Wind and solar cut rather than boost Australia’s wholesale electricity prices



Power failure. It’s gas, not wind, that’s pushing up electricity prices.
Shutterstock

Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, RMIT University

The 2019 Australian Conference of Economists is taking place in Melbourne from July 14 to 16.

During the conference The Conversation is publishing a selection of articles by the authors of papers being delivered at the conference. Others are here.


Wholesale prices in the National Electricity Market have climbed significantly in recent years. The increase has coincided with a rapid increase in the proportion of electricity supplied by wind and solar generators.

But that needn’t mean the increase in wind and solar generation caused the increase in prices. It might have been caused by other things.

Colleagues Songze Qu and Tihomir Ancev from the University of Sydney and I have examined the contribution of each type of generator to wholesale prices, half hour by half hour over the eight years between November 1, 2010 and June 30, 2018.

We find that, rather than pushing prices up, each extra gigawatt of dispatched wind generation cuts the wholesale electricity price by about A$11 per megawatt hour at the time of generation, while each extra gigawatt of utility-scale solar cuts it A$14 per megawatt hour.

Merit order matters

Here’s how.

In Australia’s National Electricity Market, prices are determined at five-minute intervals and averaged over 30-minute intervals for settlement. Generators place bids for supplying electricity to meet the expected demand which are accepted in a “merit order” of cheapest to most expensive.

The final price – awarded to all the bidders accepted – is determined by the final and most expensive bid accepted, which is often a bid by a gas generator.




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Wind and utility-scale solar generators bid into the market at low cost because their power is essentially free when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. They displace higher cost bids, usually from gas or diesel turbines that have high fuel costs. We find this effect on prices (known as the “merit order effect”) has grown as wind and solar generation has grown.

The daily impact of wind and solar on wholesale prices is somewhat lower. A 1 gigawatt per hour increase in daily wind generation
is associated with about a A$1 per megawatt hour decrease in
the average daily wholesale price. The same increase in solar generation is associated with A$2.7 per megawatt hour decrease in daily wholesale electricity prices.

These findings and those of others since 2003 challenge the previous conventional wisdom that mandating renewable generation necessarily increases prices.

So why are prices climbing?

Natural gas prices have been climbing dramatically over the recent years, mainly due to the opening up of east coast export capacity and the integration of the Australian market with international markets. The higher prices have made it more expensive to run gas turbines and have pushed up the price of what is often the last bid to be accepted.

We find the price of natural gas has a strong positive effect on wholesale electricity prices. An increase of A$1 per gigajoule in the natural gas price pushes up wholesale electricity prices by about A$5 per megawatt hour.

Although in recent years the upward price pressure from more expensive gas has overwhelmed the downward pressure from greater wind and solar capacity, it is nevertheless true that wholesale prices are lower than they would have been without renewable generation.

Therefore, a continued expansion of renewables is likely to put downward pressure on wholesale prices for some time.

There’s a case for moving away from gas peaking plants

This means that rather than reconsidering renewables, authorities should reconsider their reliance on gas plants for handling peaks in demand. While peaking plants are more needed with the increased penetration of renewables, there is a case for switching to alternative providers of peaking power, such as large-scale batteries and pumped hydro.

In doing so governments should also consider something else. Wholesale prices that are too low will discourage investment, leading to higher prices down the track.

The lower prices go, the more the government might need to provide investment incentives.

For now, all other things being equal, more wind and solar power means lower wholesale prices. But they’ll have to be watched.




Read more:
The verdict is in: renewables reduce energy prices (yes, even in South Australia)


The Conversation


Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull’s home truths on the NEG help Labor in the climate wars


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An Easter weekend in an election campaign might be a bit of a challenge for a pair of leaders who were atheists. But fortunately for Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, declared believers, it wasn’t a problem.

Both attended church services during the so-called campaign cease-fire that the main parties had proclaimed for two of the four days.

Morrison on Sunday was pictured in full voice with raised arm at his Horizon Pentacostal church in The Shire, where the media were invited in. On Friday he’d been at a Maronite Catholic service in Sydney.

Sunday morning saw Shorten at an Anglican service in Brisbane, his family including mother-in-law Quentin Bryce, former governor-general.

Neither leader was hiding his light under a bushel.

Church, chocolate and penalty rates

Sunday was an opportunity to wheel out the kids, chasing Easter eggs (Shorten) or on the Rock Star ride at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show (Morrison). This was campaigning when you’re not (exactly) campaigning.

The minor players weren’t into the pretend game. For them, the relative restraint on the part of the majors presented rare opportunity. Usually Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick would have little chance of being the feature interview on the ABC’s Insiders.

But while Friday and Sunday were lay days for the major parties Saturday was not (and Monday won’t be either).

For Labor, Easter has meshed nicely with one of the key planks of its wages policy – restoration of penalty rate cuts by the Fair Work Commission. Even on Sunday, Shorten pointedly thanked “everyone who’s working this weekend”.

It was the start of Labor’s campaign focus turning from health to wages this week, when it will cast the election as a “referendum on wages”.

Turnbull resurrects the NEG

The weekend standout, however, was the intervention of Malcolm Turnbull, who launched a series of pointed tweets about the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).

Turnbull was set off by a reference from journalist David Speers to “Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG”.

