How electricity storage will help drive South Australia's renewable transition | RenewEconomy

How electricity storage will help drive South Australia’s renewable transition

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South Australia’s combined share of wind and solar photovoltaic energy will increase from 35 percent of generation capacity to 48 percent by April.

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South Australia stands at the forefront of the renewable energy transition, as we reported a few weeks ago and that we’re back with an update on today.

rsz_ieefa-king-11-4-2015-sa-pv-power-impact-255x638-v2rFor evidence of the change, look no further than how the state’s installed capacity of renewable generation consistently exceeds electricity demand. Residential rooftop solar will soon reach 28 per cent penetration, which is to say that more than a quarter of all households will have it.

And South Australia already has the most installed wind generation in the country, with 1,473 megawatts of onshore capacity representing 25 percent of the state’s total generation capacity (an additional 2,963 megawatts in wind projects are planned).

The state’s coal industry in the meantime is shrinking fast. In June, Alinta Energy announced that its sub-critical brown coal Flinders Operations (the Northern 554-megawatts and Playford B 240-megawatt power stations) and its Leigh Creek coal mine would cease operations beyond March 2018.

And then just this month Alinta moved the date up, saying Leigh Creek would close this November and that it would shutter Flinders by the end of March 2016.

South Australia will transition abruptly at that moment from sub-critical brown coal making up 13 percent of its coal-generation capacity to zero. While gas remains the dominant electricity-generation fuel source in the state (despite recent announcements that 719 megawatts of gas-fired generation are being withdrawn from the market), the state’s combined share of wind and solar photovoltaic energy will increase from 35 per cent of generation capacity to 48 per cent by April.

Given that solar and wind generation are expected to continue to grow significantly in South Australia—residential plus commercial solar installations in the state are forecast to almost triple over the next 10 years—there may soon come a time when synchronous generators will not operate during certain period of the year, or will be mothballed or even permanently decommissioned. That’s when South Australia’s electricity will be supplied primarily by renewable energy sources.


The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has concluded that it can work—that South Australia’s power system can operate securely and reliably with a high percentage
of wind and solar PV generation as long as either the Heywood Interconnector to the state of Victoria is operational, and/or sufficient synchronous generation is connected and operating on the South Australian power system.

The advent of storage technology will further ease reliability and security concerns that have been raised. Indeed, such technology is already developing apace along three fronts in Australia:

  • Integrated Solar Plus Battery Storage Systems (IPSS). Demand for IPSS will increase, driven by the retrofitting of existing solar PV installations and by the explosive growth of new installations. SA Power Networks (operator of a distribution network across South Australia) is already experiencing a “duck-curve” pattern in which midday power demand drops significantly because of all the electricity generated by rooftop solar and by material annual declines in demand. IPSS will help flatten the duck curve, moderating spikes in peak demand, and potentially eliminating many of them altogether.
  • Large Scale Battery Storage: Network owner Powercor announced in August that next year it will install the largest battery in Australia—a 2-megawatt lithium-ion unit to be deployed on its regional grid near Ballarat in the state of Victoria. The battery will be used to reduce stress on the network on peak days, improve reliability, and reduce capital expenditures. We see this as the first of many large-scale battery storage installations that will be deployed across the grid.
  • Utility Scale Solar Power Projects: U.S. company SolarReserve, which has considerable experience building solar facilities to scale, has shown interest in building a facility in South Australia. SolarReserve has a track record of note. It is about to complete construction of the world’s largest solar tower and storage plant, the110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar tower power project in Tonopah, Nevada. And this past August the company received environmental approval from the Chilean government to develop the 260-megawatt Copiapó Solar Project. The project scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2019, is designed for “firm baseload power,” according to SolarReserve, and will operate “at a capacity factor and availability percentage equal to that of a coal-fired power plant.”

Change is coming fast to South Australia, a real-time laboratory for the transformation from a fossil fuel-dominated electricity supply system to one based on renewables.

There is much to be see—and much to learn—in this remarkably rapid transition.

