For many years now we've been seeing solar panels going onto more and more Australian roofs. More recently we've been seeing nations with progressive governments adopting more and more electric cars (not so much in Australia with its fossil fuel obsessed government). And in recent year, in Australia especially, we've been seeing more and more home batteries being installed, some of these being integrated into virtual power grid backup batteries.
The great opportunity that we are just starting to hear about is the integration of all this; car batteries recharged by the home solar power array that can power the home when needed and feed into the grid as well. The individual units are all in place, but putting them all together into a cooperating system will save money for the home-owner/EV-owner and help to stabilise the entire power grid.
At the time of writing car battery capacities typically varied from 16-60kWh while home battery capacities were around 2-10kWh. If you have a big battery sitting in your car shed why bother with the relatively small battery in you home. Let the car battery do both jobs. You, of course, would have control over where the power goes at any time you choose.
Change of state governmentIn March 2018 the Labor government that presided over a period in which the state's last coal-fired power stations were closed down and renewable energy went from near zilch to 50%+ was replaced with a Liberal government. The new Liberal government, unlike its federal counterpart, has recognised the value and inevitability of renewable energy and the fact of the popularity of renewable energy.
Wind generation has been periodically limited, that is, the generation of some wind farms has been intentionally reduced (the technical term used is 'curtailed') for two reasons:
It seemed likely that any new wind farm would include a significant solar PV component and/or battery.
Just one of the more interesting solar developments happening at the time of writing was
Solar River Project, stage 1 being 200 MW solar with a 120 MWh battery, expected to come on-line in late 2019; stage 2 another 200 MW solar with a 150 MWh battery, construction expected to start in late 2019.
There are others of similar sizes proposed for Mintaro, Whyalla and Tailem Bend; and the Bungama Solar Farm at Port Augusta was near completion of the first of two stages.
The proposed 150 MW
Aurora solar thermal power station project at Port Augusta which was to include 1,100 MWh of energy storage has been abandoned.
My impression is the solar thermal power cannot compete with solar photovoltaic, due to the economies of scale of the latter.
This will be a boost for the renewable energy industry in both states, but particularly for SA, and consequently help to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
It is proposed that the new interconnector will have a capacity of 800 MW, which is about a half of the typical electricity generation in South Australia.
At the time of writing there was increasingly often more renewable energy generation in SA than could be used in the state or exported via the existing interconnectors to Victoria. AEMO's Quarterly Energy Dynamics report for the forth quarter of 2018 stated that:
"Curtailments of non-synchronous (wind) generation in South Australia amounted to 4% of available generation for the quarter, down from 10% in Q3 2018."This amounts to a substantial loss of earning power as well as being a loss of clean energy that could go toward displacing fossil fuelled power and reducing emissions, and it will only increase as more renewable energy comes on line. The new interconnector will allow increased wind and solar development in SA because any excess, beyond local consumption, will be able to be sent to NSW, displacing coal power there.
There are times when there is wind in SA and not in the eastern states (and vice-versa), so the new connector will allow states to help each other at these times.
Energy stored in one state will more readily be able to be used in the other state, when needed.
It is expected that the interconnector will be completed about 2022.
The syncons, as they are called, provide 'system strength' and other services to stabilise the power grid. These services have in the past been provided by spinning gas- or coal-fired generators.
Of course the
Morrison federal government is trying to ignore the fact that this can be done, so that they can try to justify continuing to support the fossil fuel industry.
Pumped hydropowerTwo pumped hydro proposals that seem likely to be built in South Australia in the near future are Goat Hill, 220-270 MW, 1.8 GWh and Baroota (photo in the Potential section and mentioned above), 200-270 MW, 1.6 GWh. Both of these are in the upper Spencer Gulf area. For comparison the Hornsdale Power Reserve, the biggest battery in the world when built, has a capacity of 100 MW, 0.129 GWh.
