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Australia’s electricity market capable of operating entirely on renewable energy technologies

Posted 19 June 2018 - 10:05am

New research published in a leading international energy journal, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, has busted myths surrounding the reliability and affordability of large-scale electricity systems based entirely on renewable energy.

Using national computer simulations spanning six years of hourly data on wind, sunshine and electricity demand, the research shows that the National Electricity Market (NEM) could operate entirely on scaled-up, commercially available, renewable energy technologies.

The research also reveals that base-load power stations are unnecessary, and the system could operate reliably with storage power capacity much less than the maximum demand on the grid.

The article, The feasibility of 100% renewable electricity systems: A response to critics is written by Dr Mark Diesendorf, Education Program Leader of the CRC for Low Carbon Living and Honorary Associate Professor at UNSW, and Dr Ben Elliston, Affiliated Researcher at the Centre for Energy & Environmental Markets at UNSW.

Dr Diesendorf said the computer simulations were carried out by five different research groups in Australia, including UNSW, with the results mirroring dozens of international studies. He said the research refutes “the mistaken claim” that electricity systems generated largely from variable renewables such as wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) are unreliable without base-load power stations such as coal or nuclear.

“The electricity systems of two North German states are running on annual averages of 100 percent net variable renewable energy, mostly wind. By 2020 the Australian Capital Territory will operate on 100 percent net wind and solar PV, with the “net” allowing for electricity trading by transmission lines with neighbours,” Dr Diesendorf said.

“Both Denmark and South Australia are operating reliably on 50 percent annual average variable renewable energy and have already operated for short periods on 100 percent, despite South Australia’s weak transmission link to neighbouring Victoria.” Dr Diesendorf said the research also shows that unlike coal and nuclear power, new renewable energy technologies – such as wind, solar PV, batteries and their associated software – can be mass-produced and installed rapidly in the field, refuting claims that the global transition to 100 percent renewable electricity will take several generations.

“The principal barriers to 100 percent renewable electricity are no longer technological or economic, instead they result from inappropriate institutional structures serving the old smokestack technologies, and the influence of incumbent industries.”

Media contact: Fran Strachan, CRC for Low Carbon Living Communications Manager, 0429 416 070