Australian-based Windlab has dismissed suggestions that the current renewable energy target of 41,000GWh by 2020 could not be met, saying it could be met with wind energy alone, although solar could still play a big role.
A study prepared by Windlab says that there are enough wind energy projects ready to go to meet the target, which would require another 8,000MW of wind capacity (presuming that no large-scale solar will be built).
In fact, it says, there are enough wind energy proposals that could account for 30 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs by 2025. Currently only around 5-6 per cent of Australia’s needs are met by wind energy, although South Australia has more than 30 per cent from wind energy alone.
Dr Nathan Steggel, director of Windscape Institute, a subsidiary of Windlab (which was spun out of the CSIRO a few years ago), said there are no technical, financial or economic barriers to further rapid and large-scale deployment of wind energy.
The study was released as the Abbott government finally opened up talks with the Labor Party about seeking a compromise deal on the future of the RET. Currently no investment is being made because of uncertainty about th scheme.
The Abbott government had wanted to cap the scheme at either 17,000GWh or 25,000GWh – as recommended by the Warburton review, but now understands that those proposals are not politically tenable (or financially or environmentally for that matter).
The Labor Party has shown signs that it may agree to fiddle with the deadline (say 2022 instead of 2020), but not the target. Even though the Warburton review’s own modellers found that the target could be met within the timeframe, some utilities are still arguing that it cannot be met in the time-frame.
Windlab CEO Roger Price says such suggestions ignore the quantity of projects already approved, and the fact that larger turbines will be used. This means that only 2,600 turbines may need to be installed, not a lot more than the 2,000 or so turbines installed over the previous six-10 years.
“In many respects these conclusions are not surprising. They are simply an extension of what has already occurred in a diverse range of locations across the world. In the State of South Australia for example, wind energy today makes up around 30% of total electricity requirements.”
In the end, as the solar industry will tell you, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance has suggested, large-scale solar plants may account for nearly one half of new build renewables in the next five years. There are dozens of solar projects around the country either with planning approval, or in the process of getting it.
Windlab CEO Roger Price however says that wind energy – thanks to continued cost reductions, efficiency improvements, and increases in turbine output – remains the cheapest form of new build electricity generation available.
Even though new projects would have slightly lower wind speeds than ones already built, improvements in technology meant that the capacity factors would likely rise from an average 35 per cent to 40 per cent.
The study found that a doubling of the current number of turbines from 2,000 to 4,000 is expected to deliver an installed capacity of 12,000MW and around 41TWh of wind generated electricity by 2020.
Deeper emissions cuts are delivered by 2025 at which point the modelling estimates 5,500 turbines can deliver 18,000MW of installed capacity and 64TWh of electricity each year.
“Australia is truly the lucky country, blessed with many abundant and world-class resources, including wind and sun,” Price said.
“Far from being a disadvantage, a swift move to renewable energy can maintain Australia’s international competitiveness and GDP growth from many years to come.”
Price noted that the Warburton review’s own modelling found that the RET would deliver price benefits to consumers, if not to fossil fuel generators.
“Given the cost benefit to consumers, ease with which the current targets can be attained and deep cuts to emissions that the RET is enabling, it seems almost inconceivable that we are even discussing a change to the RET legislation.
“It seems like every day we hear about more investment funds who have determined either that carbon risk is too large, or that climate change is our biggest challenge. Rather than debating a cut in the RET, it seems that any rational evaluation of the facts actually supports increasing our nations clean energy ambitions.”