A low wind period lasting a couple of days can leave an energy short-fall of 30 GWh, so plainly far more energy storage than will be provided by these two projects would be useful. (By comparison the Energy Connect interconnector discussed above could deliver 19 GWh in a day.)
BatteriesBloomberg New Energy Finance, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald by Cole Latimer, 2018/11/07, has suggested that Australia is set to be a leader in what will become a $1.7 trillion battery industry. Bloomberg NEF says that Australia will be one of the nine countries leading this battery charge.
A factor that must be considered is that batteries and pumped hydro will be most economically viable if they cycle once a day.
Whether they can be economically justified if only used once a week is questionable.
My impression is that high-capacity long-distance interconnectors will be needed for at least the foreseeable future.
Batteries as 'Virtual' power plantsAt the time of writing several pilot projects were underway testing the practicality of integrating household batteries and household solar into the state power grid. The expectation was that this could add flexibility in matching generation to consumption.
In September 2018 the SA (Liberal!) government was aiming at building
the world's largest virtual power plant that would eventually include a total of 50,000 houses, 250 MW of solar power and 250 MW/675 MWh of battery storage.
Energy storage as heatEnergy can be stored as heat. It has long been stored in the form of heat in hot water, both domestically (a domestic water heater is a storage of thermal energy) and industrially.
One of the great advantages of solar thermal power stations is that it is easy to integrate energy storage with them, usually in the form of molten salt.
Storage of energy is also being explored in molten silicon.
At the time of writing (August 2019), molten silicon was looking promising.
Wikipedia molten silicon can store a megawatt-hour of energy in each cubic metre; a very high energy density.
The technology was
said to be on the cusp of commercialisation in South Australia at the time (August 2019).
Peaking powerAt least until various forms of energy storage (such as pumped hydro) can fill in the generation gaps from renewables we will need peaking power, which currently means gas-fired generation, but there seems to be no need of more in the foreseeable future.
On the matter of base-load power generation the National Energy Emissions Audit from The Australia institute of August 2019, written by Hugh Saddler, stated:
"South Australian electricity supply system provides real world evidence of how a new base load generator, such as a nuclear power station, could not be incorporated into a system with a high proportion of variable renewable generation. The best complement for high renewables is storage and a diversity (in location and type) of renewables."While in 2019 SA was well ahead of the other mainland states in the adoption of renewable energy, wind power in particular, the eastern states were catching up. Tasmania too would not have any use for a base-load power station, because of its very high level of hydro power and increasing wind power.
I have discussed the
myth of base-load elsewhere.
In terms of carbon intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of useful energy obtained) ISG is worse even than mining and burning coal. It is the least attractive option for producing energy from the point of view of greenhouse emissions minimisation. With ISG the coal is partially burned underground, releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen. Later the carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen are burned to obtain useful energy, releasing more carbon dioxide, and steam.
Another major risk of the process is that some of the methane generated in the coal seam is likely to leak into the atmosphere. Methane is a very active greenhouse gas, far more active than carbon dioxide.
It would be a serious backward step, ethically and environmentally, for ISG to be used in South Australia's energy future.
ReliabilityOn the point of reliability, AEMO's Electricity Statement of Opportunities, September 2017 forecast "From 2018–19 to 2021–22, progressively decreasing levels of potential USE [Unserved Energy - power failures due to insufficient generation] conditions are observed over the next four summers, due to increasing renewable generation." The AEMO report foresaw the highest chance of a USE event happening in financial year 2017/18. There were none in SA in that period.
Morrison federal government, new Energy MinisterIt was announced on 2018/08/26 that Angus Taylor was to be Australia's Energy Minister. I hope for the sake of the nation and the world that Mr Taylor is far better informed on energy than he was back in 2012. I had an argument with Angus about wind power on his Facebook page back then, when it became clear he was losing the argument he deleted it. Fortunately I kept a copy.
In February 2019 it was looking very unlikely that the Morrison Government would remain in power following the May 2019 election.
