Greens push 100pct renewables plan for W.A. | RenewEconomy

Greens push 100pct renewables plan for W.A.

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The Greens unveil a plan to turn WA grid into 100 per cent renewables by 2029 – with a lot of solar thermal, solar PV and wind. Even with conservative technology costs and capacity forecasts, the cost is barely different to business as usual.

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The Greens Party has unveiled an ambitious new document that outlines possible pathways to turn Western Australia – one of the most energy-intensive states in the world – into one where its stationary energy needs are powered 100 per cent by renewable energy sources in less than two decades.

The Greens offer two principal scenarios to transform the coal and gas-dependent grid known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which includes the capital Perth and the most populous regions. The first involves a heavier reliance on solar thermal and storage technologies currently deployed in Spain, the US and elsewhere, while the second relies more on currently cheaper technologies such as wind energy and solar PV. Both are supported by bio-mass and pumped hydro.

According to Scott Ludlam, the WA-based Senator whose office anchored the report with the help of specialist consultants, the plan seeks to make two important points – one that it is feasible, and two, it will not cost much more than business as usual (BAU).

Indeed, even using somewhat conservative technology cost forecasts for the various forms of solar, and to allow for a safety-first  approach to capacity requirements, the study concludes that the levellised cost of electricity in the various renewable scenarios ranges from $208/MWh to $221/MWh by 2029. (We go into detail further down)

The levellised cost of electricity in the BAU case is not much cheaper – $203/MWh. While it has lower up front capital costs – $20 billion vs $60 billion, the balance of the BAU scenario bill will be paid in fuel costs, which for gas and diesel customers in WA is already proving expensive and forcing those on isolated and remote areas in particular to already consider solar alternatives.

Ludlam says the plan was released in the context of both the federal and state election campaigns.

In the federal context, it was because the Coalition has vowed to ditch not just the carbon price but also the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, one of the key initiatives of the Greens into the negotiations for the carbon price. Ludlam, like most in the industry, says an institution like the CEFC is vital to build the solar thermal power stations and bring down the costs. WA is considered to be one of the best places to do that and the most cost effective, given the excellent solar resources and the high comparative cost of grid electricity.

The second is the state election, to be held in a few weeks, where the politics are even worse. The WA coalition government has ditched the previous government’s emissions reductions targets, slashed its climate change unit,  wants even the Renewable Energy Target to be dumped and is committed to up to five new coal-fired generators.

Its refurbishment of the dirty Muja coal fired power station is blowing out in costs, and its capacity market is encouraging the construction of consumer-funded diesel fuel peaking generators that may never even get switch on. Even WA Labor leader Mark McGowan said on Sunday he did not support the Federal government’s carbon price, although he did support an emissions trading scheme.

“This is a make or break year for us,” Ludlam says. “We have got an investment vehicle up and running that could get some of these plants built. But if it is demolished, that will set us back a long way.

“This study demonstrates that it is possible: the only barrier to a masssive increase in clean energy here in Western Australia, is political inertia.”

The document was drawn together by Ludlam’s team, but the detailed technology scenarios were put together by an engineering team from Sustainable Energy Now, and drew on previous work by the likes of CSIRO and Beyond Zero Emissions.

First of all, like similar scenarios drawn up by international groups such as the International Energy Agency, and the Prime Minister’s own task force, it draws heavily on energy efficiency, and estimates that one third or the anticipated energy demand in 2029 can be removed through smarter ways of using energy.

As for the production of energy, the first scenario relies on large-scale solar concentrator fields with stoage (3,500MW) to provide the bulk of the dispatchable electricity on the grid with the balance being provided by large-scale dispersed wind generators, solar PV and a smaller number of biomass, wave and geothermal generators. (see graphs below)

Backup electricity in the event of several consecutive days of low wind and solar incidence would be provided by biomass co-firing at the solar plants, pumped hydro storage and a small number of mid-tier biomass plants.  Its estimated capital costs were $62 billion, translating into an LCOE of $221/MWh.

The second scenario relies more on more wind energy (3,000MW) and more solar PV (3,000MW) meeting peak demand, backed up by biomass and pumped hydro. Its capital cost estimates are put at $56.9 billion, with an LCOE of $208/MWh.

