – as Giles Parkinson writes here, today – confirms the new policy would effectively shut the door on new renewable investment at national level in the next decade.
The modelling – included in a new 50 page document prepared by the Energy Security Board for the COAG energy ministers meeting on Friday – suggests adopting the NEG would add an extra 1 per cent of renewable capacity compared to doing nothing over a whole decade.
Of course, this does not factor in the states, whose much more ambitious renewable energy targets and climate policies are, arguably, already demonstrating what can be done, with relatively little effort and for a lower cost than fossil fuels.
But the fact remains that at the federal level, the political appetite for renewables appears to have all but disappeared in the LNP ranks, while a far-right led campaign to build new coal plant in northern Queensland remains firmly on the table.
On this front, however, the ATA report is unequivocal – new coal just doesn’t cut it on cost. And anyway, why would you build it in this climate constrained world, when you can run the grid safely and reliably on 100 per cent renewables?
But for those who still don’t get it, here’s how the ATA breaks it down:
“Costs for coal-fired power stations are not reducing,” the report says. “Old coal-fired generators have been able to supply cheap electricity primarily because their financing was paid off decades
ago, and cheap coal supplies had been available.
“A new coal-fired power station would have neither of these advantages. It would also have to contend with modern labour costs and regulations. Future trends affect decisions being made today. Approving, designing and building a coal-fired power station would take many years. By the time it opened it would be competing against the next generation of cheaper wind and solar.”
All said and done, the report estimates that electricity from new-build coal-fired power stations would likely cost between $81 and $182 per megawatt hour – a cost that quickly increases to a range of $102 to $203 once hidden health impacts and climate impacts are factored in.
Meanwhile, in a fully renewable electricity grid, electricity would cost about $93 per megawatt hour – including the cost of building energy storage and extra transmission to manage intermittency.
But in a debate where costs and climate science seem to get glossed over, Andrew Reddaway – ATA energy analyst and the report’s lead author – stresses the importance of policy catching up with the realities of current technology – not to mention current climate science.
“Australia should prepare a proper plan for 100% renewable energy, and implement it,” he said. “Decisions should not be left to separate companies driven by short-term profits because this might lead to a poor overall system.”
Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.