Future federal governmentsWill Labor replace the Coalition at the next election?
Getting into the realm of fantasy, will new PM Morrison take Australia's climate change obligations seriously?
South Australia's state governmentA long-standing Labor government was replaced by a Liberal government in March 2018. It seems that the new Liberal government has recognised the value of SA's renewable energy and the fact that almost everyone in Australia wants more renewable energy. While they show no sign of criticising the federal COALition government they seem to pose no danger to further renewable energy development.
What potential is there?
At the time of writing wind power development in South Australia has been confined to areas that were close to existing high capacity power lines; not a single transmission line has been built (anywhere in Australia) to connect an area of high wind potential to the NEM (National Electricity Market) or the SWIS (SW Interconnected Network) in WA.
Ironically many of SA's wind farms owe their existence to the now-closed coal-fired power stations of Port Augusta. Three (or is it four, I forget) high capacity power lines run the 300 km from Port Augusta to Adelaide east of Spencer and Saint Vincent gulfs through an area of predominantly north-south trending ranges of hills in a region of mostly westerly winds; ideal for wind farms. There is still room for more wind farms near these power lines.
The map shows that Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas, west of Adelaide, have excellent wind power resources. Wind power developments on both peninsulas have reached the small maximum imposed by the existing low-capacity transmission lines.
On 2019/03/24 wind generation in SA went from 314 MW at 1000 hrs to 1281 MW at 1230 hrs, an increase of 967 MW in two and a half hours.
On 2019/03/29 wind generation in SA went from 127 MW at 0000 hrs to 1014 MW at 0300 hrs, an increase of 887 MW in three hours.
If there were several high-capacity wind farms on the west coast of Eyre Peninsula they could make use of wind events such as these several hours before they reached the wind farms of the Mid North and, of course, many hours before they reached the wind farms of the eastern states.
Offshore wind power has been much more expensive than onshore, but with substantial and greatly accelerating offshore development overseas costs have come down substantially; see Unearthed and Wind Power Monthly.
There are advantages to offshore wind power compared to onshore:
Australia's only proposed solar thermal power station, Aurora, is also to be at Port Augusta.
Solar power resources at Port Augusta are as good as any anywhere on the NEM grid, that's why these power stations are there (or are proposed to be there); however, the solar resource gets progressively better north of Port Augusta.
Eyre Peninsula also has big solar power potential and, since it is further west than any other place connected to the National Electricity Market (NEM) its solar is available later in the day (40 minutes later than Melbourne, an hour later than Sydney). This coincides very well with peak demand times in the remainder of the NEM. However, the Eyre Peninsula solar resource (like its wind resource) cannot be developed until increased transmission capacity is built.
Plainly the potential for solar power development in the huge area north of Port Augusta – about 2/3 of the state – is mind-boggling.
All that is lacking for its development is transmission lines and a market for the power.
An Australian National University group under Andrew Blakers identified 5000 sites in mid 2017 each seven to 1000 times larger than the Hornsdale Power Reserve; that is, bigger than 1 GWh.
Apart from capacity,
pumped hydro has a huge advantage over batteries in its longevity; while a battery can be expected to last for a decade or so, most of the components of a pumped hydro installation will last many decades.
On top of this is the question of the recyclability of the components of a battery.
In early 2018 a 100 kW floating solar farm had been completed on effluent ponds in Lismore, NSW, with a proposal of installing another 500 kW later. The photo on the right is of an early (2015) pilot installation at Jamestown, South Australia.
Solar panels have been installed on a bigger scale, a megawatt,
irrigation channels in Gujarat, India in a project expected to reduce
evaporation by 34 ML per year.
Forty megawatts of floating solar panels have also
installed in an area flooded due to coal mining subsidence in China.
When the sun is not shining (more accurately, when the light is not bright, solar power is also generated under cloudy conditions) the wind may be blowing and wind power abundant; as in the right-hand side of the image on the right.
