How Australia’s States Are Leading The Renewables Push

Highlights :

By pushing on their own for more renewable energy, the states benefit in other ways, like attracting more industry which seeks green energy, besides the possibilities in new energy intensive sectors like green hydrogen.

Australia’s states have taken the lead in the push for renewables, with Tasmania setting a 200% target for renewable energy by 2040. NSW and South Australia have also made aggressive plans. The country already has a rooftop solar penetration of over 30%, the highest in the world,  making rooftop solar the largest contributor to its renewable basket and second overall presently.

In 2021, green energy provided 5 times more power into Australia’s largest grid than gas in 2021, according to new data from the Climate Council. Further, renewables reached record highs in all mainland states last year, while gas generation fell once again across the country, down to its lowest level in more than 15 years in the National Electricity Market (NEM) despite virtually no change in electricity demand. Let us examine some key renewable developments that have taken place in Australia’s 6 federal states in recent time:

New South Wales (NSW)

NSW, whose state capital Sydney is also Australia’s largest city, recently declared its second Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), as part of its long term strategy to replace its fossil fuel driven electricity sector with renewable energy. The latest zone is the New England REZ, based around Armidale in the state’s north. This comes two months after the first zone was declared, the Central-West Orana REZ. Besides other benefits, the zone also has opportunities for pumped hydro projects, which could be crucial for energy storage on demand. The New England REZ planned for 8GW of wind, solar and storage capacity, but the response has been massive, with upto 25 GW worth interest indicated.

Queensland

In June 2017, the Queensland Government committed to a renewable energy target of meeting 50 per cent of all its energy needs from renewable sources, such as sunlight, wind, and water, by 2030. While the state’s renewable energy consumption was around 7% in 2017, upto 18 per cent of all energy generated in Queensland in 2020–21 was from renewable sources. As per recent estimates, the state could reach around 35 per cent renewable energy in 2025. The increase has been driven by multiple factors, including market forces and government incentives.

Under the Queensland government’s new $2 billion Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Jobs Fund, state-owned energy corporations may significantly increase their development and ownership of renewable energy generation. They may also access the fund to support the development of private sector renewable energy projects. Rooftop solar is the single largest source of renewable energy generation in Queensland. When combined with large-scale solar generation (or solar farms), it represents around 67 per cent of all renewable generation in the state.

South Australia

South Australia set an impressive new renewable energy record in the final days of 2021, with the state’s solar and wind farms and rooftop solar systems supplying an average of just over 100% of local demand every day for a period of almost one week.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has significantly reduced the need for gas generators to operate in the background at times of high wind and/or solar output in the state, thanks to the commissioning of four synchronous condensers that can provide much of the system strength originally sourced from gas.

South Australia is already a world-leader with an average of more than 62 per cent wind and solar in the past year, and it regularly reaches 100 per cent renewables, usually with the help of its 2GW of installed wind farm capacity.

Amp Power Australia, the Australian operating company of global developer Amp Energy, recently announced the establishment of the Renewable Energy Hub of South Australia (REHSA); a strategic portfolio of large-scale integrated Solar PV, Wind and Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) assets located in South Australia. REHSA also includes the siting of the Spencer Gulf Hydrogen Energy Ecoplex, forming part of the state government’s Hydrogen Action Plan.

Tasmania

In late November 2020, Tasmania met nearly 100% renewable target after the 29th wind turbine went online at Granville Harbour on the island’s west coast. Last year, the state equaled it’s previous feat of 99.9 percent of wind, water and sun.

“Thanks to a century of hard work, invention, and sacrifice we have been at net zero emissions for six of the past seven years, we are 100 per cent powered by renewables and we have legislated to be at 200 per cent by 2040,” the state government recently said.

“Tasmania is on track to be a global leader in green hydrogen production by 2030, and we are expecting a decision shortly on our Commonwealth funding application to establish a Green Hydrogen Hub at Bell Bay,” it added.

So far, the government claims to have made up to $12.3 million available for the trial of green hydrogen buses and the investigation of opportunities to use green hydrogen for trucking and marine vessels. In the upcoming Tasmanian Budget, the government states that it will invest $10 million over four years to replace ageing fleet of fossil fuel boilers in schools, hospitals and correctional facilities with renewable energy-powered alternatives including bioenergy technology which will improve environmental, social and health outcomes for future generations.

