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Australia's Energy Future; where from here?

At the time of writing South Australia had gone from near zero renewable electricity to more than half in fifteen years – and in the same period SA's power prices rose less than those in the other states, and renewable energy is getting cheaper all the time. This is only a taste of what is possible.

Not just South Australia, but the whole of Australia has huge renewable energy resources; huge potential to lower not just Australian emissions, but global emissions, huge potential in the development of new industries and increased employment, huge potential for export income. They are all going largely untapped because our federal government can't see beyond fossil fuels.

Unprecedented heatwaves, fires, storms, floods and droughts are just the obvious face of the climate change that scientists have been warning us about for decades. It is plain that renewable energy is the future, coal should be left in the past.

In what follows I point out that we could be developing far more onshore wind power and while we have no offshore wind power at present we could develop a lot of that too. A simple calculation shows that more solar power could be generated in just a small area of northern SA than is consumed in the whole of Australia.

Calculations like these have been done before; they are not new. What is new is that now these things are economically viable. The one thing missing for the full and early development of these assets is vision in those who are running the country (whoever they are).

The opportunities are enormous and many. Apart from more of the same, more wind and solar PV power, we have: turning excess renewable energy into hydrogen to replace natural gas for domestic consumption and export, electric vehicles, hydrogen powered vehicles, producing and exporting hydrogen products including ammonia, exporting electricity and solar thermal power with incorporated energy storage. There are a number of viable forms of energy storage to go with the renewable energy developments: pumped hydro, batteries, compressed air, heat. And there are more developments all the time, based on clean, renewably generated energy.

This page was written 2018/08/20, modified 2020/02/23
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
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SA's energy future


Who wants renewable energy?


This page uses a number of different energy units. See another page on this site for an explanation.

The situation at the time of writing

 
Clare polling booth, Australian federal election, 2019/05/18
Our future
School kids Niamh and Emma asking for the world that they will inherit to be protected.
They and many others were disappointed, the corrupt and coal-loving Liberal/National coalition was re-elected.
  • Greenhouse/climate change and ocean acidification are looming disasters whose massive proportions most people don't seem to grasp. Both are largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
  • Australia has a limited amount of installed wind power (5% of generation in 2016 – Australian Energy Update, 2017, Department of Environment and Energy);
  • More wind power is being developed, and far more has been proposed;
  • About a quarter of Australian houses had roof-top solar power in 2017, the proportion of commercial premises with solar is probably similar (solar accounted for 3% of total generation in 2016, almost all of this being small-scale: Australian Energy Update, 2017, Department of Environment and Energy);
  • Utility scale solar power at the present is small, but is about to become a major factor in the generation/consumption equation; in a decade or so it could become as large as present wind power generation;
  • There is little energy storage in the nation and the amount proposed to be built in the near future is not sufficient to cover foreseeable needs;
  • There is a very large amount of ageing coal-fired generation in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and WA;
  • There is absolutely no need for additional coal-fired (or other, eg. Nuclear) base-load generation capacity;
  • There is sufficient gas generation to fill demand when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.

Geothermal energy

Determined attempts have been made to develop hot rock geothermal energy in SA. They have thus far failed to prove economically viable.


Air pollution is the world's single biggest environmental health risk

A 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, summarised in The Guardian, states that air pollution is the world's single biggest environmental health risk.

The main sources of ambient air pollution are motor vehicles and coal burning. The main sources of air pollution in homes are coal smoke and wood smoke.

Coal (and gas) burning for power generation can be replaced with renewable energy. Motor vehicles can be electrified or powered by non-polluting hydrogen, coal and wood burning in homes can be replaced with electricity, and the electricity for it all can be generated using renewables. Even coke (made from coal) for smelting and refining metals can be replaced by hydrogen extracted from water using renewable energy.



A part of one of Australia's wind farms
Wind farm
Wattle Point Wind Farm, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia


 
A decade of transition in the Australian electricity sector.
Change in terawatt-hours generated in the National Electricity Market between 2008 and 2018.
Graph
Image credit: Simon Holmes à Court, The Guardian
The graph on the right records the change in Australia's energy mix in the decade from 2008 to 2018.

In spite of both Labor and Liberal-National coalition governments (particularly the latter, from the Abbott Government starting in September 2013 to the Morrison Government, still in place at the time of writing, January 2019) supporting the coal industry, renewable energy has made great inroads into power generation in Australia.