“In fact the NEG had the support of the entire Cabinet, including and especially the current PM and Treasurer. It was approved by the Party Room on several occasions”, the former prime minister tweeted.



“It had the support of the business community and energy sector in a way that no previous energy policy had. However a right wing minority in the Party Room refused to accept the majority position and threatened to cross the floor and defeat their own government”.

“That is the only reason it has been abandoned by the Government. The consequence is no integration of energy and climate policy, uncertainty continues to discourage investment with the consequence, as I have often warned, of both higher emissions and higher electricity prices.”

He wasn’t finished.



“And before anyone suggests the previous tweet is some kind of revelation – all of the economic ministers, including myself, @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg spent months arguing for the NEG on the basis that it would reduce electricity prices and enable us to lower our emissions.”

And then:

“I see the @australian has already described the tweets above as attacking the Coalition. That’s rubbish. I am simply stating the truth: the NEG was designed & demonstrated to reduce electricity prices. So dumping it means prices will be higher than if it had been retained. QED”

“The @australian claims I ‘dropped the NEG’. False. When it was clear a number of LNP MPs were going to cross the floor the Cabinet resolved to not present the Bill at that time but maintain the policy as @ScottMorrisonMP, @JoshFrydenberg& I confirmed on 20 August.”



(Frydenberg, incidentally, has lost out every which way on the NEG. As energy minister he tried his hardest to get it up, only to see it fall over. Now he is subject to a big campaign against him in Kooyong on climate change, including from high-profile candidates and GetUp.)

Turnbull might justify the intervention as just reminding people of the history. But it is damaging for the government and an Easter gift for Labor – which is under pressure over how much its ambitious emissions reduction policy would cost the economy. It also feeds into Labor’s constant referencing of the coup against Turnbull.

Turnbull’s Easter tweets are a reminder

  • the Coalition sacrificed a coherent policy on energy and climate for a hotchpotch with adverse consequences for prices;

  • it dumped that policy simply because of internal bloodymindedness, and

  • the now-PM and treasurer were backers of the NEG, which had wide support from business.

Shorten has strengthened his commitment on the NEG, indicating on Saturday he’d pursue it in government even without bipartisan support.

“We’ll use some of the Turnbull, Morrison, Frydenberg architecture, and we will work with that structure,” he said.

Given the hole it has left in the government’s energy policy, pressing Morrison on the economic cost of walking away from the NEG is as legitimate as asking Shorten about the economic impact of his policy.




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VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the starting line of the 2019 election campaign


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The government’s electricity shortlist rightly features pumped hydro (and wrongly includes coal)


Mark Diesendorf, UNSW

The federal government this week released a shortlist of 12 project proposals for “delivering reliable and affordable power” to be considered for subsidy under its Underwriting New Generation Investments program.

The shortlist features six renewable electricity pumped hydro projects, five gas projects, and one coal upgrade project, supplemented by A$10 million for a two-year feasibility study for electricity generation in Queensland, possibly including a new coal-fired power station.

The study is unnecessary, because the GenCost 2018 study by CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator already provides recent cost data for new power generation in Australia. It shows that new wind and solar farms can provide the lowest-cost electricity, even when two to six hours’ worth of storage is added.

Hence there is no economic case for new coal-fired power in Australia. After a century of coal, it should not be subsidised any longer.




Read more:
It’s clear why coal struggles for finance – and the government can’t change that


State of the states

While Queensland and Victoria have state government policies to drive the rapid growth of large-scale solar and wind, New South Wales does not even have a renewable electricity target. Yet the retirement of large, old coal-fired stations is in the pipeline: Liddell, nominally 1,680 megawatts, in 2022 and Vales Point, nominally 1,320MW, possibly in the late 2020s.

Coal baron Trevor St Baker bought Vales Point from the NSW government for the token sum of A$1 million in 2015. He wants to refurbish it and run it until 2049 – and his plan has made it onto the government’s shortlist.

Given that Vales Point is now arguably a A$730 million asset, St Baker has made a huge windfall profit at the expense of NSW taxpayers, and so a government subsidy to upgrade it would be unjust.

With the price of solar and wind electricity still falling, it will soon be cheaper to replace old operating coal stations that have paid off their capital costs with new renewable electricity, including storage.

Unfortunately, the newly elected NSW Liberal-National Coalition government has no policies of substance to fill the gap left by retiring coal stations with large-scale renewable electricity. It will therefore be up to the federal government after the May election to provide reverse auctions with contracts-for-difference, matching the policies of the ACT, Victorian and Queensland governments. Also, increased funding to ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is needed for dispatchable renewables (those that can supply power on demand) and other forms of storage.

Driving the change

The transition to renewable electricity is already well under way, as even the federal energy minister Angus Taylor admits. The low costs of solar and wind power are driving the change. To maintain reliability, dispatchable renewables (as opposed to variable sources such as solar and wind) and other forms of storage are needed in the technology mix.

Batteries excel at responding rapidly to changes in supply and demand, on timescales of tens of milliseconds to a few hours. But they would be very expensive for covering periods of several days, even at half their current price. So there is a temporary role for open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) to meet demand peaks of a few hours, and to fill lows of several days in wind and/or solar supply.

