This article was originally published on Renew Economy. It has been reposted with full permission.
Last week was another big week for wind production in South Australia – as another spring weather system with high winds made wind energy the dominant force in local energy production.
According to figures pulled together by consultants Intelligent Energy Systems using data from the Australian Market Operator, wind energy accounted for 57.9 per cent of demand in the state on Tuesday, and followed up with 55 per cent of total demand on Wednesday.
At the morning peak of 10am, it accounted for 65 per cent – and in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, when demand was weakest, it accounted for 80 per cent. On Monday, wind accounted for more than 85 per cent, a record.
These graphs below illustrate what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday. Put together by Intelligent Energy Systems, the key bits to look at are the black line, which shows demand; and the dark and light blue shades, which indicate wind energy (dark blue is older installations, light blue the newer ones). Orange represents gas.
The pink stuff at the bottom represents exports from South Australia to other states. On Tuesday, the state was exporting almost all day, as the wind output was quite consistent. On Wednesday, it exported for most of the day and there is a bit of pink at the top in the late afternoon to indicate coal imported from Victoria. (South Australia’s coal generators are in mothballs right now due to the impact of wind, and lower demand, and the carbon price).
These one-day graphs, of course, are just snapshots of an overall trend happening in the state, and across the National Electricity Market, that will only become more apparent as the amount of wind and solar installed in the country increases. Indeed, Drew Reidy from IES says these days only rank as the 6th and 12th highest in terms of energy produced on a single day, and 5th and 6th in terms of percentage of demand. The highest day in terms of output was on August 17 this year, while the highest in terms of percentage of demand came in February 5, when wind accounted for 64.1 per cent of demand across the day.
The Clean Energy Council’s Russell March said it was proof that wind energy can generate real power – and lots of it. “This type of significant wind generation is common in South Australia,” he said. In 2011/12, according to AEMO data, wind produced 24 per cent of the state’s generation, overtaking coal. And, Russell noted, AEMO data shows that emissions from South Australia’s electricity sector have dropped every year since 2005/06, and have reduced by more than 27 per cent over the last five years.
“All this wind is putting SA way ahead of the curve on the national Renewable Energy Target, helping provide farmers and local business owners in regional areas with extra income. It also means that the state’s residents collectively have a lower carbon price bill, while getting fully compensated from the Federal Government under the scheme.” Indeed, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the state enjoyed not just by far the cleanest energy in the country, but also the cheapest, with average prices over the day at $43/MWh, compared to more than $52/MWh for NSW.
Another energy consultancy firm Pitt & Sherry this week produced the latest of their monthly updates of Australia’s energy mix and energy emissions – which point to a consistent change as coal-fired generation (principally black coal) is reduced and wind and gas offset that rise. The only reason brown coal generation is not changed is because they continue to be the lowest cost – although the closure of the South Australian generators, and the winding back of production at Energy Brix in Victoria, may give a different picture over the longer term.
Pitt&Sherry noted that the output of wind generators, on an annualised basis, has been growing every month for ten years and in the year ending August 2012 reached 3.7 per cent of NEM generation. In the month of August itself, the wind contribution to NEM generation was 5.0 per cent.
It noted that brown coal has been steady in its output, thanks to its advantageous place in the electricity market’s merit order. “With both gas and wind generation increasing and demand for electricity from NEM generators now almost unchanged from demand in the year ending June 2006, where has the brown coal electricity been going? Out of Victoria, to NSW and SA, where it has been displacing higher cost black coal generation in both States,” it said. And the combined effect of that has been the lowest level of national emissions since 2003.
Giles is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.