The Queensland state Labor government has celebrated reaching the milestone of 4GW of solar energy capacity in the state, which it says is now more than twice the capacity of the state’s biggest power station – the Gladstone coal generator.
The 4GW milestone was announced by energy minister Dr Anthony Lynham over the weekend, although official data suggests that the milestone was probably passed a few months ago, if not earlier, with solar analysts and Clean Energy Regulator data putting small scale rooftop installations in the state at around 2.7GW alone.
And there has also been about 1.7GW of large scale solar capacity connected from more than 30 large scale solar farms commissioned to date, according to the government’s own data (see table below), which means that the capacity of large scale solar alone is now more than the 1680MW Gladstone coal facility.
Whatever the numbers, or the timing, it reflects a major shift for the state which remains the country’s most fossil-fuel dependent grid, but has grand plans to even that out between renewables and fossil fuels by the end of the next decade.
It also comes as the local grid experiences extensive periods of “negative” pricing in its wholesale market during day-time hours, especially periods of low demand.
This has led to solar farms turning off en masse, calls for more storage, and interest in how the newly formed CleanCo, which will manage the state owned “clean energy assets”, including the little used Wivenhoe pumped hydro storage facility, will change the dynamics of the market.
“More than 560,000 Queensland roofs now sport solar systems and 30 solar farms are now generating across the state,” Lynham said in a statement issued over the weekend.
“Queenslanders are embracing solar energy because they know that solar reduces power bills and carbon emissions.”
- Lnham cited statistics that showed Queensland boasts six of the top ten solar postcodes in Australia, has installed an average of 800 watts of solar, or about three solar panels, per person.
- In the past 12 months, about 1400 megawatts of solar energy has come on line, and in August alone, almost 5000 business and residential solar systems were connected across Queensland.
Lynham also says that Queensland is on track to achieve its 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, and is forecast to reach 20 per cent next year.
Currently, it is only at around 13 per cent renewables, but the addition of the big Cooper’s Gap wind farm, and more solar, should help it get close to 20 per cent, if not reach it by the end of 2020.
The new solar milestone was announced as the Australian Financial Review ran a prominent story suggesting that the state-owned 700MW Callide coal generator would likely close 10 years early because of the growing renewables share.
But a spokesperson for the minister told RenewEconomy that – as had been explained to the AFR before the story’s publication – this merely reflected updated data in Australian Energy Market Operator files that reflects the fact that not all coal generators could be assumed to have 50 year life-spans, and Callide B had only ever been designed for 40 years.
“The Australian Energy Market Operator’s data simply reflects the current expected technical operating life of the power station. It does not reflect government decisions or policy,” Lynham was quoted as saying in statement issued to RenewEconomy.
“The government and the people of Queensland, as the owners, will decide when our power stations close. Unlike in southern states, where power stations are privately-owned, the government will decide when power stations are retired.
“And in the future when we do, as the renewable energy transition continues, the local communities and the workers will be looked after under our just transition policies.”
Still, analysts expect the growing share of renewables will put pressure on Queensland’s coal fleet, and some units could close earlier than had been expected. That may also depend on potential upgrades to transmissions links to NSW, the state of long term contracts, and just how flexible individual generators prove to be.
Lynham also highlighted the success of the state government’s Affordable Energy Plan which has so far provided loans and grants to help almost 2,500 households and small businesses install a battery system, with a further 1,500 approved to do so before the program ends mid next year
He also cited work on installing solar to replace expensive and high emissions diesel at remote isolated communities such as the Lockhart River and Doomadgee Aboriginal communities.
“Work is underway extending an existing solar farm at Doomadgee, Mapoon is next cab off the rank, and government officials have started talks with Pormpuraaw Aboriginal Shire and the Northern Peninsula Area Regional councils.”