Clean Power

Published on June 17th, 2014 | by Giles Parkinson


South Australia’s Energy Transition

June 17th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Renew Economy.

South Australia could become a text-book case for the transition to a low carbon electricity grid, if the most up-to-date forecasts from the Australian Energy Market Operator are any indication.

As we noted in our main story today, AEMO’s National Electricity Forecasting Report for 2014, released on Monday morning, shows that solar is already turning the tables on incumbent generators.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in South Australia, where AEMO suggests that rooftop solar PV and energy efficiency will account for more than 20 per cent of South Australia’s projected electricity demand by 2023/24. That will reduce overall grid demand at that time from an estimated 14,500GWh, to around 12,000GWh, despite a growing population and economic growth.

This is a textbook case of the technologies that need to be adopted, and changes in consumption that need to be seen in any grid/

As the International Energy Agency said in a recent report, energy efficiency – and not consuming energy (the so called Negawatts) are a crucial and efficient way of reducing emissions. There is nothing cleaner or cheaper than electricity not consumed, and the IEA estimates this will need to account for at least one third of abatement out to 2050.

As this graph below shows within ten years, South Australia will be achieving nearly a 7 per cent per cent reduction in consumption through energy efficiency. It should be noted that this only includes “post modelling” gains of 1,009GWh. If gains from already implemented programs are included, then the total savings are estimated at 2,957GWh.

Given that the demand on centralised generation is further reduced by a trebling in rooftop solar PV by nearly 15 per cent, then it could be argued that within a decade, 5,000GWh, or nearly one third of demand (business as usual) is being accounted for by rooftop PV and energy efficiency. Remarkable.

aemo SA

South Australia is currently the state with the highest percentage of solar power, with 5.2 per cent contribution of total demand from an estimated 704 GWh of generation from rooftop solar in 2013-14. By 2023/24, AEMO estimates this will grow to 2,034GWh.

Here’s another mind-boggling percentage figure. Given the high level of wind energy in the state, which will jump to around 4,500GWh with the completion in the coming week of the 270MW Snowtown 2 wind farm, the overall share of variable renewables in the state is already around 40 per cent.

Should another three wind farms be built in the state of a similar size, or even if the 600MW Ceres wind farm is built, then the share of wind energy in about 2020 could be about 55 per cent.

That would mean that close to 75 per cent of the fossil fuel generation used in the state’s peak in 2008/09 would no longer be required. Under AEMO’s low demand scenario, the share of wind energy (presuming the RET is retained) could be 70 per cent of annual generation.

That is a stunning transformation – achieved in just 15 years. Even if the numbers don’t work out exactly that way – there is every chance they could be higher if the RET is retained – it gives a fantastic demonstration of the scale of change that can be achieved.

The biggest losers from this transformation? The incumbent generators of course. Alinta, which owns the two brown coal generators, is seeing its plant marginalised well before it had planned, so it is arguing of the RET to be ended immediately.

The gas fired generators are also suffering, because they are being marginalised from acting as base load generators to only intermediate and peak roles. The peaks in the state’s grid have also been pushed back at least one hour, and shrunken in duration – which is good news for consumers, but not for generators.

This second graph reflects the reduced demand per capita (the black line) – a result of more efficient domestic devices and the growth of rooftop solar PV. It shows that residential and commercial consumption – per capita – will have fallen by one third by 2023/24.

That is another extraordinary result, and one that was simply not predicted just a few years ago. So, don’t let anyone tell you that such a transformation is not possible.

aemo SA average demand

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About the Author

is the founding editor of, 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.

  • preConfederation

    The US Military Budget is $640 billion. Chinese Military budget $188 Billion, Total World .1,756,000,000,000.. do I need to say more?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Without some context it would appear that you’ve gone off topic which is a violation of the site rules.

      Is there a point relative to this article you are trying to make?

      • preConfederation

        Further clarification: If each Country spent as much on Renewable Energy projects as they do on their Military industrial complex, each would be energy independent by now and would have reduced their dependence on fossil fuels.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Got it. And agreed.

          Right now the President is talking about sending ground troops back into Iraq. If we spent a small percentage of our military budget bringing down the cost of EV/PHEV batteries we would have no need to be involved in oil wars.

          We don’t need to spend as much as we do on military budgets, a modest increase in current renewable energy spending could make a massive difference.

          • preConfederation

            I look to Cleantechnica to aggregate all the advances in Solar and Wind technologies. I watch and closely read every article in the e-mail they send me. I know CPV is running at about 44% efficiency, but I live in a latitude, where thin-film technology seems to be my only option. I would like to build an off-grid system, because I have the space. However, I’m waiting for the next leap in PV efficiency. I believe the greatest leap will come through the use of graphene technology. Like most researchers around the World working in this field, you can sense that Elon Musk’s engineers are working overtime in this area. Recently, Berkley has made a huge leap in battery storage capacities and graphene technology is at the core of their research. The race is on and its only growing in momentum. Very exciting times.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What latitude?

          • preConfederation

            43.549222° Ontario Canada
            Actually, Canadian Solar has a plant in town.

            I know it’s better than Berlin Germany, but I can afford to wait until PV efficiencies and battery performance improve.

          • No way

            Can the world afford it though? 😉

          • preConfederation

            That’s always the question, if you’re referring to Canadian Solar, who trades on NASDAQ and management reside in Hong Kong. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best technology that wins. Not even the lowest costs should jade one’s judgement. If we’re looking at 25 years of reliable use, amortisation will smooth out the bump of a higher cost more efficient installation, starting at day one.

  • jburt56

    If Australia gets to 10% solar soon that will have an enormous impact worldwide.

    • No way

      In what way would that have any kind of impact?

      • jburt56

        I think there’s something pivotal about the 10% figure. At that level it’s harder to dismiss solar as a minor contributor to power generation.

        • No way

          Sure. You can’t just dismiss solar then. But the impact would be marginal, just above dismissable and just for Australia.

          50+ procent solar in a few years time + closing down some major coal mines and companies. Would have some impact worldwide.

          For an enormous impact then we would at least demand going 100% renewable in less than 10 years +stopping all coal export.

          • jburt56

            In Germany 10% would mean several days during the year when solar comprises 100% + power used, for example.

          • No way

            I still don’t get your point. But anyway, I hope Australia goes toward 100% renewables fast since it’s a perfect country for renewables(when it comes to resources, not people, politicians and companies though).

  • JamesWimberley

    How come AEMO predicts no reduction in industrial consumption? It’s extraordinarily high, given the Australia has a small and declining manufacturing sector (see for instance cars – link). There’s a lot of mining for export, but the prospects for this are not fantastic in the long term as China and India will in turn shift from manufacturing to services. Coal exports will go first.
    I’m amazed that AEMO of all people confuse energy with electricity.

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