Quoting Simon Holmes à Court in the Guardian article that published the graph:

"Highly polluting brown coal use is down 36.6% and black coal (still dirty!) has fallen 9.4%, mostly replaced by wind and solar."
At the time of writing it was looking like the rate of renewable energy installation and coal power station retirement was only going to increase.

While these coalition governments have been nothing short of criminal in their opposition to action on climate change, fortunately they have been notably ineffectual in their efforts to stop the transition to renewable energy.

South Australia shows what is possible

The graph below shows a record of South Australia's huge success in:
  1. Going from near zero renewable energy to about 50% in just 15 years;
  2. Adopting wind power (shown green on the graph);
  3. Adopting solar power (shown yellow on the graph);
  4. Finishing with coal power (shown brown on the graph);
  5. and from 2017, increasingly exporting power to the eastern states.
The remainder of Australia has achieved far less. For more information on South Australia's great achievement see SA Success, elsewhere on this site.

South Australia's generation record (added to this page 2019/01/17)
SA generation record
Image credit: Open Nem


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Where next?

 
Peterborough, South Australia, 4.9 MW Solar Farm
Peterborough Solar Farm
Photo taken using my drone, 2018/05/12.
Peterborough township in the background. The solar farm had not long been completed.
Solar farms less than 5 MW require less ancillary services to be provided by the owner than those over that capacity.
In this section I have outlined the changes that are in the process of happening or seem very close to happening. Also see what will happen a little further into the future below and I've listed the more speculative and exciting developments in the game-changer and technical challenges sections below.

More solar PV

There are a great many rooftop solar PV installations in Australia, typically no bigger than 5 kW and rarely bigger than 100 kW; there is scope for far more. Recently utility scale solar PV farms of multi-MW capacity have become commonplace; a number of these have been in the 100 MW+ range.

At the time of writing many solar PV farms were either under construction or proposed in Australia. Wikipedia stated that:

"As of March 2018, Australia had over 7,803 MW of installed photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 1,651 MW were installed in the preceding 12 months."

Of particular interest was the recent tendency to co-locate solar farms with wind farms; for example there was a 50 MW solar farm proposed for the Snowtown Wind Farm (it was expected that the generation from the solar farm during daylight would smooth the total generation because the wind farm tended to generate most power at night). It seems likely that new wind farms being built in Australia will include a significant solar PV component and possibly some form of energy storage, most likely battery.

In August 2018 Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio had proposed an initiative to install 2,600 MW of solar PV on 360,000 homes; whether it happens will depend on the outcome of an upcoming election among other things.

 
Sundrop Farms – the solar power installation
Sundrop Farms solar
A small part of the greenhouse is just visible on the lower right.
Heat is stored in molten salt in the large tank on the right behind the tower.
Photo taken with my drone

Solar thermal power with storage

At the time of writing Sundrop Farms, near Port Augusta in South Australia (photo on the right) was the only significant development of solar thermal power with energy storage in the country. It is not used to generate grid electricity, it powers a huge greenhouse including desalination of the very salty water supply.

There is huge scope for further similar developments around Australia.

In 2020 it seemed that solar thermal methods of generating electricity had lost the battle against solar photovoltaic, due to the economies of scale of the latter.

More wind farms

At the time of writing 21 wind farms were under construction around Australia, totalling 989 MW; many others had been proposed.

More interconnection

In February 2019 transmission network companies ElectraNet and Transgrid delivered their final report into their proposal to build a $1.5 billion link between Robertstown in South Australia and Wagga Wagga in NSW. They have dubbed the project “EnergyConnect”. For more information on the proposal see Renew Economy.

My impression is that this will be a boost for the renewable energy industry in both states, but particularly for SA, and 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. I have been informed that curtailment on a particular wind farm has been around 3%, but rose to 8% in the last quarter of 2018; if this is typical for all wind farms it is a substantial loss of earning power, 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 NSW (and vice-versa), so the new connector will allow one state to help out the other at these times.

Solar power generation in SA peaks later (often an hour or more later), and continues later in the day, than in NSW. Often the peak demand on the NSW power grid comes when solar power in SA is still generating substantial amounts of electricity; the new interconnector will allow this to be sent to the east.