When the wind isn't blowing there may be abundant solar energy, as in the left-hand side of the image.
In South Australia at least it has been noted that winds tend to be stronger at night than in the day.
In this particular 24-hour period 30% of the state's power was generated by solar PV and 39% by wind power; 69% total renewables. Batteries provided 0.6% of the state's demand; expect to see far more energy storage in the future.
As discussed above, South Australia sometimes generates more renewable energy than it can consume or export via electricity transmission lines to the eastern states. This excess at present poses problems; but it should be seen as a potential great asset.
There are some technical challenges involved in achieving the full future potential of South Australia's (and the world's) renewable energy resources.
ARENA Wire, 2018/08/18, described the trial of a system on Tasmania's Bruny Island...
It is an "innovative project using solar and batteries to meet energy needs during holiday periods, when the island’s population soars.
The fully automated Network-Aware Coordination (NAC) system being used is the first of its kind. In the trial, it coordinates batteries equipped with Reposit controllers, to support the network when and where it is needed. In the future, it will also have the capacity to integrate EVs, smart appliances and other distributed resources as they come online."
We will see more and more of this sort of thing, with energy storage being combined with solar and wind power in distributed, rather than centralised systems.
There are currently trials of integrating batteries with household batteries happening in South Australia.
Why not just ship the hydrogen overseas? Hydrogen cannot be liquified by pressure alone, it must also be made very cold, even then it has a very low density and that means it takes up a lot of space and a lot of energy is used in refrigeration. It can be done, but it is expensive.
On the other hand ammonia is easily liquified and there is already a major international trade in ammonia; the technicalities have been solved. By exporting ammonia South Australia could further develop its huge potential wind and solar resources; we have hardly scratched the surface yet.
This has the potential to provide a market for the excess renewable energy that could be generated in South Australia in the future.
High electricity prices have encouraged householders to install solar power. They have encouraged many businesses to install solar too; in addition a number of big businesses have contracted power purchase agreements with the owners of wind farms or solar farms.
The consequence of high power prices, it seems to me, has been, and will continue to be, for more and more individuals and businesses to switch to renewable energy and therefore increasing amounts of renewable energy being built.
For a full understanding of the table the reader should refer to the CSIRO report. The CSIRO table does not include the cost of gas fired electricity generation, that is included in a costings report from the World Energy Council on another page on this site.
The graph and the CSIRO report show clearly that renewables are cheaper than new-build coal-fired (and nuclear) power stations.
This situation is gradually changing. Probably the most important change to come that can be given a probable date is the SA-NSW power interconnector that is likely to be built by 2025, possibly 2024.
The consequence of uncertainty in the power generation industry, it seems to me, has been, and will continue to be, for more and more individuals and businesses to switch to renewable energy and therefore increasing amounts of renewable energy being built.
The decisions should be made by a competent and independent body under instruction to:
On this siteAustralia's energy future
Australia's gobsmackingly biased Energy Minister, Angus Taylor
End of coal: why the coal industry has a very limited future.
Greenhouse/climate change: the greatest threat currently facing mankind.
Killer coal: how the burning of coal kills millions of people world-wide each year.
Power to Gas (P2G, renewable energy used to produced hydrogen gas) in Australia.
Pumped hydro energy storage.
Selfishness or altruism?: self or all?
Wind power opposition: almost universally dishonest.
Related pages on other sites
South Australia big hydrogen projectSA launches world leading $240 million hydrogen project. In Energy News, 2020/11/09, there was an article about this project:
"The South Australian Government has launched a $240 million world-leading hydrogen project as part of its efforts to develop a green hydrogen export industry.
Adelaide: a demonstration plant"Australian-first, $11.4 million hydrogen demonstration plant to be built in Adelaide"; Media Release, Australian Gas Networks, 2018/02/21.
ARENA article on the same project.
