Queensland’s electricity grid will need to double in size to meet the growing need for zero emissions energy, according to the head of the state government’s leading clean energy utility.
Speaking at the online Queensland Smart Energy Summit on Tuesday, CleanCo chief executive Maia Schweizer said the state has an ’embarrassment of riches’ that would allow it to take advantage of global commitments to reach zero net emissions.
“We see that on a global context, really gargantuan commitments that are being made by governments around the world, including the US government, the EU, countries in Asia,” Schweizer said.
“If you think about that global context, Queensland really has a pretty unique, almost embarrassment of riches to make us successful in that global context.”
CleanCo owns the state’s hydro-electric assets and has underwritten the development of new wind and solar projects by acting as a key off-taker, as well as securing deals with supermarket chain Coles that will see 90 per cent of its electricity consumption in Queensland supplied by renewable sources.
Schweizer told the summit that CleanCo’s creation had been a ‘tipping point’ for investment in new clean energy projects in Queensland, because it could use its hydroelectric firming assets alongside low cost wind and solar to provide low cost and reliable power.
“The lowest cost energy that the world has ever seen is solar energy – the fact that we can package all of that up and offer it to a sophisticated customer like BHP or Coles, with 24/7 guaranteed energy supply, at a cost that’s competitive, that is new,” Schweizer said.
Schweizer added that the availability of both wind and solar resources in Queensland, which allowed clean energy to be produced at times that complemented each other, meant a lower reliance on dispatchable sources to firm the supply of power.
“We’ve got great sun here generating in the middle of the day, but our wind is very reliable and complementary to the sun,” Schweizer said.
“That means when you add the two together, you actually need less of the firming [generation]. Less of the gas plants, the batteries, the hydros, whatever it is that you’re using – in order to make that reliable, 24/7, power for power industry and households. So that is really valuable.”
Schweizer said demand for clean energy would grow, not just to meet existing demand, but also to satisfy industries that recognise the easiest path to cutting emissions was to electrify processes currently consuming fossil fuels.
“Even before you look at whole new industries, or exploiting hydrogen, or any of those kinds of bright future opportunities, just to decarbonise our own economy here in Queensland will require doubling the size of our electricity grid,” Schweizer said.
“And that’s because one of the best ways to reduce emissions is to progressively electrify the parts of the economy where it’s possible to do so.”
Significantly, Schweizer added there was a wide range of measures that both governments and industry could undertake that would provide cost effective source of emissions reductions without encountering too much complexity in implementation.
“There’s a lot to get started with before you have to worry about the hard stuff,” Schweizer said. “That means there’s a lot to get started with using existing technologies today, before we really have to worry about that back end.”
“It doesn’t mean that no one can worry about that back end, but it does mean that we’ve probably got 15 or 20 years of work to do right in front of us to transform our economy and make the most of this renewable resource that we have before we have to worry about those things that would require a subsidy or a carbon price or some other mechanism to make them viable.”
“I think this is something that is sometimes lost in the debate when we get really focused on that last five per cent of emissions reduction. The reality is we can get 80 per cent of the way there with things that we actually already know how to do,” Schweizer added.