Small-scale pumped hydro, in which excess local renewable electricity does the pumping, has huge potential for storage over periods of several days, but takes longer to plan and build, and has higher capital cost per megawatt, compared with OCGTs.

Small-scale pumped hydro should be the top priority for the federal program. In particular, the off-river proposal by SIMEC Zen Energy, which is part of Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, will use a depleted iron ore pit and provide cheap, reliable, low-emission electricity for both GFG’s steelworks at Whyalla and other industrial and commercial users.




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Five gifs that explain how pumped hydro actually works


Hydro Tasmania’s proposed “Battery of the Nation” would involve building a new interconnector across the Bass Strait, together with possibly three new pumped hydro plants. It’s very expensive and is already receiving A$57 million in federal funding. Its inclusion in the shortlist is worrying because it could soak up all the program’s unspecified funding for pumped hydro.

Furthermore, the need to greatly increase Tasmania’s wind capacity to deal with droughts appears to be an optional extra, rather than an essential part of the project.

Little information is available for the other shortlisted pumped hydro projects. UPC Renewables is proposing a huge solar farm, together with pumped hydro, in the New England region of NSW. In South Australia, Sunset Power (trading as Delta Electricity, chaired by Trevor St Baker), in association with the Altura Group, is proposing an off-river pumped hydro project near Port Augusta, and Rise Renewables is proposing the Baroota pumped hydro project. BE Power Solutions, which does not have a website, is proposing pumped hydro on the Cressbrook Reservoir at Crows Nest, Queensland.

Pumping for Snowy 2.0 (which is not part of the program) will be done mostly by coal power for many years, until renewables dominate supply in NSW and Victoria. Therefore, I give low priority to this huge and expensive scheme.




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Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains


To sum up, new coal power stations and major upgrades to existing ones are both unnecessary. They are more expensive than wind and solar, even when short-term storage is added – not to mention very polluting.

A few open-cycle gas turbines may be acceptable for temporary peak supply during the transition to 100% renewable electricity. But the priority should be building pumped hydro to back up wind and solar farms. This will keep the grid reliable and stable as we do away with the old and welcome the new.The Conversation

Mark Diesendorf, Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Newsflash. The government doesn’t need to break up power companies in order to tame prices. The ACCC says so



File 20181207 128202 130403n.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Victoria’s Loy Yang brown coal power station at night. Breaking up generation companies might do little to bring prices down.
Shutterstock

Tony Wood, Grattan Institute

Who wouldn’t want cheaper power?

And who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of a stoush between the big bad generators and the government, trying to break them up on our behalf?

Even if it was largely tangential to keeping prices low.

The “big stick” of forced divestiture, where the government through a court could order an energy company to sell off bits of itself, never made it to a vote in the final chaotic fortnight of parliament just finished.

It will be the subject of a Senate inquiry that will report on March 18. After that, parliament is set to sit for only seven days before the election, so its possible it’ll never happen, under this government.

The government’s bill is good in parts

Parts of its Treasury Laws Amendment (Prohibiting Energy Market Misconduct) Bill are uncontroversial.

The main trigger was the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s June report, Restoring Electricity Affordability and Australia’s Competitive Advantage.

It found against forced divestiture, but thought along similar lines to the government in some respects.

The legislation presented to parliament this month bans three types of misconduct:

  • electricity retailers’ failing to pass on cost savings
  • energy companies’ refusing to enter into hedge contracts (agreements to buy and sell at a particular price) with smaller competitors
  • generators’ manipulating the spot (short term) market, for example by withholding supply.

It imposes civil penalties for the first, forces companies to offer contracts for the second, and provides for divestiture orders for the third, after they have been recommended by the government and approved by the Federal Court.




Read more:
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There are good reasons for the government to act on the three behaviours, although each of the its proposed solutions raises concerns.

The ACCC wants something similar but different

Firstly, the ACCC did not identify the legislation’s first target as a major cause of high prices. They did observe that it is complicated to shop around and the offers are confusing, and sometime next year Australian governments will force retailers in some states to offer fairer default offers at an affordable price.

But it not clear why the energy sector has been singled out as an industry whose retailers have to pass on cost savings, and not supermarkets or banks or airlines or petrol stations, or any other kind of industry.

Secondly, the ACCC most certainly did raise concerns about dominant generator-retailers preferring not to enter into hedge contracts with competitors, particularly in South Australia.




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It recommended that the Australian Energy Market Commission impose a “market making obligation” forcing large, so-called gentailers to buy and sell hedge contracts.

Its recommendation has the same intent as the one proposed by the government, although it has the advantage of being administered by a regulator that already exists.

Thirdly, the ACCC also concluded that concentration in the wholesale market means higher prices. Its report focused on the bidding activity of the Queensland government owned generator Stanwell Corporation.

Manipulation isn’t a major price driver

The Grattan Institute identified market manipulation by generators as a contributor to higher prices in our July 2018 report Mostly working: Australia’s wholesale electricity market.

But we found it made a much smaller contribution than high gas and coal prices and the closure of ageing coal generators.

We recommended a rule change to constrain generators’ bidding practices in specific circumstances.




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The ACCC recommended giving powers to the Australian Energy Regulator to investigate and fix such problems.

It considered a divestiture mechanism of the kind in the government’s leglislation, but rejected it as extreme.

