All new electricity generation in Australia will come from renewable energy through 2020, according to a new report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) [PDF].
The bulk of the new power will be wind, with large-scale scale solar photovoltaics comprising about about 13 percent and biomass making up the rest at 3 percent. There are nearly 15 800 megawatts of proposed wind generation projects, according to the AEMO. More than 780 MW of the wind power is expected to come online in 2014-2015.
A carbon tax has been in effect Down Under since 2012, but the government could repeal it. Even without the tax, coal power will still be retired as more renewables come online, according to the report. By 2020, there could be 3700 MW less coal-fired generation, about 13 percent of the country's total coal power production.
In the short term, however, AEMO is focused on the challenges of bringing renewables online, which can introduce transmission and distribution issues onto the grid. Intermittent renewable energy can cause instability and can require more ancillary services such as frequency regulation to offset the variable power coming from wind or solar. The AEMO will include transmission connection point forecasts into its electricity forecasts moving forward and is reviewing transmission projects.
The market operator is also developing an independent assessment of the short- to medium-term transmission needs in New South Wales and Tasmania. Although renewables have to be connected to the grid, AEMO also reports that the average utilization of existing transmission lines are down as electricity consumption has dropped, and it will be important not to overbuild. The operator expects most of the investment to be in asset replacement, rather than building entire new networks.
AEMO is planning for far more renewables in the medium term, but coal is still king in Australia and will “continue to dominate over the 25-year outlook,” the report states.
The continuation of coal domination is a far different picture than a report from a non-profit three years ago that found Australia could be completely powered by renewables by 2020. In the long term, gas is likely to gain prominence in Australia’s energy mix. At the end of the 25-year period outlook, AEMO expects the addition of some geothermal resources and more open cycle gas turbines to provide peaking generation.
Photo Credit: AEMO, Morne de Klerk/Getty Images