Within two years the clean energy set to meet 35% of the total electricity demand of Australia as per the analysts based on the new data on the pace of transformation of the national energy market by solar power.
The new large-scale farms and rooftop solar systems are regularly pushing the generation of renewable energy beyond 30% at midday during June, one of the least sunny months, according to a report by consultants Green Energy Markets.
Across the month, the solar, wind, and hydropower provided 22.3% of the electricity required. On the midday of 30th June, the level of clean energy in the system peaked at 39. 2%.
According to Tristan Edis, a Green Energy Markets director, and analyst, the growth of clean energy would continue in the short term because several projects were in the process and yet to come online. However, the boom was expected to end if there would be no policy to encourage further investments, he said.
It is expected that clean energy would provide 35% electricity on average by 2021, he said.
“What we are seeing now is just a glimpse of what’s ahead because you’ve still got a substantial number of solar farms coming through,” Edis said. “We’re going to be regularly having 50% of renewables – solar, wind and hydro – across the national electricity market in the middle of the day in the next 12 months. But it is also soon going to get hard to get new stuff built.”
There were enough projects committed to meet the 2020 target of renewable energy, roughly equivalent to 23% of electricity, a report by the Clean Energy Regulator found last week. The most recent investment has been driven by incentives on meeting the target, and a state target in Victoria but of lesser extent. The businesses wanting to lock in cheap solar and wind deals have funded the new large-scale clean plants on a commercial basis as the wholesale electricity prices were high.
During the day, the free and abundant solar power reduced wholesale prices to an extent where an investment in any new large-scale generation was not financially lucrative. Unless there would be any federal policy to drive grid transformation, the investment was likely to slow down till the market circumstances changed – like the closure of coal-fired power plant and reduction in supply, Edis said.
The coal-fired power plants that could not compete on price round the clock also could not be turned off and on by design. The coal plants that could be turned off and on would be useful for gas peaking plants that sell electricity only when needed, he added.
“It just shows how crazy this idea is that we should go and build another coal-fired generator to run as baseload,” Edis said. “If we do that it just means another coal-fired power plant is going to shut down because nothing can outcompete solar and wind. ”
The emissions of greenhouse gas from electricity are expected to reduce in the short-term; however, at a slower pace compared to what is possible or necessary for Australia to do its part under the Paris Climate Agreement. The emissions from electricity were down as per federal data released last month, and the national emissions continue to rise because of the increased carbon pollution mostly from the production of liquefied natural gas for export, and transport.
“Any of them could do the job”
At an Australian clean energy summit in Sydney on Tuesday, the Clean Energy Council chief executive, Kane Thornton, said these two years had been record-breaking, with large-scale renewable energy projects worth more than $24bn, solar panels on 2m homes and the biggest battery in the world based in South Australia.
However, according to him, the survey of 75 chief executives showed the confidence of the industry had fallen since December. The energy bosses believed that getting new farms and plants connected to the grid was the single greatest challenge the industry is facing. The second biggest challenge was lack of energy and climate policy.
“The economics of clean energy continues to improve, and we no longer require subsidy,” Thornton said. “But the wholesale market is riddled with uncertainty.”
The collaboration on the energy between the commonwealth and the states was near non-existent, no meeting was planned, and federal, and state energy ministers had not met for eight months, he said.
As Thornton said, sensible energy policy could accelerate investment, lower the power prices, and deliver jobs in rural areas. Any policy could do whether it was the abandoned national energy guarantee, the chief scientist Alan Finkel’s proposed clean energy target, an extended renewable energy target, or a baseline-and-credit trading scheme. “Any of them could do the job,” he said.
NSW threatens to introduce its own policy
The New South Wales energy and environment minister, Matt Kean, repeatedly warned that in case the federal government did not act, the Berejiklian government would introduce its climate and energy policy.
“The NSW government still supports the national energy guarantee and will continue to support a national mechanism that integrates climate and energy policy,” he told the summit. “As I’ve said before, if the commonwealth won’t get on board, NSW will consider going it alone.”
As per Kean, NSW wanted to be known as the most accessible jurisdiction in the OECD for energy construction.
The industry was still on track for 50% clean energy before 2030, and a fully renewable energy system could be achieved well before mid-century, Thornton said. The next stage as per him would be, building a renewable export industry that sells green hydrogen and cleans energy via undersea cable and decarbonizing other sectors such as transport.
“It’s now time we started debating when Australia should target 200% renewable energy generation,” he said.