Transgrid, the owner and operator of the main transmission line in New South Wales, reports that is has received “enquiries” about more than 6,000MW of large scale solar so far in 2017.
The figure, revealed by business development manager Gustavo Bodini at the Large Scale Solar conference hosted by RenewEconomy and Informa earlier this week, is more than a six fold increase over 2016, and highlights the huge interest in solar as it matches wind on costs and beats new gas (and new coal) by a significant margin.
Of course, not all that 6,000MW will be built, or even get to development approval stage, but large scale solar is clearly the energy source of choice at the moment, accounting for at least half of new projects for the renewable energy target – a share that is likely to increase in coming years.
Amy Kean, the renewable energy advocate for the NSW government, showed this slide (below) at the conference, indicating the amount of large scale solar already installed, under construction, and those in the pipeline and the “stealth” projects, which may well refer to the Transgrid enquiries.
The first line of completed projects represent those – such as Nyngan, Broken Hill and Moree – that were funded by the initial big grants from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The second line – current build – is mostly the half dozen projects partly funded under ARENA’s solar auction program. But ARENA says solar costs have now fallen to the point where support is not needed for “vanilla” projects, and those in the “planning approved” and “planning system” categories will be a test of their ability to compete in the market.
So, where is all this heading?
This graph above from Transgrid’s Bodini is the most striking – because it predicts that by 2050, 95 per cent of the demand will be delivered by renewable energy – some 65 per cent from large scale renewables like wind and solar and hydro, and another 30 per cent from “distributed energy”.
That’s why, says Bodini, we need to get out and test new technologies, such as battery storage, to see how they operate and integrate with the grid.
There is some grace. There will be enough synchronous generation, Bodini says, within the whole National Electricity Market by 2030 to provide the inertia required to keep the grid stable. From that point, as more of the legacy coal and gas plants retire, it will be up to new technologies to take over.
The grid of the future, he says, will focus on better ways of managing peak demand, energy efficiency, widespread deployment of distributed generation (mostly solar), network based storage and new market rules to allow this to happen and one that promotes “genuine competition” and protects consumers when there is ineffective competition.