Its own less extreme recommendations would “if implemented, be a better means to restore competition to a level which serves consumers well”.

Breaking up corporations is a broader question

There may well be a case for breaking up corporations whose size prevents or substantially lessens competition. It happens overseas.

The government cites the example of the United States Sherman anti-trust legislation. It has been in place since 1890 and has been famously used to break up Standard Oil and AT&T. The ACCC does not have this power.

There is debate about whether it would work in the much smaller market of Australia.




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Allan Fels, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a believes it would.

But quite sensibly he argues it should apply across the board, including sectors such as banking in light of the findings of the royal commission.

Ian Harper, who led the government’s 2015 competition review, is less convinced. However, he says if a divestment power is introduced, it should be introduced broadly.




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It’s worth considering divestment powers broadly, rather than rushing to introduce them in one sector of the economy in what was to have been the leadup to Christmas because of a concern that its prices were too high.

The ACCC has already delivered a comprehensive report on the means to bring them down.

The government would be better served acting comprehensively on its recommendations.The Conversation

Tony Wood, Program Director, Energy, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s battery plan – good policy, or just good politics?



File 20181122 182059 wylcnu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
With the right settings, Labor’s new scheme could benefit householders as well as the grid itself.
Shutterstock.com

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute

Federal Labor obviously likes the politics of giving rebates of up to A$2,000 each to 100,000 households of prospective voters so they can install domestic batteries. But is this good policy that will support Australia’s transition to a reliable, affordable, low-emissions energy system, or is it just middle-class welfare?

The Grattan Institute has previously been critical of solar subsidies similar to this program. In 2015 we found that household solar photovoltaic (PV) installations driven by state and federal government subsidies cost Australia around A$9 billion. Many solar incentive programs were uncapped, and their costs blew out as the price of PV systems dropped rapidly.

The parallels with battery technology are clear: batteries may be expensive and uncommon today, but many commentators expect them to drop rapidly in price.




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Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


More recently, my colleagues and I have lamented the Victorian government’s return to the bad old days of solar subsidies. Its Solar Homes program promises A$1.24 billion in subsidies over 10 years and would roughly triple the level of household solar in Victoria. Yet most households will be financially better off installing solar even without this subsidy. If fully implemented, it will be a great waste of taxpayers’ money.

The case for public subsidies for household batteries is stronger than for household solar panels. Batteries are better able to help cut the cost of the entire energy system and so don’t just benefit the people who install them – they also benefit electricity consumers more generally. By releasing stored power when most needed, batteries can reduce reliance on expensive “peaking” power plants that operate only at times of high demand. And they can reduce the cost of expanding network capacity to supply all customers at peak times.

By contrast, solar primarily eats into midday demand, which is already low due to the output of the large existing fleet of solar panels. While solar has historically reduced peak demand to some degree, the Australian Energy Market Operator considers that this effect is reducing as solar has pushed peak demand later in the day.




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Impact of rooftop solar PV on peak demand.
AEMO 2018, The NEM Reliability Framework

In a perfect world, households would have enough private incentive to install batteries when they benefit the entire system. If households faced higher electricity prices at times of peak demand, they would be rewarded for reducing system-wide costs by installing batteries.

But we do not live in this perfect world. Governments are reluctant to mandate that households pay higher prices during peak periods, and retailers find it hard to convince households to accept these more complex tariffs. Cost-reflective pricing is unlikely to become widespread any time soon, meaning there is a case for public subsidy to household batteries – provided the subsidies are capped, and end when battery prices inevitably fall.

Using smart controls to coordinate multiple batteries can maximise their benefits. These so-called “virtual power plants” allow the controller to reduce a household’s draw on the grid at peak times, thus reducing costs for both the household and the system. Federal Labor should increase the benefits of its policy by mandating that people who receive a subsidy participate in such a scheme, and by targeting installations to areas where the network most needs support.




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Virtual power plants are in vogue, but they can be like taking a sledgehammer to a nut


On balance, federal Labor’s policy appears to be a sensible step towards a smarter, lower-emissions electricity grid. It can be tweaked to maximise benefits to the whole system, not just to the lucky households that get government assistance. And its cost is capped, which reduces the risk of the sort of cost blowouts that have plagued solar subsidy schemes.

Unlike some of the Coalition’s policies, such as its plan to underwrite new generation, Labor’s battery policy is likely to help rather than hinder Australia’s energy transition.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Households to get $2000 subsidy for batteries under Shorten energy policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would subsidise households to install batteries as part of the ALP’s energy policy to be unveiled by Bill Shorten on Thursday.

If Labor wins next year’s election, it would provide from 2020 a A$2000 rebate for 100,000 households, with annual incomes of less than $180,000, to buy and install battery systems. It would also provide low cost loans.

The ALP puts its emphasis on boosting the use of renewables, in a policy that keeps the National Energy Guarantee – abandoned by the government in the leadership meltdown – as an option on the table. The opposition indicates it is prepared to implement the NEG but its policy is providing for the future if agreement on it cannot be reached.

The ALP estimates the battery subsidy would triple the number of battery systems in Australian households. The policy sets a national target of one million household battery installations by 2025.

“The massive boost will also help manufacturers scale up production and reduce their costs”, Shorten and energy spokesman Mark Butler said in a statement.

