Australia's main grid reaches 50 per cent renewables for first time | RenewEconomy

Australia’s main grid reaches 50 per cent renewables for first time

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Renewables beat 50 per cent milestone for main grid for first time on Wednesday, as wind, solar and hydro beat coal and gas.

Baroota Solar Farm
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Australia’s main grid – known as the National Electricity Market – broke through the 50 per cent benchmark for renewable energy in one trading period on Wednesday, the first time that half of net demand had been met by renewables.

The milestone was reached at 1150 (NEM time, which is AEST), when the combined output of rooftop solar, large-scale wind, and large-scale solar reached 50.2 per cent of the near 25GW being produced on the main grid, which includes Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, but not Western Australia or the Northern Territory.

Rooftop solar provided nearly half the renewables output, or 23.7 per cent, followed by wind (15.7 per cent), large-scale solar (8.8 per cent) and hydro just 1.9 per cent.

The share of renewables might have been bigger were it not for four out of five solar farms in Victoria being constrained to 50 per cent of their output, along with the Broken Hill solar farm, and another solar farm in South Australia , Tailem Bend, was switched off due to low prices.


This graph above from the Energy Transition Hub’s OpenNem widget marks the occasion. It notes that batteries and pumped hydro were also in action, soaking up some of the cheap electricity on offer (prices in some states were hovering near zero at the time).

Indeed, in a later trading interval, while renewables were still contributing 49.7 per cent of net demand, the prices across all the mainland states in the NEM were at zero, or at least just above.

“It’s a magnificent and pivotal milestone,” said Angus Gemmell, the head of Solar Choice, who brought the milestone to our attention.

“At the beginning of the decade South Australia’s power system ran on more than 50 per cent wind and solar for the first time, but today it happens all the time,” Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said in emailed comments.

“It is a fantastic achievement to have more than half of the National Electricity Market powered by renewable energy, and it’s worth celebrating.

“A decade from now it will be completely normal as more renewable energy and storage projects are built to replace retiring coal-fired power stations.”Renewables and storage can do everything our old coal plants can do, just cheaper, cleaner and more reliably.”

Of course, 50 per cent renewables across the main grid represented the Labor target for 2030 branded as “reckless” by the current Coalition government, although Labor’s target was based on a year average, and would probably require double the amount of renewables currently in the grid, which average just over 20 per cent on an annualised basis.
Still, rooftop solar is being installed at record levels, at more than 207MW installed in the month of October alone, and nearly 2GW on an annualised basis, and there is up to 100GW – and more, according to some analysts – queued in the pipeline waiting for a federal government policy, state government auctions, and more network capacity.

State Labor governments such as Victoria and Queensland currently have 50 per cent renewable energy targets for 2030. Tasmania is already at 100 per cent, thanks to its dominant hydro supply, supplemented by wind.

South Australia has reached more than 50 per cent renewables (based on wind and solar alone which is world-leading), and aims to reach “net 100 per cent renewables by 2030, and more in the years to follow. This story goes into some detail on the way the state Liberal government is thinking about the energy transition and the economic opportunities it offers.

NSW currently has the lowest renewables share, along with Queensland, currently at 13 per cent. NSW has no interim target but a long term target of zero net carbon by 2050. And, of course, the ACT – which forms part of the NSW grid – has reached its 2020 target of sourcing the equivalent of all of its annual electricity consumption from wind and solar farms it has contracted.

At the time of today’s milestone for the main grid, South Australia was supplying more than its local demand needs from wind and solar, as it often does, Victoria was supplying 53 per cent from renewables, Queensland 45 per cent and NSW 37 per cent (and importing 16 per cent).

Some experts suggest Australia could go far beyond 50 per cent annualised by 2030. Professor Ross Garnaut, for instance, thinks 100 per cent renewables is possible by the early 2030s, part of a stepping stone towards becoming an “energy superpower.”

These thoughts are echoed by Darren Miller, the CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, who has spoken of the possibility of “700 per cent” renewables in the future, and who, like Garnaut, sees the opportunities for driving new export industries such as “green hydrogen” and “green metals”.

According to ITK analyst David Leitch, wind and solar provided 18.7 per cent of the main grid’s production on an annualised basis in recent months, while coal output has fallen 8 per cent.

The federal energy minister Angus Taylor says there is already too much wind and solar in the system.

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  1. Rob 9 months ago

    Nice to see my plant design has become real in that photo 🙂

  2. john rattray 9 months ago

    Interesting economics with break even for renewables somewhere around $40 per MWh depending on financing costs. Lots of people (probably us through badly advised super funds) losing lots and lots of money.

