CSIRO sees $100bn savings in zero carbon grid by 2050 | RenewEconomy

CSIRO sees $100bn savings in zero carbon grid by 2050

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CSIRO and network lobby says completely decarbonised grid by 2050, mostly wind and solar and homes and businesses providing half of all needs, will save $100 billion in capital savings, one-quarter off customer bills, and deliver system security. Say goodbye to fossil fuels.

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csriro oz 2050A major new study by the CSIRO and the main networks lobby says a decarbonised energy grid by 2050, with half of generation produced and stored locally, will save billions in upfront capital costs and consumer bills, and deliver a secure electricity system.

(See also out story CSIRO, networks put lie to conservative campaign against wind and solar).

In a direct rebuff to the renewable energy scare campaign and myth-making being played out in the political arena, the premier scientific body and Energy Networks Australia say that wind and solar will provide nearly all our electricity needs by 2050, and the system will be cheaper for all customers.

The Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap released on Tuesday builds on the Future Grid scenarios put together by CSIRO and the ENA and others in the past two years, which mostly highlighted the massive change in our electricity system, driven by the falling costs of renewable energy and storage and a major shift to distributed generation.

This latest study, however, looks at the possible strategies that could meet those scenarios, working on the assumption that business as usual is untenable and unsustainable, and would be economically destructive, both in terms of electricity costs and other impacts.

Its outcomes that might seem extraordinary to those wedded to the idea of centralised, fossil fuel-based systems, and who argue that only coal and gas can provide cheap, reliable power. The network owners and scientists say the best way to reliable and affordable energy is through renewables and local generation –  it suggests that nearly half of all generation will be local, on site in homes, business and communities.

Wind and solar will provide nearly all generation by 2050, with a significant amount – between one-third and one-half – coming from the nation’s rooftops. Battery storage in homes and business, and located on the grid, or at renewable energy installations, will balance the output and provide most network stability services.

On top of this, this scenario will save $100 billion in upfront capital costs over business as usual, and also deliver significant bill savings – of $400 or more a year for “active homes”, those with solar and storage and smart controls, and more than $600 for “passive homes”, those with no interest or no possibility to pursue such technologies.

The idea that a grid could be powered more than 90 per cent renewables, and nearly all of that by wind and solar, took even the study’s authors by surprise.

CSIRO Energy’s chief economist Paul Graham said that the team decided to look at the zero carbon by 2050 scenario suggested by the Climate Change Authority as necessary for Australia – and other countries – to meet the Paris climate goals.

“We started to look around and see how that viable would be,” Graham told RenewEconomy in an interview. “Frankly, it took a while to convince ourselves. But when we started looking at the falling cost of batteries, and the profiles of variable renewable sources, we could see that it could be done.”

Here are some of the headline numbers discussed in the report. By 2050, more than 10 million customers will own distributed resources like solar, storage, home energy management systems and electric vehicles, which they can use to sell grid support services worth $2.5 billion per year.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 7.39.25 AMRooftop solar PV will grow six-fold within a decade, and 16-fold by 2050, which is the equivalent of 80GW. Up to half of all electricity generation will be sourced “locally”, mostly on rooftops. Battery storage uptake will be significant, accounting for nearly 100GWh at the local level alone.

This will be critical in the shaping of the new grid. This battery storage will play an important role in balancing the grid and providing the network services needed, along with centralised storage, which could be from batteries, pumped hydro, solar thermal, or other.

“We think that battery storage is going to be built anyway, by the customer end,” Graham says. And that means that the grid will have to become very interactive, and smart, and need to manage this extraordinary transition.

Hence the need for urgency. It is critical for the networks. It seems that the networks can live with the idea of load defection (where consumers provide much of their own electricity needs), but the threat of grid defection is still very much alive, and a major concern.

The CSIRO and the ENA want policy makers to act in great haste before it is too late. One of the essentials is to get bipartisan support on climate policies, such as carbon pricing (good luck with that), and the other is to get cost reflective tariffs in place as soon as possible.

By these, the ENA is suggesting demand tariffs, which forces people to think carefully and consider other options at times of peak demand. It also wants a proper roll-out of smart meters, and not the ad hoc distribution that is taking place now.