The third scenario is business as usual, without carbon capture and storage or energy efficiency/waste reduction gains. It assumes that Western Australia develops a heavy reliance on on-shore gas and continues to build coal-fired power stations.  The capital costs here are estimated at $20.6 billion, but the 16 years of additional fuel costs takes the LCOE to $203/MWh. This figure does not include the cost of duplicating the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas pipeline, or the lost agricultural productivity due to unconventional gas fracking, or any of the associated costs of unmitigated climate change.

One thing that struck RenewEconomy was the conservative estimates on technology costs. The calulations are made with a levellised cost of wind energy at $91/MWh in 2029 for wind – yet Bloomberg New Energy Finance last week said wind energy was already around $80/MWh in Australia, cheaper than coal and gas.

Likewise, the average LCOE for solar thermal with storage is estimated at $187/MWH – far above the Australian Solar Institute and CSIRO estimates of around $100-120/MWh by 2020.  Solar PV is put at $147/MWH, while Ratch Australia, which is looking to replace the Collinsville coal fired power station in Quenssland with solar PV, estimates its cost at $120-$150/MWh. The ACT solar auction – where a 20MW plant is to be built – puts the cost at around $150/MWh now.

And, the report notes, there is potentially a lot of redundant capacity, with Ludlam says the engineers took a conservative estimate on how much capacity will be needed to ensure constant supply.

“This is a worse case scenario,” Ludlam says. He admits that even the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis, which shows wind energy costs already below coal and gas in Australia, and others following soon, “took him by surprise.”

“The plans we have mapped out are price sensitive and they will need a lot of work. don’t buy the idea that it is not possible, or that the Greens will not be able to influence this. We have the CEFC, we are in a position to do these things.”

Here are some graphs you may find interesting.

The first is the technology deployment and costs in the first scenario, which relies most on solar thermal (CST) and storage.

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 10.10.13 AM

The second is where these renewable energy plants may be deployed ….

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 10.09.29 AM

And the last is where WA is heading right now …..


Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 10.19.03 AM



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  1. John Newton 8 years ago

    There go those loony bloody Greens again with their wacky ideas. Meanwhile, over in the Oz (Inquirer Feb 9-10), Don Quixote AKA Graham Lloyd ‘environment’ editor is tilting at windmills in a curious story which spends 3/4s of its word telling us we’re all doomed and birds will fall from the sky – and the last 1/4 telling us that the science doesn’t agree. I guess the thinking is that no one reads to the end

    • Eric 8 years ago

      Scientific skepticism is always healthy but human induced climate change isn’t as debatable as most people would think, the overwhelming majority of scientists support this theory to varying degrees. When it comes to investing in renewable energy it is important to consider the precautionary principle. That is to ask ourselves which would be the worse option, the small intial increase in electricity, and of course the up front cost of building the new infrastructure, or the BAU scenario where we continue to risk our food and water security, our biodiversity, our environment and our heritage as Australians. The science is not 100% certain and it will never be 100% certain until it is too late. Renewable energy is an insurance policy and it is a sensible long term plan.

      • John D 8 years ago

        The world economy has been in a recession for yonks. The real choice is between:
        Boosting the world economy by increasing the rate of investment in reducing greenhouse emissions. OR
        BAU: Letting the world economy stay in recession by doing nothing about saving the planet.
        The really big skeptic lie is that it is all about planet vs economy.

  2. Ben Elliston 8 years ago

    Great to see another state trying to out-do the ACT’s 90% renewable electricity target! Hurry, guys.

  3. John D 8 years ago

    The idea that anyone seeking to be premier of WA would seriously advocate building more coal fired power stations in this day and age is mind boggling. This is one of the reasons why it is good to see credible plans being presented for ONE way of cleaning up WA power production.

    It is worth noting that that the move to renewables in states such as SA and Qld has actually helped slow down the growth of power costs because both wind and rooftop solar are replacing the more expensive power sources in the power mix and generally creating more competitive pressure on power prices. (See for example:

    Solar thermal with molten salt heat storage and back-up heating also has the potential to drive down average power costs in the short term since it can be used to replace expensive (and dirty) peaking power as well as acting as a replacement for base load power. The early solar thermal plants could be used to provide power during the late afternoon/early evening peak demand period – the time of day when output from solar PV starts to fall away rapidly.

    • Warwick 8 years ago

      So if PV is supposed to make QLD power prices cheaper why did January 2013 have the second highest monthly price in QLD ever at around $155/MWh? It was only bettered by June 2007 with around $192/MWh.