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.
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Edited 2020/02/08

Energy storage

The dominant forms of sustainable energy generation, sun and wind, are variable so it will be essential to store energy when it is plentiful so that it can be used as it is needed. There are many ways of doing this, and the technologies are being developed all the time.

 

Other forms of energy storage

Supercapacitors (ultracapacitors)
Flywheels. Synchronous condensers are a variation on flywheels.
Rail, Advanced Rail Energy Storage; ARES stores energy by raising the elevation of mass against the force of gravity, and recovers the stored energy as the mass is returned to its original location.

There is a much more extensive list in Wikipedia.

Pumped hydropower

At the time of writing there was little pumped hydro energy storage in Australia; much more was needed and was being considered.

One project that will come on-line in the near future is the 250 MW 2,000 MWh Kidston project using a worked-out mine pit as one of the water storages. Another 200-270 MW, 1,600 MWh one at Baroota, a disused reservoir in South Australia, has been proposed (photo in the Potential section); many more are needed. I've written in more detial on pumped hydro elsewhere on this page.

I've written more in the What potential is there? section of this page.

Batteries

Bloomberg 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.

Batteries as 'Virtual' power plants

At the time of writing several pilot projects were underway in SA, and probably elsewhere too, 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.

 
Edited 2020/01/26

Energy storage as heat

Energy 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. According to Wikipedia molten silicon can store a megawatt-hour of energy in each cubic metre; a very high energy density. The technology had been trialed on a limited scale in conjunction with the use of captured methane in a waste water treatment plant near Adelaide in South Australia in 2019.

 
This section added 2020/01/26

Compressed air energy storage

There are a number of ways in which energy can be stored in the form of compressed air. At the time of writing this method has not been used on a utility scale in Australia (so far as I know), although there is a 5 MW/10 MWh pilot project being built near Strathalbyn in South Australia. See Renew Economy for more information.

This method seems to have a lot of undeveloped potential in Australia.

Wikipedia has an extensive article on compressed air energy storage.

Aluminium smelters could become virtual batteries

Transforming the Way Electricity is Consumed During the Aluminium Smelting Process, by Mark Dorreen, Linda Wright, Geoff Matthews, Pretesh Patel and David S. Wong.

Aluminium smelters consume a huge amount of electricity. Changing them to allow their electricity consumption and aluminium production to vary according to the electricity price and availability could be a win-win situation for the aluminium industry and the renewable energy industry.

Quoting from the Abstract:

"The EnPot technology can be used to help the aluminium smelting industry be part of the solution to accommodate increased intermittency in our future renewable energy generation, post COP 21. The EnPot system provides for the first time, dynamic control of the heat balance of aluminium smelting pots across the potline, so that energy consumption and aluminium production can be increased or decreased by as much as plus or minus 30% almost instantaneously."



Peaking power

At 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.


Base-load power

With the current growth in renewables and energy storage there is absolutely no need for new base-load (coal or nuclear) power in Australia.

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.



ANU 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. Quoting from the Summary:
"During 2018 and 2019 Australia is likely to install about 10,400 Megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy, comprising 7,200 MW of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and windfarms together with 3,200 MW of small-scale rooftop PV systems. Combined, this represents 30% of Australia’s peak electricity demand. The Australian renewable energy industry is convincingly demonstrating its capacity to install large amounts of wind and PV systems. If industry is able to continue to deploy wind and PV at the current rate into 2020 and beyond then Australia will:
  • comfortably exceed the 2020 large scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) of 33,000 GWh
  • be capable of supplying up to 29% renewable electricity in 2020, 50% in 2025 and 100% in the early 2030s
  • achieve 26% emissions reductions in the electricity sector by 2020/21
  • meet its entire 26% Paris emission reduction target for the whole economy in 2024/25
The current deployment rate could well continue. Prices of wind and PV are falling rapidly, potentially opening new markets and placing downwards pressure on electricity prices. Opportunities are broadening beyond the wholesale market as companies recognise the economic and environmental credential benefits of renewable energy."
It is particularly interesting that all this progress was being made at the same time as the Liberal-National coalition federal government was dishonestly ridiculing South Australia's very successful adoption of renewable energy, trying to support the dying coal industry and slow the growth of renewables.
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This section added 2019/02/06

Further into the future

All new roofs will generate power

I can foresee a time when all new roofing will be photo-voltaic; and I don't think it will be very far off. If your roof can generate power, either for your own use or for you to sell to others, why not? There will be little difference in the cost between 'ordinary' roofing and PV roofing in the near future.

