The proposed 2,000MW Star of the South project – what would be Australia’s first offshore wind farm – says it can cover the loss of an early exit of Yallourn, one of Victoria’s three remaining brown coal generators.
Yallourn was not scheduled to close until around 2032, although the Australian Energy Market Operator has now factored in a “staged” closure – unit by unit – from around 2029. But there are many energy analysts who believe Yallourn might not last that long because of its age, the cost of maintenance and its lack of flexibility as more renewables enter the system.
Enter, stage left, the $10 billion Star of the South projects. Its backers have been working for some years on the proposed offshore wind farm – just off the coast of the Latrobe Valley brown coal generators – and is currently pushing for changes to Australia’s environmental acts to allow for the project to proceed to the next stage.
In a submission to AEMO, on the subject of new transmission link options between Victoria and NSW known as VNI West, Star of the South says the new infrastructure investment may not be needed.
“Our modelling shows the Star of the South has the capacity to almost wholly, and reliably, cover the generation shortfall of a Yallourn exit and it would do so, bereft of any short-term transmission upgrade to VNI West,” Star of the South says in its submission.
It also says a project of the scale it is proposing – 2,000MW – should give it a higher preference over a multitude of other projects (up to 20) that might be required to make up the shortfall from a closure of Yallourn. And it says it has the added advantage of generating most of its wind output at different times to the big wind farms centred mostly around western Victoria.
“Our independent third-party modelling shows that during residual peak demand the project has a very high capacity factor and strong inverse correlation to Western Victorian wind projects by virtue of systematic high-pressure climatic conditions that usually prevail in Bass Strait during exceptional hot weather.”
Star of the South – owned by its Australian founders and Australian founders and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) is hopeful that the “Offshore Clean Energy Bill”, which will pave the legislative path to such projects – will be introduced into the Parliament this year.
It has already begun technical and environmental studies off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria, including studies of the seabed and surrounding marine environment.
Offshore wind has taken off in Europe, and more recently in Asia and the US, with a speed that has defied expectations, bringing down prices to the point where new projects are being bid into the market at “zero subsidy”.
Part of this is due to increased output, with bigger turbines (now reaching up to 14MW each), higher hub heights and larger swept areas that harvest more electricity from the same resource than older machines pushing capacity factors to an average of more than 50 per cent in countries like the UK and Denmark, with some projects reaching the mid 60s in capacity factor terms.
It is not clear, however, what capacity factor or the assumed levelised cost of generation Star of the South would be expecting in a “first of the kind” project in Australia.
But it is arguing that its potential means that it should be considered a “credible” option for the future grid, in the same way that AEMO considers the Snowy 2.0 and Tasmania’s proposed “Battery of the Nation” pumped hydro projects.
“We believe there is merit in considering a state of the world where the Star of the South is built and fully commissioned by early 2027 as Australia’s first offshore wind farm,” it says.
“The development team in Melbourne is currently 35 strong and expected to grow to 50 within the next six months. In November 2019 we deployed floating LiDARs to monitor wind and wave conditions. We have commenced formal planning and environmental assessment processes to ensure the project can be ready in time for forecast coal exits.”
Other analysts have also looked at the options to deal with an early closure of Yallourn, with Reputex last year pointing to a mix of accelerated renewables, rooftop solar, battery storage, virtual power plants and demand management to deal with an anticipated closure as early as 2023.
Another analyst wrote that it could be handled with a big increase in battery storage.See: How 1GW of grid batteries could see Yallourn coal generator close in 12 months.
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