They said the ALP policy would “help Australians slash their power bills.”

“The Smart Energy Council estimates that new household solar and batteries would allow most homes to save more than 60 per cent off their power bills”, Shorten and Butler said.

“Australians love renewable energy because they know it saves them money and it’s good for the environment”, they said, pointing out that household solar installation had rising from 7000 homes in 2007 to 1.8 million today.

“Supporting the installation of more household battery systems is the next big step in helping families keep their energy bills lower. When the sun goes down, or when electricity usage is at its peak, consumers can draw on their own stored energy”, Shorten and Butler said.

They said this was good for both consumers and the environment. People gained more control over their power bills, and cheaper and cleaner energy would help Australia achieve 50% of power from renewables by 2030.

A Labor government would also invest $100 million in a Neighbourhood Renewables Program, so renters and people in social housing could benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy.

The cost of the battery subsidy and the neighbourhood scheme is estimated at $215.9 million over the current forward estimates. The costing has been done by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

Shorten and Butler said Labor would “establish community power hubs to support the development of renewables projects in local communities – such as solar gardens on apartment rooftops, community wind farms, energy efficiency upgrades for social housing and grants for community groups to pilot new projects.”

They said the new initiatives built on Labor’s commitments to crack down on price gouging by power companies.

Labor’s policy on energy would create thousands of jobs in the renewable industry, they said.

In a speech to be delivered on Thursday, Shorten stresses a Labor government would seek bipartisanship on the NEG.

“We want a meaningful NEG that actually lowers prices, reduces pollution, and boosts renewables” he says in an extract released ahead of delivery.

“If I am elected as prime minister, I will sit down with the new opposition leader and the crossbench to talk about a way we can move forward with this framework,”

“But let’s be clear: we will work with the Coalition – but we will not wait for them. Our willingness to cooperate on a market mechanism doesn’t mean everything else gets put on hold,” Shorten says.

He says a Labor government would be prepared to directly underwrite and invest in cleaner cheaper power.

“We will prioritise renewables and support firming technology power like storage and gas. Labor will invest in new generation, in better transmission and distribution – because we realize this vital nation-building work cannot be left up to the big power companies.” Labor’s plan would deliver affordability, reliability and sustainability, Shorten says.

Labor’s battery subsidy program would be reviewed after two years, in light of projected falls in battery costs and to assess progress towards the one million new battery installations by 2025 target.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

At its current rate, Australia is on track for 50% renewable electricity in 2025


Ken Baldwin, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Australian National University

The Australian renewable energy industry will install more than 10 gigawatts of new solar and wind power during 2018 and 2019. If that rate is maintained, Australia would reach 50% renewables in 2025.

The recent demise of the National Energy Guarantee saw the end of the fourth-best option for aligning climate and energy policy, following earlier vetoes by the Coalition party room on carbon pricing, an emissions intensity scheme, and the clean energy target.




Read more:
The renewable energy train is unstoppable. The NEG needs to get on board


Yet despite the federal government’s policy paralysis, the renewable energy train just keeps on rolling.

Our analysis, released today by the ANU Energy Change Institute, shows that the Australian energy industry has now demonstrated the capacity to deliver 100% renewable electricity by the early 2030s, if the current rate of installations continues beyond the end of this decade.

Record-breaking pace

Last year was a record year for renewable energy in Australia, with 2,200 megawatts of capacity added. Based on data from the Clean Energy Regulator, during 2018 and 2019 Australia will install about 10,400MW of new renewable energy, comprising 7,200MW of large-scale renewables and 3,200MW of rooftop solar (see charts below). This new capacity is divided roughly equally between large-scale solar photovoltaics (PV), wind farms, and rooftop solar panels. This represents a per-capita rate of 224 watts per person per year, which is among the highest of any nation.

Actual and probable deployment of large-scale (more than 0.1MW) systems in Australia. About 4,000MW per year is currently being installed.
Clean Enegy Regulator/ANU, Author provided
Annual small-scale (less than 0.1MW) rooftop PV capacity additions including an estimate of 1,600MW for the whole of 2018 based on installations for the year to June.
Clean Energy Regulator/ANU, Author provided

If the current rate of renewable energy installation continues, Australia will eclipse the large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET), reaching 29% renewable electricity in 2020 and 50% in 2025. It may even surpass the original 41 terawatt-hour (TWh) target, which was downgraded by the Abbott government to the current 33 TWh.

Our projections are based on the following assumptions:

  • demand (including behind-the-meter demand) remains constant. Demand has changed little in the past decade

  • large- and small-scale solar PV and wind power continue to be deployed at their current rates of 2,000MW, 1,600MW and 2,000MW per year, respectively

  • large- and small-scale solar PV and wind continue to have capacity factors of 21%, 15% and 40%, respectively

  • existing hydro and bio generation remains constant at 20 terawatt-hours per year

  • fossil fuels meet the rapidly declining balance of demand.

No subsidies needed

Renewable energy developers are well aware of these projections, which indicate that they believe that little or no financial support is required for projects to be competitive in 2020 and beyond.

Indeed, the current price of carbon reduction from the government’s existing Emissions Reduction Fund (A$12 per tonne, equivalent to A$11 per MWh for a coal-fired power station (at 0.9 tonnes per MWh), would be sufficient to finance many more renewable energy projects.