Walls and windows could also be made capable of generating electricity; photo-voltaic window materials are already commercially available or close to it. Even paths and roads can be made to generate power.

There will be a time, and it will not be a long while off, when it will be thought very inefficient to not generate power from any artificial surface that is exposed to bright light.

Battery/electric vehicle/grid integration

Household batteries are becoming common, electric vehicles (EVs) are common in some of the more progressive countries and slowly gaining ground in Australia (slowly due to our fossil fuel obsessed governments).

The typical EV battery has a much larger capacity than a household battery. In 2019 car battery capacities varied from 16-60kWh while home battery capacities were typically 2.2-10kWh, with a cost of about $1000/kWh. Since car batteries have about six to seven times the capacity of home batteries only about a sixth or a seventh of the capacity of a car battery would be sufficient to replace a home battery; we should be able to effectively power our homes by solar PV and EV batteries.

Of course the EV battery will not be able to supply the house when the car is away from the home. Perhaps the ideal would be an EV together with a small home battery (say 1-5kWh?); alternatively, just buy grid power as needed when the EV is away. Another possibility, if battery prices fall far enough, is having a home battery big enough to fast-charge your EV.

It will be to the advantage of everyone – householders, EV owners, and those who run the power grid – to charge EV batteries and household batteries when power on the grid is plentiful and cheap and to feed power into the grid when it is in short supply and expensive. This just requires changes in the way power is bought and sold to small consumers.

Of course it will also be to the advantage of a householder to save on capital costs by integrating the EV battery into the household supply so that a smaller and cheaper battery will be sufficient in the house.

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The big unknown: what will future governments do?

It was announced on 2018/08/26 that Angus Taylor was Australia's new Energy Minister in the Morrison Coalition Government. At the time I hoped for the sake of the nation and the world that Mr Taylor was far better informed on energy in 2018 than he was back in 2012, but that hope proved to be unjustified. I had an argument with Angus about wind power on his Facebook page in 2012, when it became clear he was losing the argument he deleted it. Fortunately I kept a copy.

At least to January 2020 the Morrison Government had continued the anti-renewable energy stance of the previous Turnbull and Abbott governments.

Like the Turnbull Government, the Morrison Government has laboured the point of reliability of the electricity supply. 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 so far as I know.

Future federal governments

As of early 2020 the Liberal/National coalition showed no sign of significant action toward reducing fossil fuel emissions. The federal Labor Opposition under Anthony Albanese has stated that it will continue to support expansion of coal mining in Australia.

South Australia's state government

A long-standing Labor government was replaced by a Liberal government in March 2018. Surprisingly, the new Liberal government has recognised the value of SA's renewable energy. While they have been careful to not criticise the federal Coalition government they seem to pose no danger to renewable energy developments in South Australia.
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What potential is there?
We've just scratched the surface so far.

 
Wind resource map of Australia
Wind resources in Australia
Image from Aust. Dept. of the Environment, Renewable Energy Atlas of Australia
(Apparently no longer available – 2011/03/18)

Wind power potential

Onshore wind power

The map on the right shows the best wind power resource areas in Australia in red.

At the time of writing wind power development in 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.

South Australia has gone much further in developing wind power than any other state, with close to 50% of total generation being by wind at the time of writing. Even in SA there is room for far more; for example the map shows that Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas, in South Australia 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. South Australia's current wind power, 1.8 GW at the end of 2017, could be doubled or more if there was a power transmission system capable of taking the energy.

Other states have huge untapped wind power potential
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Offshore wind power

The map shows that there is huge potential for offshore wind power all along the southern Australian coast, particularly in Base Strate. Australia at the time of writing had no offshore wind power, not even any proposed offshore wind power.

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:

  • There are no transport constraints due to road access, length limits, weight limits;
  • Winds over the sea tend to be more consistent and less turbulent than those over land;
  • Turbines can be bigger and turbine towers taller because they don't have to be transported by trucks, they are transported by ships;
  • The problems due to nearby habitation that exist for some onshore wind farms do not arise;
  • Turbine bases form anchoring points for marine life: a boost for marine biodiversity.
What is the potential of Australia's offshore wind power? It could exceed onshore, I'd say that 25 GW would be conservative.

