Australia’s Grid Vulnerabilities Threaten Wind Energy Expansion Too

Highlights :

  • The failure of Australia’s federal government to find the money to improve the grid for more renewables is a poor commentary on that country’s priorities.
  • Best placed to achieve decarbonisation of its grid quickly, the country seems to be in thrall to its status as the largest coal exporter.

Australia, where solar rooftop became the number 1 source of energy on some day earlier this year, has been grappling with issues with the national grid for some time. At stake is not just the grid stability itself, but also the expansion of renewables further into the system. While large battery announcements have given the impressions that much is happening, at a broader scale, much more needs to be done. In recent times, solar rooftop owners have faced curtailment risks, and lower realisations, barely 3-4 years after setting up rooftop plants on a different set of assumptions for the amount they would be paid for generation.

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Now Wind turbine major Vestas has warned that  new wind projects might be at risk of the federal government does not move to make grid connections less expensive and difficult to get.

Grid transmission losses can be as high as 20-25% in rural areas, due to a number of issues.

The Key Issues With the Australian Grid

The key issue is the lack of connection infrastructure and inability of the transmission network to accommodate the new levels of renewable energy output. Guaranteeing the storage of the output is also a problem now. The grid connection network in the continent sized territory is physically very long and very thin, which creates capacity difficulties when attempting to integrate both developing and new solar/ wind farms. The existing transmission lines were not designed to store and transport mass electricity from large-scale renewable farms. Transmission lines are also generally located in areas traditionally associated with fossil-fuel electricity generation sites and are therefore a long way from the renewables sites. Most regions that possess ideal weather conditions are located in more isolated and inland locations, such that much of the generated renewable energy is lost and is unable to reach urban centres.  For developers, this creates issues with projecting even net realisations, as losses can be unpredictable.

AEMO, or the Australian Energy Market Operator has released one 20-year blueprint for a transition to a renewables based grid, known as the Integrated System Plan, and is about to release an updated version that will plot a path to a decarbonised grid as early as the mid 2030s. That ambition is considered too little, even timid, by detractors who claim that the country is in the enviable position position of getting to net zero way earlier than other developed countries by virtue of its low population, plentiful resources, and more. However, being the world’s largest coal exporter seems to have made the Australians

Considering the longer gestation period and investments required for transmission projects, not only is it considered important for the Australian federal government to decide and move faster, especially on the NEM (National Electricity Market) and the SWIS (the main grid in W.A.). It is also considered key to keep the momentum up on renewable energy, where the country already has a standout record on solar rooftop. As the highest rooftop generation per capita as well as the highest penetration among houses.

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