Victoria

The Victorian Government has increased the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) to 50 per cent by 2030, building on Victoria’s previously legislated renewable energy generation targets of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025.

In 2020, renewable energy sources generated more than 26 per cent of Victoria’s electricity, enabling Victoria to meet the first VRET target for 25% renewable energy generation by 2020. This is expected to generate billions of dollars of additional economic activity in Victoria, create thousands of jobs, put downward pressure on electricity prices and reduce emissions from electricity generation, contributing to Victoria’s long-term target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The state government is providing $6.6 million via its Renewable Hydrogen Commercialisation Pathways Fund to six renewable hydrogen projects aiming to clean up heavy transport, buses and industry.

Further, the key offshore oil and gas producer has recently become the first Australian state to set offshore wind targets: Under its new wind policy, it targets procuring projects that will generate at least 2 GW of offshore wind by 2032 — enough capacity, it claims, to power 1.5 million homes and equivalent to about 20% of the state’s power needs. It plans to increase this capacity to 4 GW by 2035, and 9 GW by 2040.

While Australia does not yet have any operational offshore wind projects, Victoria’s plan aims to deliver power by 2028. Although the government’s policy details targets only up to 2040, it claims studies have shown Victoria has the potential to support 13 GW of capacity from coastal regions by 2050 — five times the state’s current renewable-energy generation.

Late last year, the Victorian government pledged about A$40 million (US$29.4 million) to fund feasibility studies and pre-construction development for three major offshore wind proposals with potential combined capacity of 4.7 GW. These include the 2.2 GW Star of the South, Macquarie Group’s 1 GW Great Southern offshore wind farm and Flotation Energy’s 1.5 GW Seadragon project.

Western Australia (WA)

Despite natural advantages in wind, sun and space, WA has long been the laggard state in Australia’s race to be a “renewable export powerhouse”, according to a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

WA ranked behind all jurisdictions except the federal government and the Northern Territory in a report released recently that scored how well Australia was preparing not just to switch domestic energy to renewables but also to prepare for new export industries based on clean energy.

The WA government released a “Whole of System Plan” in November 2020 that presented four scenarios for WA’s south-west power grid to 2040. In three of the scenarios more gas was used in 2040 than now and emissions reductions were about 25 per cent or less, leaving the remaining 75 per cent reduction to net zero emissions by 2050 to the 2040s. Many believe that these scenarios aren’t ambitious enough.

WA’s second weakness, according to the WWF, was in efforts to decarbonise the transport, buildings and industrial sectors. NSW reportedly had a $715 million industry decarbonisation plan and a commitment to zero-emissions buses by 2030 and Victoria planned to support retro-fitting houses to increase energy efficiency and switch away from gas use in buildings, while WA was doing “not very much at all.”

Overall, WA scored well on having strategies to promote renewable exports, particularly green hydrogen made from renewable electricity, promotion of value-adding in the battery sector and the development of microgrid technology for both local use and export.

However, it is not too late for a change in WA’s renewable fortunes: An international consortium is planning to build what would be the world’s biggest renewable energy hub in Australia, covering an area half the size of Belgium, to convert wind and solar power into green fuels like hydrogen. Western Green Energy Hub (WGEH) is an integrated green fuels mega project in the South-East of Western Australia. When fully operational, WGEH is expected to produce up to 50 gigawatts of hybrid wind and solar power over 15,000-square-kilometres in across the Shires of Dundas and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

WGEH will be built in phases to produce up to 3.5 million tons of zero-carbon green hydrogen or 20 million tons of green ammonia each year, which will be provided domestically and exported internationally as the green fuels market continues to expand post- 2030.

Climate Council Senior Researcher Tim Baxter summed up Western Australia’s renewable prospects well: “…WA’s largest grid, which for the first time ever in 2021 saw renewables overtake gas to become the state’s biggest source of power. This is incredibly significant considering renewable energy generation has more than doubled in WA in just three years.”

All in all, the recent renewable progress in Australia’s 6 federal states demonstrates that they aiming high: Renewable energy generation increased by almost 20 percent in the NEM in 2021, with a 30 percent jump in Victoria and 26 percent jump in Western Australia. In South Australia, gas generation slumped to its lowest level in more than two decades, while in Victoria it dropped a whopping 30 percent in just 12 months.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.

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