 
The 137.5 MW first stage of Bungala Solar Farm, under construction
Bungala
A composite of several drone photos taken during construction, 2018/05/10

Solar power potential

Solar power resources in Australia's inland are as good as any in the world.

Just in my state, South Australia, 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 federal government getting out of the way.

What area of solar panels would be needed?

The area of the part of SA north of the settled districts is around 700,000 km2. Solar farms installed capacities for that area could be expected to be at least 40 MW/km2. So, if 1% of the area of northern SA was covered in solar panels the capacity would be 280 GW and this would generate around 600 TWh/year, more than twice the total annual electricity consumption of Australia.

The potential for the whole nation boggles the mind!

Pumped hydro energy storage

At the time of writing there were three major pumped hydro installations in Australia:
Tumut 3, NSW, Snowy Mountains Scheme
Registered capacity 600 MW
Commissioned in 1959

Shoalhaven, NSW
Registered capacity 240 MW
Commissioned in 1977. In November 2018 Shoalhaven owners Origin Energy were investigating increasing the capacity to 475 MW.

Wivenhoe, Queensland
Registered capacity 480 MW
Commissioned in 1984
 
Baroota Reservoir; proposed for use for pumped hydro – see text
Baroota Reservior
Photo taken using my drone, 2018/08/21.
The upper reservoir will be near the top of the ridge in the background, 200 m above the water level of the dam; a drilling rig may be seen on the ridge in high-definition version of this photo.

Snowy Hydro 2.0

In the future is the huge potential of Snowy Hydro 2.0 which will be able to supply 2,000 MW of power for up to 175 hours (total energy storage 350,000 MWh). It has serious technical challenges associated with the geology where the proposed tunnels will have to go and just with its huge size, length of tunnel, and great hydraulic head.

The greatest question with Snowy Hydro 2.0 is whether it can compete with a number of smaller installations elsewhere.

Tasmania 'Battery of the Nation'

Of particular interest is the potentially 4,800 MW Tasmanian 'Battery of the Nation' supported by ARENA. (This is more than twice the expected power capacity of Snowy Hydro 2.0.) The Tasmanian proposal will require a second Bass-Link undersea electricity interconnector, but that uses well established technology.

Australian pumped hydro potential research

An Australian National University group under Andrew Blakers identified 5000 potential pumped hydro sites in mid 2017 each bigger than 1,000 MWh.

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.

 
An early pilot floating solar power installation
floating solar
On common effluent ponds at Jamestown in Mid-North South Austalia. Photo 2016/12/12

Pilot projects

At 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.

Reducing evaporation on pumped hydro storages

Evaporative losses from water storages is a major problem in Australia. While most pumped hydro storages are not large, evaporation losses will still potentially be significant. However there are ways of reducing the losses, even of making good use of the area available to generate more renewable electricity.

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, over 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 been installed in an area flooded due to coal mining subsidence in China.

More information

I've written more on pumped hydro and pumped hydro using old mines on other pages on this site.
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This section added 2019/12/08

Working together: wind and solar complementing each other


 
South Australia's power generation over one day
South Australia's power generation sources over a 24 hour period, 2019/12/07-08
Image credit Open NEM
The graph on the right shows how wind power and solar power can, and do, complement each other.

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.

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Transport

At the time of writing, in 2019, there were seven countries in Europe that had announced measures to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles in favour of electric models: France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Scotland, the UK. The Indian government has said that every vehicle sold in the country should be powered by electricity by 2030. According to CNN Business:
"Austria, China, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain have set official targets for electric car sales. The United States doesn't have a federal policy, but at least eight states have set out goals."

In 2019 it was obvious that electrically powered vehicles were the future of land transport, but Australia, due to its government being corrupted by fossil fuel interests, was a long way behind most of the rest of the world. Before the May 2019 federal election Australia's Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, was rubbishing EVs.

In an article written 2019/04/08 by Ben Potter in the Financial Review Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes was quoted as saying that PM Morrison and Minister Taylor were 'tied up in knots' on EV; they were contradicting their own past statements.