The current deployment rate might continue because:

  • large-scale generation certificates will continue to be issued by the Clean Energy Regulator to accredited new renewables generators right up until 2030

  • renewable investment opportunities are broadening beyond the wholesale electricity market, as companies value the economic benefits and green profile of renewable energy supply contracts. For example, British steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta has announced plans to install more than 1GW of renewable energy at the Whyalla steelworks, and Sun Metals in Townsville has already installed 125MW of solar capacity

  • the price of wind and PV will continue to fall rapidly, opening up further market opportunities and putting downward pressure on electricity prices

  • increased use of electric vehicles and electric heat pumps for water and space heating are expected to increase electricity demand. This increased demand is expected to be met by wind and solar PV, which represent almost all new generation capacity in Australia

  • retiring existing coal power stations are being replaced by PV and wind.

A renewables-powered grid

As the electricity sector approaches and exceeds 50% renewables, more investment will be required in storage (like batteries and pumped hydro) and in high-voltage interconnections between regions to smooth out the effects of local weather and demand.

We have previously shown the hourly cost of this grid balancing is about A$5 per MWh for a renewable energy fraction of 50%, rising to A$25 per MWh at 100% renewables.

Modelled increase in annual PV and wind generation (TWh) and the consequent reduction in fossil generation based on extrapolation of current industry deployment rates for renewables.
ANU, Author provided

What do our projections mean for Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? In 2017 these emissions were 534 megatonnes (MT). Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26%, from 612MT per year in 2005 to 453MT per year by 2030. This is a reduction of 81MT per year from current emissions.

We assume that all emission reductions are obtained within the electricity system through progressive closure of black coal power stations, which emit an average of 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh of electricity.

On this basis, emissions in the electricity sector will decline by more than 26% in 2020-21, and will meet Australia’s entire Paris target of 26% reduction across all sectors of the economy (not just “electricity’s fair share”) in 2024-25.




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The government is right to fund energy storage: a 100% renewable grid is within reach


Our analysis shows Australia’s renewable energy industry has the capacity to deliver deep and rapid emissions reductions. Direct government support for renewables would help, but it is no longer vital.

Government support for stronger high-voltage interstate interconnectors and large-scale storage projects (like the Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro proposal) will allow 50-100% renewables to be smoothly integrated into the Australian grid. What is crucial is government policy certainty that will enable the renewable industry to realise its potential to deliver deep emissions cuts.The Conversation

Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University, and Matthew Stocks, Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is energy security, and how has it changed?


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

The idea of energy security has been at the centre of much policy debate recently. The federal government defines energy security as the adequate supply of energy across the electricity, gas and liquid fuel sectors.

But this notion has become outdated, following the spate of electricity blackouts that have occurred in the past few years. The concept of energy security is now increasingly synonymous with resilience: responding to problems quickly and avoiding power outages.




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To be secure, the national energy market must ensure a sufficient supply of electricity at an affordable price and be able to respond to major disruptions. Being “energy secure” in this context now means having a backup plan. Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t.

All about oil

Historically, energy security was purely about oil supply. It evolved as a policy response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. At the time, the aim was to coordinate among the industrialised countries if supply was disrupted, to avoid future supply problems and to deter exporters from using resources as a strategic weapon. Four key developments emerged from the embargo:

  • the International Energy Agency (IEA), whose members are the industrialised countries;

  • strategic stockpiles of oil, including the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve;

  • continued monitoring and analysis of energy markets and policies; and

  • energy conservation and coordinated emergency sharing of supplies in the event of a disruption.

Australia is not ‘secure’

When Australia joined the IEA in 1979, it was a net exporter of oil and was therefore exempt from the requirement to stockpile liquid fuel. Since this time, however, Australia’s oil production has peaked and is now in decline.

Reasons for this are various but include the reduction in oil refining capacity and significant increases in reliance on imported oil products.

In 2012 Australia became non-complaint with the IEA requirement that all members maintain oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of the previous year’s daily net oil imports.

In contrast with many other IEA members, Australia does not have a public (or government-owned) stockpile of oil and has instead relied on commercially held stocks. Currently, Australia has an aggregated fuel reserve of roughly 48 days, including about 22 days’ supply of crude oil, 59 days of LPG, 20 days of petrol, 19 days of aviation fuel, and 21 days of diesel.




Read more:
Australia’s fuel stockpile is perilously low, and it may be too late for a refill


This lack makes Australia very vulnerable in a crisis – 98% of our transportation relies on liquid fuel, as do all of our major defence platforms. An extended disruption means our economy, policy force and army could cease to function.

While the federal government intends to return to compliance by 2026, our ongoing failure to understand and respond to a changing environment has resulted in us becoming, at least in the context of liquid fuel, energy “insecure”.

Are we ready for a new approach?

The modern energy landscape is complex, and energy security is a much broader and more dynamic concept than it was thirty years ago. Public expectations have also evolved. Australia must address a multitude of new challenges that include: climate change, integrating renewable energy, rising peak demand, rising domestic gas prices and a raft of new geopolitical rivalries.

In many parts of the world, mechanical and analogue systems traditionally powered by oil-products, have been replaced with automated and networked systems that run on electricity. As a result, the number of digitally connected devices has grown from 400 million in 2001 to in excess of 25 billion in 2018.