Source: IEEFA. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. Ian Mclaughlin 5 years ago

    I have been watching carefully your link to the NEM generation bar chart. If you look at this a few times a day, as I do, you will see that there are days on end when the Wind Farms in the whole of the Eastern States (including S.A.) are producing way less than 5% of the total electricity production in these States!! I am a committed Renewable Energy advocate but the rhetoric about capacity currently available is just that!! Brown coal and gas are still, in S.A., the only reliable source of Base power, the inter-connector to Victoria will still be mainly using power produced by Brown Coal!! I buy 100% Green energy from my retailer and can run my house on solar and battery storage ( bottled gas cooking water heating and wood fire in the Winter) for up to 24 hrs during power cuts. We have a LONG way to go before we will be anywhere new able to rely on renewable power.


    • Ray Miller 5 years ago

      ‘We have a LONG way to go … to rely on renewable power.’ Funny that, planet Earth has been running on renewable power forever! Maybe its just our thinking which has a long way to go.
      For our electrical energy system to go 100% renewable we need to start somewhere despite the best efforts to subvert the transition we must have, the transition is underway. Any transition can only be made from our existing position and then scaled, this is underway and as we learn and scale, costs are reducing as has been pointed out in other articles on this web site, renewables a trending to be the lowest costs beating the mature incumbents (except for energy efficiency). The energy one does not use still remains the cheapest!
      As an early adapter of the solar technologies, and always improving my efficiency my dwelling has been energy positive for 15 years now. I’m essentially off the grid 99.9% of the time for averaging 10 hours per day, the other time totals just over 2 kWh. I use solar thermal hot water, solar thermal storage in my internal thermal mass walls. I will be moving to small battery storage system to cover the evening peak as well to extend my 10 hours off grid per day by 4-6 hours.

    • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

      Well, yes Ian, we do have a long way to go until we get all our electricity from renewables. In South Australia we’re only 40% of the way there. But we don’t need any generators to operate in a baseload mode for a reliable electricity supply. We know this because the state has operated for many months at a time with none. That is, no coal or other generators operating in a baseload manner, and this includes interstate electricity imports. We know it’s not a problem.

      Exactly how we will achieve 100% renewable generation, or rather, zero net greenhouse gas emissions – which is the important thing, we don’t yet know. We have plenty of ideas, but we don’t know what is the best or most practical way to do it. But we don’t need to know. The way to get to 50% renewable electricity is clear, and once we get there the way to get to 60% will almost certainly be clear as well and so on. As long as we keep working towards our goal we are basically certain to get there.

      And one little bit of good news, the little widget at the upper right of the page doesn’t include information from all the wind farms in the state. It covers most of them, but not all, including some of the more dispersed ones, so wind performance is a little better than it shows, simply because not all the information from the state’s wind farms is available.

  2. Ian 5 years ago

    In South Australia the paradym has changed. Solar and wind are the new anchor tenants in the market. They’re built, they’re there to stay. There is very little cost involved in actually producing electricity. It just happens when the sun shines or the wind blows. Other sources of electricity generation just have to cover the gaps. Coal is no good at that. It cannot be ramped up or down, to be cost effective it has to continuously produce power. Until adequate storage comes into play, the interconnector with The larger market in Victoria must act as a giant ‘virtual’ grid storage and gas needs to fill in the gaps. Nothing wrong with that, as more wind and solar penetrate that market, some of the gaps in power supply will disappear by shear over capacity, battery and other types of storage will be able to take advantage of the essentially free electricity at times of oversupply, hold on to it and dispatch it at times of under supply( Arbitrage) . We are told masses of cheap batteries are just around the corner, if not then at least pumped storage or solar thermal storage can do the trick. There are some nice hills around Adelaide one wonders why they are not used for pumped storage. Brisbane has a modest pumped storage facility at Lake Wivenhoe which can dispatch 500MW at a time and can store 5000MWH. That’s a lot of Tesla Powerwalls. Surely Adelaide can construct something similar.

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