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Game-changers

In this section I try to follow a line of logical thinking keeping in mind the economics, the need to maintain a reliable power supply and the need to reduce emissions. While the last of these is uppermost in my mind, on this page I try to accept the reality that it seems to have a low priority among those in positions of power (particularly the federal government and the owners of the big fossil-fuelled power stations). In Australia there is a large and powerful lobby for the continued use of fossil fuels.

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; as renewable energy could be to the whole nation.

There are some technical challenges involved in achieving the full future potential of Australia's (and the world's) renewable energy resources.

Renewables are now the cheapest form of new-build generation

We all know how important money is; money is a factor in practically every major decision. The fact that onshore wind power and solar PV are now the cheapest ways of generating electricity will certainly be a game-changer. We are already seeing an explosion in the numbers of medium to large-scale solar PV farms.

Integrating generation, storage and consumption

In the past solar PV generation in Australia has been fed directly into the grid, irrespective of when the power is most needed. It is best if the power could be released as it is needed, particularly in areas having limited flexibility, such as communities at the end of long, limited capacity, power lines.

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.
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Hydrogen generated from renewable energy

 

Hydrogen, ammonia, hydrogen

Hydrogen can be produced from water using renewable energy;
The hydrogen can then be used as a fuel, or;

It can be used to produce ammonia which can conveniently be stored until it is needed or shipped to where it is needed;
Ammonia can be used to produce a number of useful products, particularly fertilisers, or;

The ammonia can be broken down into nitrogen and hydrogen;
The hydrogen can be used as a fuel.
 

An opportunity in 'unusable' solar power?

Giles Parkinson wrote in RenewEconomy 2019/12/20 of more than a million dollars a day of solar power unable to be used because of potential instability in the Victorian grid.
"Five operating solar farms – four in Victoria and one in NSW – have had their output curtailed [by AEMO] by half since mid September after modelling revealed “system strength issues”, and the risk of severe “oscillation” in the event of a major network fault or outage."

Surely there is potential for using the excess power to produce hydrogen.

 

Related pages on this site

There is a page on Hydrogen and Energy: The production and uses, and advantages and disadvantages, of hydrogen as a fuel.

There is a page on Power to (hydrogen) Gas (P2G) in Australia.

Hydrogen for steel making

Another nail in coal’s coffin? German steel furnace runs on renewable hydrogen in world first - traditionally coke, made out of high-grade coal, has been used for steel-making. 'It aint necessarily so' any more.

The use of hydrogen to support steel manufacturing is being investigated in South Australia, and there has to be huge potential for this technology in places like Western Australia's Pilbara, where there are both enormous iron ore and renewable energy resources (wind and solar). Renewably produced iron and steel would have a far greater value to Australia than raw iron ore.

Hydrogen to replace natural gas

In addition to using the renewably generated hydrogen in a new export industry it can simply be used as a supplement or replacement for natural gas (which cannot last for ever and produces carbon dioxide when burned).

Hydrogen powered vehicles

Hydrogen powered vehicles are very rare in Australia, but there are a number overseas. If Australia had plentiful renewably generated hydrogen they could become a very attractive economic and environmental proposition in Australia.

Hydrogen from coal

Hydrogen can also be made using coal as an energy source, and this has been proposed as a way of providing a future for coal.

Of course producing a clean energy source such as hydrogen from coal would be pointless unless the carbon dioxide from the burning of the coal was sequested. The necessary carbon capture and sequestration will make the process too expensive to compete with renewably generated hydrogen.

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Electric vehicles

The number of battery-electric vehicles being built is increasing at an exponential rate. They are uncommon in Australia because of a total lack of the financial incentives that there are in many overseas countries, but there is no doubt that Australia will eventually join the trend. Of course that will increase the demand for electricity, and, even better, there should be some flexibility in the times when EVs can be charged; preferentially when renewable energy is plentifully available.

Cars are by no means the only mode of transport going electric, commuter busses will be early adopters of electric motivation; electric training aircraft are already popular, electric trucks and ships are coming.

Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia: a great opportunity

Exporting sustainable electricity

On 2017/12/01 The West Australian newspaper published a piece headlined "Pilbara solar and wind plant bigger than Greater Perth to power South-East Asia". It described a $13.2 billion wind and solar power plant in the Pilbara that was aimed at exporting power to Java (and possibly Singapore) by two massive undersea cables. The project is being called the Asia Renewable Energy Hub.
 