These changes make electricity and natural gas, in addition to oil, key supports of many facets of society. They ensure that the modern world is completely dependent on energy generation. Within this context, resilience is a critically important requirement.

Future energy systems, responsive to this enlarged concept of energy security will therefore look very differently. Large fossil fuel and synchronous generators will be replaced by a clean electricity system composed of small-scale, clean asynchronous generators. It will mix large renewable projects (which will mean extending the physical transmission network) with distributed energy generation (for example, from rooftop solar), and the network will require new systems to ensure coordination and stability.

Renewable energy is an important component of energy security but it works differently to fossil fuels. For example, inertia functions differently. Inertia is the capacity of a power system to respond to unexpected shocks, and its ability to react and stabilise the system’s balance.

Inertia slows down the rate at which frequency changes after a disruption in the grid, such as the failure of a power plant or a transmission line. Inertia has traditionally been provided by fossil fuel generators. However, within a mixed energy framework, renewables will provide synthetic inertia. For example, modern wind turbines can use the kinetic energy stored in the generator and blades to be responsive during grid stress. This can provide an efficient injection of power into the grid where it is required, and the delivery can be flexibly controlled to suit regional grid conditions. New storage technologies will, however, need to be incorporated into networks early so their application in practice can be understood.

These are all responses to a new understanding of energy security. Today, what is essential to the definition of energy security is not just an adequate supply of energy at an appropriate price but an adequate supply of sustainable, resilient energy at an appropriate price, which is responsive to the demands of a decarbonising economy.




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At its current rate, Australia is on track for 50% renewable electricity in 2025


In light of this, energy security is perhaps even more crucial in our modern world than it was back in 1973. Understanding the evolving meaning of energy security means we are better equipped to comprehend the different ways in which our global interconnection can make us vulnerable.

We need to minimise risk and reduce exposure. We need to imagine what a secure energy framework of the future looks like. We need energy policy that is more responsive to the social, economic and environmental demands of modern Australia.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coal does not have an economic future in Australia


Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Salim Mazouz, Australian National University

Renewables are stealing the march over coal in Australia, and the international outlook is for lower coal demand. Today the international Coal Transitions project released its findings, based on global coal scenarios and detailed case studies by teams in China, India, South Africa, Australia, Poland and Germany.

Our research on Australian coal transition – based on contributions by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne – looks into the prospects for coal use in Australia and for exports, and the experiences with local transition in the case of the Hazelwood power station closure.




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Hazelwood closure: what it means for electricity prices and blackouts


Coal exports

Coal production in Australia is likely to be on a long term declining trajectory. Almost all coking coal (coal used for making steel) mined in Australia is exported, as is around 70% of steam coal (for electricity generation). Australia supplies about a fifth of the global steam coal trade.

A question mark hangs over the future of steam coal exports. Economic, technological and policy developments in other countries all point to likely falling coal use over time. The international coal transitions synthesis report expects that global coal consumption will go into reverse by the early 2020s.

In most industrialising countries, there are big concerns about local air pollution, and renewable power alternatives are becoming cost-competitive with coal. Add to that the pressure to meet Paris emissions targets.

China and India, on which much of the hopes of Australia’s coal export industry are pinned, mine coal themselves. When overall coal use in these countries falls, imports may be curbed, if only because of pressures to prop up domestic coal mining.

Coal in Australia’s power sector

Most coal used in Australia is for power generation. We are at the start of a fundamental change in the system, where coal power will be replaced by renewables, with energy storage and flexible demand-side response to firm up the system.




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This change now reflects market economics. New wind farms and solar parks can now provide energy at much lower cost than any new fossil fuel powered generators. A new coal fired power plant would need subsidies, take a long time to build, and suffer exposure to future carbon policy.

The competition is now between renewables and existing coal fired power stations. Wind and solar power cost next to nothing to run once built, so they are dispatched first on the grid and tend to bring wholesale market prices down. In turn, the economics of coal power plants deteriorates. They will not be able to sell as much power, and get lower prices on average for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced. New wind and solar is now contracted at prices close to the operating cost of some existing coal plants, and renewables costs are falling further.

Coal plants will be less and less profitable. They will tend to be shut down earlier, typically when major repairs or overhauls are due. Major refurbishments will tend to become unattractive. And the system does not need coal plants to run reliably. A combination of regionally dispersed renewables, pumped hydro and battery storage, gas plants and demand response will do the job.

It is difficult to predict just when coal plants will shut down. The following graphic illustrates the difference between a flat 50-year retirement pattern (as used for example by the Australian Energy Market Operator), with plants retiring at 40 years of age, in line with the average retirement age of plants over the past decade, and two illustrative scenarios that capture the fact that coal plants will come under increasing economic pressure.

In our “moderate” scenario, remaining coal plants retire at 55 years in 2017 and progressively retire younger until they exit at age 30 by 2050. In our “faster” scenario, plants exit at 50 years now, then progressively younger until they exit at age 30 by 2030.

Coal closure scenarios from Coal Transitions Australia report.

Even more rapid closure scenarios are plausible if the cost of renewables and storage continue on their recent trends. We do not present them here, instead opting for relatively conservative assumptions.

