"100% renewable is 100% do-able and it’s cheaper than keeping the old polluting coal fired power stations going. The only thing holding us back is your vote and the fossil fools who want to keep selling us their expensive dirty power."
The cost of power is a significant issue in the upcoming election with reliability and the cost of renewables is on voters’ minds.
The cost of solar and wind has dropped an extraordinary 88% and 69% respectively since 2009 making them now the cheapest new build power generation available (CSIRO 2018). Even more significant are the latest reports out of the US that put the cost of new renewables lower than existing coal fired power generation (Lazard 2019).
This means that a transition to renewables is better for consumers. Obviously the same doesn’t hold true for the power generators who have invested heavily in the old technology. That’s why they are so actively promoting their place in the market and questioning the reliability of renewables.
The first point to make is that coal fired power stations aren’t reliable. Australia’s fleet is ageing, failing and near retirement. Last summer’s only major blackout occurred in Victoria at the end of a week-long heat wave. The power disruption happened because three electricity generation units at coal-fired power plants in the Latrobe Valley were out of action (two due to breakdowns, one for maintenance) when the heatwave hit. The ones that were working were also at reduced capacity because of the heat. The staged retirement of these coal fired power stations is essential to manage reliability.
Which technologies will meet the demand as the coal fired power station retire? The CSIRO’s GenCost 2018 report, prepared collaboratively with a range of industry stakeholders, found solar and wind technologies to be lowest cost new build power generation in Australia. This means that any new power generation built will be renewable. Coal just can’t compete economically let alone environmentally.
But how will we keep the lights on when its not sunny or windy? Storage and transmission are the remaining pieces of the puzzle. Australia is rich in renewable energy like sunlight and wind, but it isn’t always near the cities where we need the power. The renewable energy zones need to be linked with high capacity transmission lines to the population centres. So when it is sunny in Adelaide they can send the power to a cloudy Melbourne and vice versa.
Storage is also important. Battery technology is getting attention at the
moment with the success of Tesla’s big battery in South Australia.
Batteries will continue to develop and prices are falling much like solar
technology. The downsides of batteries are their storage capacity
(hours not days) their life span and their disposal at the end of their life.
Pumped hydro is the best solution for storing energy. Excess energy
during sunny and windy periods is used to pump water uphill. This
stored energy can then be used when needed. Pumped hydro is simple
technology that has proven itself to be durable. A pumped hydro
facility will last a century or more and can store many days of energy.
Tasmania has been heralded as the ‘Battery of the Nation’ because of
its incredible pumped hydro resource. Linking Tasmania to the
mainland with a high voltage DC transmission line will be an essential
part of the plan to get Australia to 100% renewables.
While successive governments have been playing political football with energy policy ther rest of the world has been getting on with it.Australia is slipping behind the rest of the world in the transition to renewable energy. According to data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are seven countries already at, or very, near 100 percent renewable power: Iceland (100 percent), Paraguay (100), Costa Rica (99), Norway (98.5), Austria (80), Brazil (75), and Denmark (69.4).
It seems the only thing standing between Australia and an ambitious renewable target is a fossil fuel industry who is intent on protecting their own interests and politicians who are unwilling to put the public interest first.