      • John D 8 years ago

        The prices I talk about are based on the drop in average price paid to the power generators for 2008 vs 2012. I have no idea what was driving prices in Jan this year.
        The average for 2012 was $33/mWh vs $47/mWh for 2008. Looks like the figures you are quoting for Jan were average spot prices. This average won’t include the effect of long term contracts or rooftop solar price.

        • Warwick 8 years ago

          John, it is quite obvious to me why spot prices are higher in Queensland in January…gas supply issues which were affected by flooding and generator bidding. Also, contract prices in Queensland for 2013 are around $67/MWh, by far the highest in the NEM this year.

          Basically, you’ve claimed that solar PV in Queensland is pushing down prices but January 2013 had the 2nd highest month ever and Queensland contract prices are the highest in the national market. There’s no evidence to support your theory that prices are falling…

          • Dylan T 8 years ago

            Warwick, you have answered your own question. Spot prices were affected by the abnormal flooding. You can’t claim that prices for 2013 are abnormally high until later in the year. It’s only mid February, so obviously the monthly average is going to look high!

            What’s the average for the last 12 months?

            And anyway, what’s your point?

  4. The price of Solar Thermal with storage is now set to drop to 12.5 cents per kiloWattHour by 2020
    (see ).

    This alone will make the economics even more convincing.

    Meanwhile solar PV prices continue to drop – and concentrated solar PV is on the way.

    The Renewables Revolution is here.

    Let’s get on with it.

  5. John P Morgan 8 years ago

    The merits of the idea are obvious.
    But big government and big business are not interested so it won’t happen.

    • Jane R 8 years ago

      A big people’s movement would help. Or even big swings in some marginal seats.

    • Alastair 8 years ago

      That’s what was said about abolition of slavery around the world (still exists but mostly hidden in OECD countries), Franklin Dam, Mining in Kakadu and a bunch of other major fights where the good side eventually won the battle.

  6. Peter Hansford 8 years ago

    Great to have a vision but perhaps this could be more politically palatable by harvesting the low hanging fruit and tackle energy demand one region at a time to allow community engagement with both the problems and solutions.

    The Kimberley is an obvious place to start where solar power is already significantly cheaper than the imported diesel and gas.

  7. Sunoba 8 years ago

    I welcome studies like that of the Greens that shake up the status quo.

    However I’m a bit suspicious of some LCOE figures quoted in the Greens report. On their assumptions for capital cost and Capacity Factor, I think the LCOE for solar thermal is too low, for PV is too low and for geothermal is too high. (That said, I don’t like their assumptions for capital cost and CF for geothermal.)

    To see the detail of why I make these LCOE comments, see today’s post at (Cost of solar power 33).

  8. Terry Mc 8 years ago

    Great to hear another plan for 100% renewable energy. If you take into account the cost of fuel, the cost of health issues that arise out of digging up coal and gas, the cost of environmental issues arise out of the pollution from coal and gas and the cost to our most valuable resource WATER. Then it doesn’t matter which way you look at it the taxpayer is way ahead by building renewable energy. The reality is that there is so much money in the Coal and gas industry that our politicians are mere puppets for this industry, that’s both sides of politics. The other reality is that as climate change accelerates there is a chance that Western Australia could end up with a stranded asset. ie; new coal or new gas powered stations in about 5 to 10 years time. These assets would then have to be shut down and compensation paid in the billions of dollars and then we would have to build renewable energy anyway. In the old days we had politicians and bureaucrats that had wisdom and could plan for the future in the taxpayer’s best interests. Today we have short sided sighted fossil fool dinosaurs who only think about the 24-hour news cycle, a four-year term and a job as a lobbyist after politics. Vote for renewable energy.

  9. Col Wedd 8 years ago

    Has no-one heard of the most likely power source for the future Wave Energy… we live on an island, 90% of the population lives within 200 kms of the coast… it makes sense to develop and use wave energy platforms… the offshoot to this is that other countries will want the technology as well… we can once again be world leaders in reusable energy.

    • Bob Wallace 8 years ago

      There’s no reliable way to predict the future. Wave energy harvesting my be proven and proven to be inexpensive, but it hasn’t so far.

      We need to install what we have. If something better comes along we can switch over.

      Hot rocks/enhanced geothermal is another possible future electricity source. Some significant advancements have been made lately but we can’t yet say that enhanced geothermal is a viable/affordable technology.

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