Update July 2019

The proposed capacity of the Pilbara project has been increased to 15 GW. It had earlier been increased from 7.4 GW to 9 GW and then to 11 GW.

In the Northern Territory a 10 GW solar project named Sun Cable has been proposed in which the power will be generated (and stored in batteries as needed) at Tennant Creek and exported via Darwin and undersea cable to Singapore.

Putting these projects in perspective, Australia's biggest coal-fired power stations are around 2-3 GW.

"The proposal includes up to twelve hundred 300m-high wind turbines to generate up to 5000 MW [5 GW], with a further 2400 MW [2.4 GW] from solar panels.

...lots of sun during the day and high wind speeds in the morning, evening and night would allow the delivery of competitively priced power."
Energy storage was not mentioned in the article but it would have to be valuable in filling some of the gaps in the variable production of power from the wind and solar generators.

Another article in The West Australian, this time on 2018/09/12, talked about 1262 wind turbines and mentioned that 11,756ha (about 118 km2) of native vegetation would need to be cleared.

Exporting hydrogen products made using sustainable electricity

Australia could become a leading nation in the export of renewable energy by using it to produce hydrogen, converting this to ammonia and shipping the ammonia overseas.

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 and it has many industrial uses. If required, ammonia can easily be broken back down into nitrogen and hydrogen.

By exporting ammonia Australia could further develop its huge potential wind and solar resources; we have hardly scratched the surface yet.

Value adding to our exports: Making the most of our cheap energy

The energy of the future, if humanity is to have a future, will be renewable energy; it must be.

Australia's renewable energy resources are among the best in the world and, as of the time of writing, early 2020, are cheaper than no-renewable alternatives, so energy in the future will be more plentiful and cheap in Australia than in most other countries.

Iron, aluminium and other metals

So instead of exporting metal ores in the future it will make far more sense to use our cheap energy to convert those ores into metals and make more export income out of them. Converting them to metals also means much lower weight in the exported products so lower costs in the exporting.

Silicon

There is a huge and growing market for high purity silicon for computers, solar panels and other uses. At present Australia produces only a very small part of the world's high-purity silicon (about 1%, if I remember correctly). The main requirements for the production of high-purity silicon is high-purity quartz or quartz sand (quartz is silicon dioxide) and abundant cheap energy. Australia has both.


Of course the same argument stands for any energy intensive value adding manufacturing process; it will make more sense to do it in Australia than elsewhere.
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Technicalities

Some technical points on hydrogen-ammonia-hydrogen conversion

Hydrogen can be produced from water using renewable energy and electrolysis, but hydrogen is not easy to store or transport. It is easy to combine hydrogen with nitrogen to produce ammonia which can readily be stored and transported, and then it is easy to recover the hydrogen from the ammonia. Ammonia could be readily stored in a car's fuel tank and then broken down to hydrogen which could power the car in fuel cells, but there has been one catch. Any trace of ammonia in the hydrogen used in the car's fuel cells will quickly damage them.

Possible breakthrough solution to the ammonia contamination problem

The problem may have been overcome by CSIRO researchers using a breakthrough membrane that, we are told, separates very high purity hydrogen from the ammonia. On 2018/08/08 Brisbane ABC posted a piece by Lexy Hamilton-Smith on online news about the testing of two hydrogen powered cars based in the CSIRO technology.

This has the potential to provide a market for the excess renewable energy that could be generated in Australia in the future.

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High prices; the effects

Australia's power prices have been high by world standards and this fact has had a lot of publicity.

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.



Cost of energy

 
Conventional LCOE estimates for selected technonogies
Cost of energy graph
The table lists only low emission technologies; the cost of carbon capture and storage (CCS) greatly increases the cost of fossil fuel generation.

Why have electricity prices been high in Australia?

Two of the main reasons are:
  1. The distances that power has to be transmitted in Australia are large and long high-capacity power lines are expensive;
  2. There has been a lack of effective power policy from the federal government for many years; see the effects of uncertainty, below.
Irresponsible people have blamed high power prices on renewable energy but this is plainly absurd because until very recently renewable energy has made up a very small part of Australia's energy supply.