The pace of closure makes a big difference to emissions. In the “moderate” scenario, cumulative emissions from coal use are around 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO₂) during 2020-50, and in the “faster” scenario around 1.8 GtCO₂.

As a reference point, a “2 degree compatible” emissions budget for Australia proposed by Australia’s Climate Change Authority has a total national emissions budget of around 5.8 GtCO₂ from 2020-50. Our “moderate” scenario has coal emissions take up around 44% of that cumulative emissions budget, while the “faster” scenario takes up around 32%. By comparison, coal currently makes up around 30% of Australia’s annual net emissions.

It is no longer true that reducing emissions in the electricity sector necessarily means higher prices. These days, and in the future, having policy to guide the replacement of ageing coal capacity with cheap renewables is a win-win for consumers and the environment.

We had better get ready

We better put our efforts in preparing for the transition, rather than trying to stem the tide. That includes a meaningful policy treatment of carbon emissions, and mechanisms to allow more predictable exit pathways. The relatively sudden closures of the Hazelwood power station is an example of how not to manage the transition.

Wholesale prices jumped up because the replacement investment takes time, and governments scrambled to provide support to the local community after the fact.

We can do much better. Australia is well placed for a future built on renewable energy. The change can be painful if it’s not well managed, but the future looks bright.




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Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


The Conversation


Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Salim Mazouz, Research Manager, Crawford School of Public Policy; and Principal at NCEconomics, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Energy policy and Turnbull’s leadership plunge into debilitating uncertainty


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most fraught day of his prime ministership has seen the implosion of one of Malcolm Turnbull’s key policy pledges – to deliver certainty on energy policy – that only weeks ago seemed on course.

As Turnbull threw everything at shoring up his leadership, business critics denounced the compromise he unveiled to appease rebellious backbenchers.

His energy policy rework placated some internal dissidents, but the capitulation has left his authority weakened and the issue itself back in confusion. Stakeholders have been left dismayed and bewildered.

After the announcement, the government was insisting the National Energy Guarantee policy was alive, as some of its backbench critics were pronouncing its demise.

Asked “is the National Energy Guarantee dead?” Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Sky, “No, not at all. It remains government policy.” He told the ABC: “The policy remains as we took it to the party room with improvements.”

But Kevin Andrews, one of Tony Abbott’s close allies, told Sky: “The reality is that the NEG, for at least the term of this parliament, is dead in the water. There is more chance of seeing a Tyrannosaurus in the local suburban street than seeing this legislation come into the parliament.”

Turnbull’s energy compromise has two parts.

First, legislation to set the 26% emissions reduction target has been shelved, on the ground that a bunch of Coalition MPs would cross the floor.

Turnbull didn’t dare to risk the hazardous route of negotiating the legislation’s passage with Labor, which might have come to nothing but an embarrassing failure, and anyway would have incited the hardliners in his ranks. And a brief flirtation with implementing the target by regulation was abandoned after that caused its own backbench backlash.

Second, a set of highly interventionist measures will be rolled out for use against recalcitrant power companies, including the possibility of breaking up those which abuse their market power.

The initiatives are based on the recent report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but even the ACCC didn’t support divestiture.

“Requiring the divestiture of privately owned assets is an extreme measure to take in any market, including the electricity market,” it said.

It is certainly an extraordinary course for a pro-market Liberal prime minister to contemplate.

Notably, the Nationals were happy – they had been pressing for the government to take this route. As former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said with enthusiasm, it means “if you play up, we can break you up”.

So where is the great NEG adventure left?

Battered by political bastardy, with months of good work by Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trashed. Without a legislated target. With less chance of an agreement with the states, which need to tick off on the mechanism. Throwing up fresh problems for investors and promising a continuation of the political climate wars.

As Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group put it succinctly: “Long-term investment certainty in the energy sector remains further away than ever. Despite the best efforts and goodwill of many, energy policy has again fallen victim to short-term political gamesmanship”.

And where is Turnbull’s leadership left, as backbenchers contemplate whether they would be better off under a Peter Dutton prime ministership?

No one quite knows.

Morrison told the ABC: “I spoke to Peter today in Question Time and he said his position hadn’t changed and he was fully supportive of the Prime Minster and the government’s policies.”

Just think about that. The Treasurer is asking (in question time no less) a senior cabinet colleague about his intentions.

Basically anything could happen, anytime.

On Tuesday morning, as chance has it, there is a separate Liberal party meeting, before the joint Coalition parties meeting. At the very least, it will be an interesting discussion. Whether more occurs, who knows?

On Monday night Dutton, the man on the leadership stair, was reportedly very angry after the Ten Network ran a story raising a question about his eligibility for parliament under section 44’s pecuniary interest provision.

Ten has said the story was not political leak, and the timing coincidental. But Dutton would naturally see it as a strike from the Turnbull camp.

If the next few days go quietly, Turnbull will live now from poll to poll, with enemies circling like crows over a weakened animal.

Those enemies could hardly have anticipated they would be able to do so much damage to him, in just a week, after a Coalition parties meeting that actually strongly endorsed the original NEG policy.

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The Conversation

They’re watching, waiting. If, or when they judge Turnbull is vulnerable – that he has lost his numbers – they are ready to strike. Now or later.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.