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South Australia’s Energy Transition

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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Written By

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.


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