Cost of renewable energy

The graphic on the right is from the CSIRO report "Electricity generation technology projections 2017-2050" by Jenny A Hayward and Paul W Graham, December 2017.

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.

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Uncertainty; the effects

For years there has been a lot of uncertainty in the future of power generation in Australia. One of the responses to this is for businesses to make their own arrangements for power supply by either installing their own solar power or contracting the owners of wind or solar farms for power supplies.

So the consequence of uncertainty to the power generation industry, it seems to me, has been, and will continue to be, for more and more consumers, individuals or businesses, to switch to renewable energy and therefore increasing amounts of renewable energy being built.

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How should decisions be made?

Who should make the decisions that need to be made about Australia's energy future?
How should they be made?
What aims should there be behind the decisions?

The decisions should be made by an unbiased body that is fully informed and has the required knowledge, or access to that knowledge. It follows that they should not be made by politicians.

The decisions should be made by a competent and independent body under instruction to:

  1. Take full account of the economics of the power supply system;
  2. Consider the future opportunities such as the exporting of energy in one form or another;
  3. Give a high priority to the reliability of the power supply system;
  4. Give full consideration to the available technologies and the technologies that are likely to become available in the near future;
  5. Take into account Australia's commitments and ethical responsibilities to lower greenhouse gas emissions as much as is reasonably possible within economic and technological constraints.
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Related pages

On this site

Who wants renewable energy?

End of coal: why the coal industry has a very limited future.

Ethics: a subject that Energy Minister Taylor would do well to learn about.

Greenhouse/climate change: the greatest threat currently facing mankind.

Hydrogen and energy

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?

SA's energy future

South Australia's success in changing toward renewable energy

Angus Taylor, Australia's gobsmackingly biased Energy Minister

What matters? in climate change and government

Which electricity generation method should Australia choose for the future?

Which would you prefer, wind energy or fossil fuels?

Why support wind power

Why would you choose nuclear power?

Wind power opposition: almost universally dishonest.



Related pages on other sites

Hydrogen: a potential game-changer

 
There are more links relating to hydrogen, both on and off this site, in the related pages section of my page on hydrogen and energy.

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.

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 electrolyzer system, to produce the hydrogen, and two technologies for converting the hydrogen back into electricity: a 10 MW 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.”
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Australia

The 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.

Hydrogen for Australia’s future: A briefng paper for the COAG Energy Council – Prepared by the Hydrogen Strategy Group, (headed by Dr Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist), dated August 2018.

Enough ambition (and hydrogen) could get Australia to 200% renewable energy; The Conversation, 2019/11/21; Scott Hamilton, Changlong Wang, Falko Ueckerdt, Roger Dargaville

HiTeMP OUTLOOK 2018: Transforming High Temperature Minerals Processing: A multi-stakeholder perspective on pathways to high value, net-zero CO2 products for the new economy. University of Adelaide. The paper discusses potential used of renewably produced hydrogen among other things.

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.



General

ANU 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."

Another nail in coal’s coffin? German steel furnace runs on renewable hydrogen in world first - traditionally coke, made out of high-grade coal, has been used for steel-making. 'It aint necessarily so' any more.

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Index

Base-load power
All new roofs will generate power
Aluminium smelters could become virtual batteries
Battery/electric vehicle/grid integration
Cost: renewables are now cheapest
Current situation
Decisions; how should they be made?
Electric vehicles
Energy storage
  Pumped hydropower
  Batteries
  Energy storage as heat
  Energy storage in compressed air
Evaporation on pumped hydro storages
Exporting hydrogen products made using sustainable electricity
Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia: the great opportunity
Exporting sustainable electricity
Game-changers
Geothermal energy
High prices; the effects
Hydrogen generated from renewable energy
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Hydrogen for steel making
Hydrogen powered vehicles
Integrating generation, storage and consumption
  Battery/electric vehicle/grid integration
More interconnection
More solar PV
More wind farms
NEG (National Electricity Grid)
Opportunity, the great. Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia
Opportunity in 'unusable' solar power?
Potential
Pumped hydro energy storage
Related pages
Solar power potential
Solar thermal with storage
Technicalities
Transport
Uncertainty; the effects
Unknowns
Value adding to our exports: Making the most of our cheap energy
What area of solar panels would be needed?
Where next?
Wind power potential
Working together; wind and solar complementing each other


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