This week Australia’s energy market operator warned that gaps in electricity supply are likely within three years.
The reason? Coal-fired power plants are leaving the market earlier than expected and becoming less reliable. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed the prices of coal, gas, gasoline and diesel to painful heights. Home energy bills are also skyrocketing, largely due to soaring gas prices. At one point, outages and fuel shortages at coal and gas plants, coupled with low solar and wind generation, nearly cut off power to a third of all customers on the east coast.
But the good news is there is a clean energy gold rush underway, now we have a legislated emissions target and strong commitment between state and federal energy ministers . Investors are moving with increased confidence, accelerating their investments in clean energy generation and storage.
Still, there is a big task ahead to reach the 82% renewable energy target by 2030. We will need rapid deployment, not only to meet grid demand, but also to the new demand resulting from the move to “electric everything” in our homes and on our roads.
So what changes can you expect?
Solar panels and wind farms will spawn in many more locations
The first thing you’ll probably notice is the rapid construction of new clean energy projects.
Over the past year, many of our coal-fired plants have become less reliable due to age, heat stress and lack of fuel. There’s going to be a rush out for the coal. What’s the point of operators spending money to shore up end-of-life power plants?
As a result, five coal-fired power stations are now expected to close by the end of the decade, far more than expected.
What will replace them? Solar and wind farms, as these are the cheapest forms of next generation, backed by energy storage in batteries and pumped hydro.
The market operator cautiously expects 7.3 gigawatts of new generation to be built by the end of 2026-27, half of which (3.4 GW) “scheduled” to be built, meaning that AEMO has a good degree of confidence in building these renewables.
Even so, this is only a tiny fraction of the estimated 45 GW of renewable opportunities in Australia readily available to investors and clean energy developers. We will need to build all 45 GW, and then at least 5 GW more, to reach our 82% renewable energy target.
Unlike thermal power plants, solar and wind farms consist of simple building blocks that are faster to manufacture and deploy to scale.
In particular, you can expect to see solar and wind farms popping up in renewable energy areas like New England and west-central New South Wales. These zones are designed to share the costs of building a new grid among a concentration of clean energy generation in areas with good solar and wind resources.
Batteries to store and transmission lines to move electricity
Other major infrastructure investments will be made in energy storage and transmission lines.
The growing value of the storage network is driving major investments like the A$1 billion plans for new network-wide batteries recently announced by US investment giant Blackrock, as well as the $763 million plan companies from AGL to build batteries next to the disused Liddell Coal. Power plant.
Much of this investment is happening in coal country, such as Victoria’s Gippsland and New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. Here, companies are vying to place grid-scale batteries in old coal-fired power plants. Why? To take advantage of existing strong connections to the network.
While our existing transmission infrastructure will host many new power plants and renewable batteries, new transmission lines will need to be built. Especially between states, such as EnergyConnect between NSW and South Australia, as well as new grid extensions to connect renewable energy areas to major cities.
A focus on flexible energy use
In addition to the infrastructure placed in the grid, there will be a new focus on unlocking the value of energy demand flexibility to better match the variability of when solar and wind power plants produce energy. electricity.
Storage is a source of flexibility. Timing our own electricity consumption is another.
Flexible energy use requires far fewer resources than new infrastructure and offers the greatest benefit to system reliability. But it depends on human behavior and our willingness to change established habits.
Expect to see strong price incentives for you to use electricity when it is plentiful. The sunniest hours are already the cheapest to use electricity in most of Australia, and it will only get cheaper.
Not only that, but you’ll likely see network incentives during peak demand times. Image notifications giving you a financial incentive to turn off power-hungry devices such as electric vehicle chargers, household batteries, and heaters in use at particular times, and for these features to be offered through automation.
This focus on the demand side of electricity use is already well understood by energy-intensive industries. Last year, for the first time, this demand response was also enabled for home users.
What can you prepare?
The long overdue energy transformation will affect everyone, in the way we use energy at home as well as in the infrastructure of our communities.
This transition depends on all of us for support and direction. Projects will need social approval – support from local communities – political backing and, in some cases, personal investment in technology and services.
Time investments will be especially important if we are to save billions of dollars and millions of tons of critical materials by making demand-side flexibility a reality.
So be ready to see the change and be part of it. While change can be daunting, energy transition is really about taking new, flexible paths to the same goal, as my children’s book on energy transition shows. And the benefits are enormous: abundant and cheap energy, produced locally and in flourishing regions.
Video: How more than enough renewable energy capacity can make the grid more flexible
Provided by The Conversation
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