Australia’s National Energy Market is hamstrung by an out-dated, ‘dumb’ grid, and must be updated to face the realities of low carbon, low marginal cost energy generation.
Greater inter-connectivity is the first critical step needed to ensure sufficient competition in the market to drive down prices, and allow the continuity of supply in periods of low renewable generation.
A diversified energy mix is required to ensure continuity of low carbon energy supply and growth of investment opportunities. Continual and increasing investment in increasing efficiency of wind and solar photovoltaic power, as well as in alternative methods of generation such as bioenergy, geothermal, concentrated solar power, and tidal power is required.
Sufficient advances in smart grid and energy storage technologies must accompany advances in generation capacity. Cost reflective price signals should also be implemented to ensure efficient use of energy and assets.
The price spikes in the South Australian electricity market, claims of market manipulation and challenges of better integrating distributed generation into grid has placed the spotlight on Australia’s National Energy Market. A proactive, future focussed response at COAG is needed to ensure the grid is fit for purpose in the 21st century and enables Australia to capitalise on the investment and job creation opportunities of the growing share of renewable generation in the energy mix.
The grid needs urgent work to transform it from the current ‘dumb grid’ based on last century’s centralised generation model, to an adaptive smart grid the enables the nation to meet the energy needs of this century and supports Australian business and residents to benefit from the billions being invested in the shift to a low carbon economy.
The following challenges need to be addressed by COAG when considering the national energy system and the future shape of the grid:
– Declining aggregate peak demand and consumption;
– Widespread uptake of rooftop solar panels Smart grid future: the business case for urgent energy upgrades Future Business Council 12 August 2016;
– An increasing focus on greenhouse gas abatement;
– Decreasing costs of low carbon generation and energy storage technologies;
– Outdated grid designed on centralised generation principles;
– Anti-competitive behaviour by existing generators.
Uncertainty over future energy prices and the capacity of the national energy market to adequately integrate the increasing penetration of renewable power generation is limiting Australian businesses ability to prosper in a low carbon world.
A transition from the current ‘Dumb Grid’ based on an increasingly outdated centralised distribution model, to a 21st century ‘Smart Grid’ is required to overcome the challenges the Australian energy system is facing.
The following principles must be incorporated into COAG’s considerations on the future shape of a smart grid that is fit for purpose this century.
A diversified energy mix is required to ensure continuity of low carbon energy supply.
Continual and increasing investment in improving efficiency of wind and solar photovoltaic power, as well as in alternative generation methods such as bioenergy, geothermal, concentrated solar power, and tidal power will be required.
UNSW research [Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets, 2016] suggests that a significant increase in synchronous generation capacity will be required to transition to 100% renewable energy at least cost, involving significant increases in generation capacity of hydro, concentrated solar thermal with storage, and biogas turbines. Energy Storage Advances in smart grid and energy storage technologies must accompany advances in generation capacity.
New technologies are increasing the capacity for storage technologies to be economically deployed at utility-scale and network locations. Decreasing lithium-ion battery cost and an uptake of electric vehicles allow further energy storage to occur at the on-site consumer scale. The network, as currently designed, is ill equipped to effectively integrate these developments.
The electricity market system primarily relies upon volume-based pricing, rather than cost-based pricing, where consumers pay for the volume of electricity used at a set price, rather than at a price that adequately reflects the differing costs of generation across peak and non-peak periods.
The current system provides little incentive for consumers to reduce consumption in peak periods, resulting in higher prices, excessive levels of network infrastructure and reliance on non-renewable sources of electricity.
Cost reflective price signals in a smart grid would allow consumers to adjust behaviour according to price signals and smooth demand across the network, and make electricity prices fairer and cheaper for consumers in the long run. Smart grid future: the business case for urgent energy upgrades Future Business Council 12 August 2016
Expansion and management of grid assets
Significant increases in transmission capacity both inter and intra-region will be required in the new smart grid. Some of the best solar and wind sites in Australia are located far away from places of demand, necessitating a certain level of transmission investment.
More importantly is the necessity of increasing interconnectors between states to facilitate sufficient competition in the market to drive down prices, and to allow spatially diverse renewable generation loads to be linked across the national electricity market, overcoming some of the problems associated with wind and solar generation variability.
Historically, investment in grid assets has been non-optimal. Energy prices have increased across Australia due to perverse incentives that have resulted in over investment in surplus infrastructure based on exaggerated demand forecasts.
The costs of the unnecessary infrastructure are passed on to customers. All new investment should be based upon up-to-date scientific and economic information, with clear accountability for costs of non-optimal investments established.
Recommendations for COAG
A smart grid is needed to meet Australia’s 21st energy needs and provide certainty for the local business community. Appropriate policy frameworks need to be implemented by COAG that take into account the changes outlined and that will enable the transition towards a low carbon energy system at least cost. Importantly, bipartisan support for transforming the grid to ensure it meets the needs of energy producers and consumers this century.
The Future Business Council recommends COAG prioritise the following actions to address the changing energy market, Australia’s global commitments and the needs of the business community:
– Build a second interconnector between South Australia and Victoria, and a direct connection between South Australia and New South Wales to enable competition, facilitate interstate trading and better access to inland renewable energy resources;
– Incentivise investment in a complementary mix of renewable energy and battery storage. Investment must be increased in large scale solar farms, solar thermal towers, and tidal energy to better levelise generation, alongside work to accelerate the uptake of energy storage including battery’s, electric vehicles and pumped hydro projects;
– Restart the national rollout of electricity smart meters informed by the lessons from the Victorian experiment.
The Future Business Council strongly supports a commitment from COAG to prioritise investment in a smart grid that meets the needs of business and the community.
Tom Quinn is executive director of the Future Business Council.