ENA’s John Bradley hopes to lure those tempted by grid defection with special “stand alone power system tariffs”, that would offer a discount on grid charges, the opportunity to earn money for grid and peak demand services, and an agreement to “stand alone” at times of peak demand.

We’ve mentioned this before. One gets the feeling that there is an element of “fingers crossed” about this plan. But apart from taking a massive hit on the value of their networks, which they are clearly not prepared to do, they have no other choice.

But they warn that the impact of uncontrolled installations, and unfocused and constantly changing climate and clean energy policies will be disastrous and costly. The threat is very much alive that 10 per cent or more of consumers could leave the grid – hence the need to act soon, to offer incentives to stay.

Graham underlines the urgency. “There is a question about whether the roadmap is fast enough. On pricing reform, we were probably half way though modelling when we realised that battery prices were moving so quickly that we need to bring those reforms about five  years earlier.”

Bradley speaks of $2.5 billion of payments going to consumers a year in response to “network services” – helping meet critical peak demand, responding to average peaks through demand response and demand management programs, providing security of supply with services such as frequency control.

The ENA is also taking a close look at the New York Reform the Energy Vision program, which is now emerging as a blueprint on how grids can redefine themselves, encourage consumers to take part by generating and storing their electricity, create microgrids, improve reliability, slash emissions and lower costs. What’s not to like?

To do this, the ENA wants to see more trials of the type that SAPN are doing in South Australian on using customer-based storage as an offset against grid upgrades, and of the virtual power plants and peer-to-peer trading being trialled in South Australia, Western Australia and elsewhere.

“We should allow a few of those different frameworks to emerge,” Bradley says. But there is bound to be tension between the networks and the retailers, who want to keep them out of the household market and also protect their ageing centralised generation assets.

Bradley says that if the grid retention strategy works, and rapid policy changes allows networks to evolve, then the savings are tremendous – in what the country can achieve in emissions reductions (zero in the grid by 2050), in terms of renewable penetration (more than 90 per cent by 2050, mostly wind and solar), in reliability, and in cost savings.

He sees $100 billion in overall network expenditure savings by 2050, $16 billion of avoided network infrastructure through household solar and batteries alone, and network costs falling by one-third.

This should, and must, given the technology alternatives and the social benefits of a properly priced and structured grid, translate into energy savings for consumers.

An active family with solar and storage will make $414 in annual savings in average household electricity bills (compared with the roadmap’s counterfactual, business as usual, pathway), while a medium family who cannot take up distributed energy resources is over $600 p.a. better off through removal of cross subsidies.

This is how they see it playing out for consumers on business as usual (counterfactual), and the Roadmap.

Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 8.31.28 AM


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  1. trackdaze 4 years ago

    Bernadi, bolt and co and co just sprayed their breakfast over the cat!

    • howardpatr 4 years ago

      Alan Finkel will be driven as much by his political master(s) as the science.

      He probably calls in the IPA for guidance.

      • Stewart Rogers 4 years ago

        Oh no! Alan Finkel doesn’t think we should close all coal power plants tomorrow and risk what’s left of our heavy duty industry that relies on grid stability. Get a grip, you need stability when you transition to a new energy mix.

  2. solarguy 4 years ago

    The guys at the CSIRO are correct in this model I believe and their also right to say that those households that are planning to cut the grid umbilical will do so if they don’t have the incentive to stay.
    The grid is needed to distribute energy from all RE sources, from residential and bigger utility sized plants, that also have storage. The network and utilities players need to get a handle on this very bloody soon indeed!
    Those punters who are thinking of going off grid, here is a reality check, extended bad weather will require your system to have a genset as backup, unless you massively over size the PV. Perhaps reconsider going off grid.

    • trackdaze 4 years ago

      Perhaps. But with the occasional support of an electric vehicle in conjunction with modest stationary storage it may not be neccesary at all.

      Worst case? Recharge the EV at external charge point for home support.

    • DJR96 4 years ago

      Firstly, I don’t think brown coal will last half the time as depicted on the graph.

