The Crash Test Dummy accelerates. Australia is steaming ahead in the forced transition to unreliable energy
Strap yourself in. Buried in the AEMO summer readiness plan was the news that our intermittent renewables capacity is forecast to increase by fully 50% this year. All the renewables we had accrued in the two decade “transition” til December last year, we’ve added half again. We are already pushing the bounds of stability and setting price records, but you ain’t seen nothing yet. We are escalating the rate of change.
In toto, we have 56GW of generation of all sorts in the national grid on the east coast. The wind and solar component increased from 4GW at the end of 2017 to over 6GW by the end of 2018. But it doesn’t take much intermittent power to change the way the whole grid works.
Things are so fragile that a few weeks ago, when 240MW of reliable supply was suddenly not available for this summer, the AEMO had to issue a warning, and scramble to find some other spare capacity using the RERT (Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader). That includes “demand response” — code for planned blackouts of industry players or other customers. So if a mere 240MW goes missing from a 56,000MW system we have to call in emergency action. The whole Australian grid demand varies from 18GW to 35GW each day. Why does 240MW of reliable power matter so much?
Generators that work by an Act of God now make up 12% of our generation capacity. Thanks to an Act of Parliament, we are forced to buy 16% of our electricity generation from renewables. (Which includes hydropower as well).
Ramping up renewables
In the last quarter (Q3) we added an astonishing 1.2GW of wind and solar power alone. The increase in large scale solar was so significant that in just that quarter we added more large scale solar than we had in entirety at the end of 2017. Though large-scale-solar generation was so tiny I use it as a joke in my presentations. So now it’s “tiny” times two. But make no mistake, the largest increase in national capacity by far was in the mass installation of small solar units on rooftops across Australia. An extraordinary 1.6GW of solar PV capacity will be installed by the end of this year, mainly by desperate households in response to electricity bill pain and with half the cost of installation subsidized by other households. It’s a death spiral. More on that soon.
With all these statistics, keep your brain engaged capacity is not the same as generation because intermittent renewables sit around doing nothing so much of the time. And though capacity has increased 50%, actual generation has increased only about 20 to 30%.
We are still testing new boundaries in this national experiment. Wind power still makes up the largest source of “variable” renewables, though solar is catching up. In the last quarter, for the first time wind power generation exceeded gas power.
Of course, if it’s cloudy or not-so-windy in the next quarter, gas power will rocket back up again, but the underlying trend is clear. The disruption is only going to get worse.
Unreliable generation in Australia is forecast to increase from 4GW to 6GW
In Dec 2017, the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) had a total electricity generating capacity of almost 54,421 MW.
In Nov 2018, the AEMO Summer Readiness Report shows we are adding 2,100 MW of unreliable generation:
Across the NEM, current commissioning schedules indicate that approximately 2,100 MW of additional new capacity will have been added in the year to December 2018, made up primarily of wind and solar generation, as well as some battery storage. For context, the NEM’s total registered generation capacity in July 2018 was around 56,000 MW, of which wind and solar represented around 6,000 MW. (p 10-11)
In just one quarter we added 1.2 GW of large-scale solar and wind capacity
Increased penetration of variable renewable energy
• Over 1,200 MW of new large-scale solar and wind capacity began generating during the quarter. The amount of large-scale solar capacity that commenced generation during the quarter is higher than the NEM’s entire large-scale solar capacity at the start of the year. This, coupled with favourable wind conditions, led to record quarterly variable renewable energy (VRE) output which contributed to:
[Gas powered Generation] or GPG continuing its downward trend in 2018: year-to-date GPG at the end of Q3 2018 was at its lowest level since 2006 and 21% lower than in 2017. Q3 2018 was the first quarter on record in which wind output has exceeded GPG.
Quarterly NEM emissions reaching their lowest level on record, both in terms of total emissions and average emissions intensity.