Hydrogen for Australia’s future: A briefing paper for the COAG Energy Council – Prepared by the Hydrogen Strategy Group, (headed by Dr Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist), dated August 2018.
Port Lincoln: a demonstration plant"Renewable ammonia demonstration plant announced in South Australia"; Ammonia Industry, written by Trevor Brown, 2018/02/16.
"The plant will comprise a 15 MW electrolyser system, to produce the hydrogen, and two technologies for converting the hydrogen back into electricity: a 10MW gas turbine and 5MW fuel cell. The plant will also include a small but significant ammonia plant, making it “among the first ever commercial facilities to produce distributed ammonia from intermittent renewable resources.”
AustraliaThe Guardian, by Katharine Murphy, 2019/06/22, "Australia's energy future: the real power is not where you’d think".
CSIRO's National Hydrogen Roadmap sketches the opportunities in using hydrogen as a medium for the storing, transporting and consumption of energy.
Opportunities for Australia from hydrogen exports: ACIL Allen consulting for ARENA, dated August 2018. This report's medium growth scenario estimated world-wide annual energy demand for the production of hydrogen to be: 9 TWh by 2025, 32 TWh by 2030, 85 TWh by 2040. To put this in perspective Australia's total current electricity generation in the NEM in 2018 was less than 200 TWh.
$180 million investment in renewable hydrogen energy storage in ACT: ACT Open Government, 2016/08/30.
"How Australia can use hydrogen to export its solar power around the world"; Bianca Nogrady writing in The Guardian 2017/05/19.
16 renewable hydrogen projects backed by ARENA grants, written by Sophie Vorrath in Renew Economy, 2018/09/06. "... ARENA said the R&D projects targeted by the funding covered a diverse range of solutions, with at least one from each point in the supply chain: production, hydrogen carrier, and end use."
"Japan’s hydrogen future may be fuelled by Australian renewables"; ARENA Wire, 2018/07/27.
Energy storage"Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia"; Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu, Matthew Stocks, 2017/09/21, The Conversation. "PHES [pumped hydro energy storage] can readily be developed to balance the grid with any amount of solar and wind power, all the way up to 100%, as ageing coal-fired power stations close."
These Australian National University researchers were awarded the prestigious
Eureka Science Prize for this work in August 2018.
GeneralANU report, 2018/09/10, "Australia’s renewable energy industry is delivering rapid and deep emissions cuts"; written by Ken Baldwin, Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks.
"Coal is no longer cheaper – and we'll prove it": Sanjeev Gupta, the British billionaire who saved the Whyalla steel industry knows that the future lies with renewables.
Heroes building Australia's low-carbon economy, by 350 Australia, September 2018. "Despite a lack of federal government leadership, the low-carbon economy is thriving. The stories featured in this report have been chosen by a selection committee incorporating feedback from stakeholders in the low-carbon economy – businesses, community groups, NGOs, researchers, academics, investors and individual experts."
Deloitte Insights: Global renewable energy trends; Solar and wind move from mainstream to preferred. "Technological innovation, cost efficiencies, and increasing consumer demand are driving renewables–particularly wind and solar–to be preferred energy sources. We examine seven trends that are driving this transformation."
Area of solar panels required to power Australia
Coal: In-situ (underground) gasification
Constraints: what is limiting the development of renewables in South Australia?
Cost: renewables are now cheapest
Decisions; how should they be made?
Electricity generation in South Australia
Evaporation on pumped hydro storages
Exporting hydrogen products made using sustainable electricity
Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia: the great opportunity
Hydrogen generated from renewable energy
In-situ (underground) coal gasification
Integrating generation, storage and consumption
More solar PV
More wind farms
One thing seems certain in early 2019
High prices; the effects
Pumped hydro energy storage
Solar power potential
Solar thermal with storage
Uncertainty; the effects
Unknowns; the big ones
Where do we stand at present? A summary
What area of solar panels would be needed to power Australia?
Wind power potential
Working together; wind and solar complementing each other