      Absolutely agree, the DNSP’s must adapt and become re-distribution networks. They will have to abandon the whole notion that only 25-30% RE can be connected to any feeder. This is a falsehood. There are already some feeders that push energy back to the sub-station at times (Currimundi, Qld). If the DNSP’s need to install some storage to make it work, so be it! All the technology is already available to make it all work better than ever. It just needs the leadership in the NEM to think beyond synchronous generation!

      • Stewart Rogers 4 years ago

        You’re dreaming. Brown coal will last at least till 2050. AGL’s Loy Yang isn’t that emission intensive and it can operate at $30-40/MWh.

        • Barri Mundee 4 years ago

          Sorry but I think its you who is dreaming.
          AGL Loy Yang is not quite as emissions intensive as Hazelwood but basically you are splitting hairs.

          Hazelwood’s closure follows Morwell Briquette and Power Station, Anglesea, Norhern Power in SA.

          The writing is on the wall for brown coal and I worked at Loy Yang until five years ago. Yallourn is next.

  3. aussiearnie 4 years ago

    Interesting that they have called the BAU scenario “Counterfactual” – CSIRO is pretty apolitical so I assume that term came from ENA. But of course you only have to look a the NBN to see what happens when you leave technology decisions in the hands of politicians….

  4. howardpatr 4 years ago

    Here we go again having to listen to ignoramuses like Bernardi, Joyce, Abbott prattle on the “cost of electricity” – a three word slogan so in tune with Abbott.

    Block chain technology with distributed energy storage will show these fools just how wrong they are and almost certainly will continue to be.

    Imagine the energy going from your roof off to a 4.2MW Redflow facility where it can be stored and sold off for peak demand or to top up your EV. The deniers of science, in the case of the LNP, usually religious conservatives, just can’t see it – would have been defending the horse and cart in the last century.

  5. nakedChimp 4 years ago

    Looks like they didn’t fire enough scientists at CSIRO yet.. still some brave souls working there.

  6. permaculture utopia 4 years ago

    Having a power outage from a thunder strike. Network says six thousand houses effected and is dark as far as I can see so turned on all our lights.

  7. David Pethick 4 years ago

    I find myself in two minds about this.

    I’m a huge believer in renewable energy, and think market forces are rapidly pushing us to adopt them over coal and gas. I’m less sure about the ability of distributed energy (rooftop solar and batteries) to withstand concerted opposition from distribution companies.

    There is so much great technology here or just around the corner, such as smart meters, IoT, solar, batteries, mobile phones, AI etc. Put it all together and it really does enable the “smart grid”.

    Then I remember the cold hard reality.

    The incumbent operators will protect shareholder value. The easiest way to do that is to move away from cost-reflective pricing and towards a fixed access charge. Exactly the same as water networks.

    Networks may talk about sustainability, but they are tough businesses to disrupt and incumbency is a huge advantage. It will be interesting to see how they react if they are shut out of the solar, battery and demand-response markets by regulators.

    Dave P.

  8. Miles Harding 4 years ago

    I was not surprised.

    Sustainable Energy Now in WA has conducted its own modeling of network transition for the WA electricity system. WA has less reliance on coal and sufficient gas (turbine) capacity to replace coal today, making an almost immediate cessation of WA coal power a matter of political will and vision.

    When we consider that nearly all of the present coal generating capacity will have to be replaced by 2050, the conservative LNP default position is actually to build a new coal fired network. The cost of doing nothing will be very high.

    In the WA scenario, the cost of replacing fossil generation with renewables would be lower than BAU up to about the 85% renewable point, with 100% renewable being only a little more expensive.

    We should all remember that this 100% renewable result is not immediate, but takes 35 years to complete, so it’s actually a large number of incremental steps with plenty of opportunity to tune and review along the way.

    Another observation is that, even taking the electricity sector to 100% renewable will still fall well short of the commitments. A similar revolution has to occur in transport, housing and industry.

    I was glad to see housing and insulation (efficiency) mentioned. The current 6-star rating is rubbish and amounts to little more than “it has glass in the windows”. There is huge scope for improvement here.

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