  3. Ray Miller 9 months ago

    6th November 2019 will go down in history achieving 50% renewables. A good way to start the next COAG meeting later this month, the sky did not fall. I notice CleanCo took advantage of the midday solar and low prices to pump flat out.
    Time now to kick it up a gear and install more renewables and get that SA – NSW transmission line done.

    • Michael Murray 9 months ago

      Plus some pumped hydro in SA. I’ve seen lots of plans but doesn’t seem to be any digging started yet.

  4. Peter Farley 9 months ago

    So if a couple of coal plants in NSW and Victoria had collapsed there was about 1 GW of solar and about 5 GW of mainland hydro in reserve. Tasmania was importing about 400 MW at the time so in fact it could have reversed supply by about 900 MW. Total unused renewables about 6-7 GW. In addition about 9 GW of gas was unused while coal was generating 12 GW. Thus it is entirely possible that using all the constrained renewables with gas and hydro at 60% capacity we could have run coal free.

    What must be even more worrying for coal supporters is that there is only about 10 GW of grid scale wind and solar operating at the moment with another 16 GW financed on the NEM according to the CEC. These new plants have generally higher CFs than existing plants and by 2022 there will also be another 8 GW behind the meter, the net effect is that coal and gas generation will probably fall by about half over the next 3 years

    • Rod 9 months ago

      Hence their desperation and delaying tactics.

    • Craig Fryer 9 months ago

      Some hydro has to be run when the water is needed for water needs, not for power generation needs. Thus some hydro can’t be completely turned off and used later..In addition there isn’t enough water to run the hydro flat out for extended periods.

      Regarding RE in the pipeline I suspect we are going to see more projects delayed or cancelled due to difficulties obtaining finance due to transmission uncertainty and price certainty, particularly with grid scale solar.

  5. solarguy 9 months ago

    There is too much Anxious Failure in the political system.

  6. Alan Wilson 9 months ago

    Well done to everyone that has solar on there roof … l hope this summer we well see another 50 days of over 50% RE if the state governments get behide it , it could be more … and l look forward to 5 to 6 hours a day of over 50% RE and turning off the coal plants….

    • Bob Smith 9 months ago

      We cannot afford to turn off the coal plants over summer because of the evening peak over summer unless you want blackouts? When the sun stops shining and wind stops blowing and the coal plants are off, the power comes from where exactly?

  7. Ian 9 months ago

    The 50% achievement is fantastic and surely this will become commonplace, but it was achieved according to the article, by dialing down the gas generation, withholding hydro, and pushing black coal to its lowest minimum. There was still wind and solar in curtailment. An all you can eat buffet with just too much on offer.

    If the coal assets cannot deliver any less than about the 12GW, then pumped hydro will have to be utilised to the full. There is a reasonable amount of pumped hydro already in the NEM, just over 2GW of this. Utilising the excess power generation in the midday to recharge the pumped hydro storage facilities will be a solution to the excess generating capacity at present but the turkey nest dams can only take so much water and need to be discharged at night . Which other generators will reduce output and see their market share eroded by PHES? Gas seems the obvious choice for curtailment as it’s the most expensive, coal can maintain its absolute minimum generating ability into the evening.

    We have probably reached the point where older generating capacity needs to retire otherwise negative pricing events will start to extend into the night.

    The irony is that AGL has Liddell power station which is really the next contestant to leave the house, and it owns the large wind farm nearing completion in Queensland. They will want their new asset to start earning money, but it won’t if prices stay negative due to excessive coal.

    The energy game has just taken an interesting turn with this 50% milestone, which generators will depart under this race to the bottom of electricity demand and prices?

    • Jason Watson 9 months ago

      The pumped hydro from Snowy 2.0 and Tasmania’a battery of the nation project address the need for storage in the medium term.

    • Seriously...? 9 months ago

      Coal has actually gone lower in absolute terms when demand has been lower. Yesterday was actually a pretty average day for demand, being a weekday.

  8. JoeR_AUS 9 months ago

    Good news but let’s not get cocky as we’re a 1/4 way there, as we need 200% during the day to then power the night‼️

  9. Chris Ruwoldt 9 months ago

    Surplus electricity supply means cheap power, and cheap power will help us move into the next age of energy. In particular cheap power means that clean hydrogen will get a boost. The age of hydrogen is almost upon us.

  10. Manjula 9 months ago

    Congratulations Australia for tireless efforts in achieving the significance land mark in the energy industry.
    keep up the good work.

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