Audrey Zibelman, the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, has made a call for some sort of policy certainty, and new market mechanisms, repeating her view that the shift to renewable energy is unstoppable, but needs to be managed.
“The move to renewable energy is going to happen anyway, we just need to make sure we have the systems that produce the best outcomes for consumers,” Zibelman said at the AFR energy summit in Sydney on Monday.
Zibleman again cited the 21,000MW of wind and solat plants queuing for a place on the national electricity grid, but the “inevitable” transition she is speaking about is not on the shift in large scale generation – because that will depend on the shape of policy – but in small scale generation deployed by consumers.
She produced these three graph to illustrate her point and the challenges ahead. The first (above) represents the anticipated uptake of solar and storage by hosueholdes and businesses as they respond to the falling costs of those technologies, and the rising cost of grid power, which has reached absurdly high levels.
The new boom in household and business solar is already taking shape, heading to 1GW for the first time in 2017. AEMO’s figures, borrowed from last year’s CSIRO report, anticipate that to be repeated every year until 2030.
Battery storage will then follow.
The second graph (above) is how this uptake is transforming the grid and they way it is managed. This is the emerging “duck curve” in South Australia, or the “emu curve” as Zibelman sometimes calls it.
It is where AEMO predicts average midday demand will more than halve between now and 2030, from around 1800MW in 2009 (the top line in the graph) to below 700MW by 2030, all due to the huge uptake in rooftop solar.
AEMO has previously warned that “minimum” demand will fall to zero within a decade on certain days, and already it has experienced falls in demand to below 600MW.
The disconcerting aspect of this graph, however, seems to suggest that the electric hot water systems will remain untouched even out to 2030.
They were put there to make up for the deficiencies of inflexible baseload coal generators, but now that they have gone surely a smarter thing to do is to shift them to the midday “solar sponge” and introduce some flexibility into the way they are managed.
Flexibility will be the key, as this graph above illustrates, noting the huge fluctuations of wind power (the purple line) that occurred just recently in the same state. She said battery storage was important to minimise the “ramp rates” caused by the fluctuating renewables.
Flexibility is also at the top of the armory put together by Zibelman to cope with heat-waves this coming summer, where the greatest risk remains the unexpected failure of a major coal or gas generator.
Zibelman said she has assembled more than 1830MW to help deal with the summer peak loads, including around 830MW of previously mothballed gas capacity, the new Tesla big battery and 1,000MW of demand response from tenders managed by AEMO, ARENA and three state governments, details of which are also due to be released this week.
It is interesting to note that in Queensland, supposedly with the youngest and most ample fleet of fossil fuel generators in the country, has also issued a warning that households and businesses, such are its concerns about the ability of the grid to withstand heat waves.
The government has told consumers that households and business could be asked to set their air-conditioners at 26°C, and died loads such as pool pumped and hot water may also be varied to deal with the impacts of extreme heat, which caused coal and gas generators to lose capacity last summer.
This is not an issue about large scale renewables, because Queensland doesn’t have any to speak of (yet), although it will open its second large scale solar farm, the 100MW Ross River facility, some time over summer.
This is more about the capacibilities of an ageing grid. It is the issue that keeps the people at AEMO awake at night, and why Zibelman says she cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no outages this summer.