A new report from WWF Australia has shown how Australia can be supported by 100% renewable power without a fossil fuel ‘baseload.’
Specifically, the new WWF Australia report, Beyond baseload: 100% Renewable energy in Australia, claims that “the concept of ‘baseload’ becomes redundant under a 100% renewable energy grid,” and that Australia already has the technology to “allow us to keep the lights on 24/7 using only renewable energy.”
“In Australia we are used to the idea of ‘baseload energy’ being the energy that ensures we can flick the lights on at any point in the night, but that’s old thinking,” said Adrian Enright, Climate Change Policy Manager at WWF Australia.
“The problem is the bulk of our baseload energy comes from high polluting, ageing coal-fired generators. Some of Australia’s existing baseload capacity was built before man first landed on the moon.
“To enjoy clean air and reduce carbon pollution Australia will need to shift to a modern, 21st Century model, powered by 100% renewable energy by 2035. This is possible, affordable and very popular.”
The idea of doing away with Australia’s fleet of coal-fired generators is nothing new, and has been a sticking point for policymakers over the last decade or more. However, that same sticking point is also responsible for a great deal of lobbying power in Australia, and coal is unlikely to be done away with any time soon. WWF’s legitimate concerns that the “majority of Australia’s ‘baseload’ energy comes from high polluting coal-fired generators of which 75% are already beyond their intended operating life” have long been thrown around in Australia, but only recently has the idea that doing away with all this coal could be a plausible option.
Australia’s electricity supply (2013-14)
According to the new report, a future where Australia was 100% powered by renewable energy would require two types of renewables — dispatchable renewables and variable renewables. Currently, our power system includes a large amount of ‘baseload’ power which is operating nearly continuously, with just a little bit of peaking and intermediate power plants. In the forecasted renewable power system, variable renewables such as wind and solar would provide the bulk of the energy, with dispatchable renewables such as concentrated solar with thermal storage would ramp up to fill gaps and meet demand.
Our current baseload (left) system and the modern variable and dispatch model (right)
“Utilizing existing technology, Australia could keep the lights on 24/7 by harnessing huge volumes of renewable energy spread across Australia,” added Enright. “Emerging battery storage can make this process smoother and cheaper.
“With key market reforms in place to manage the energy transition, Australians can comfortably let go of the mindset of ‘baseload’ and have confidence in a modern, reliable, renewable energy sector powering our future.”