Australian Wind Farms Set 1st Record in 2023

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And it won’t be the last. Australia is moving further into winter, and that means wind power is picking up. Powered by wind in the south and abundant sunshine in the north, Australia’s renewable future is shaping up to be a positive one. As each week passes, more and more wind farms are planned, approved, commenced, and coming online. The big news this week is that Australian wind farms on the eastern seaboard have set a new record of over 7 gigawatts (GW) on June 8. This accounted for over 30% of grid supply. Wind output currently sits at 5.7 GW. A year ago, that figure was around 5 GW.

New wind farms connected to the grid in the past year include: Berrybank 2 in Victoria, and Dulacca and Kaban in Queensland. Macintyre, Mt Hopeful, and Clarke Creek are all under construction in Queensland. That’s 1.8 GW coming online in the next three years.

This article is only referring to onshore wind — there are massive plans afoot for offshore wind as well, now that the federal government has changed.

For the trailing 12 months, wind-based generation in the eastern states can be summarised as such: Victoria 21.5%; South Australia 45.6%; New South Wales 8%; and Queensland 3.4%. Tasmania is wholly wind and hydro. There still a lot of room for more wind-based generation, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, and the projects noted above will help Queensland catch up a bit in that regard.

This week, the Queensland government announced that works have begun on the 500 MW Wambo wind farm and its big battery system. Wambo is just 3 hours west of the capital, Brisbane, and situated on the Darling Downs. The wind farm will be comprised of 42 Vestas turbines. (Maybe they will get service and maintenance support from Volkswagen ID. Buzz Cargo vans at some point.) These 247-metre-tall turbines are some of the largest yet installed in Australia. A new 50 km line to connect the wind farm to the grid will be built by Powerlink.

“The power generated by the 42 wind turbines northwest of Dalby (near Jandowae) will be sent to the Queensland SuperGrid in 2025, to be connected to the state’s next pumped hydro at Borumba, west of the Sunshine Coast in 2032,” Queensland’s Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen, Mick de Brenni, said.

“The milestone comes less than a week after the government announced a further half a billion dollars of investment to propel the development of large-scale solar and wind projects, and its commitment to maintain a majority share in energy generation,” the Queensland government adds. The project is 50% funded by the state government.

Some would mock Queensland’s tardiness at moving forward with wind farm projects and channel the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the state’s long-term premier, who famously said in the ’80s that Queensland would not adopt daylight savings time because it would fade the curtains! Were he alive today, he might say something like: “you, you, you, wool have none of that in Queensland. You southerners, with your fancy whirl-gigs — I say, we have chickens in the roost better than that.”

We have new anti-progressives — Matt Canavan from Queensland and Barnaby Joyce from New South Wales. Thankfully, they have been removed from government and can no longer obstruct Australian wind farms.

Some commentators suggest that peaks are all well and good but there is a need for batteries and pumped hydro as a backup for “wind droughts,” as recently experienced in Western Australia. The Western Australia grid is not connected to the east coast of Australia. The national electricity market covers Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have standalone grids.

An article in the Spectator bemoans the problems caused by “wind droughts” in Europe but points out that Australia is in a much better position: “According to a CSIRO report in 2002, the Bureau of Meteorology used the average velocity of the wind for weeks and months to measure wind resources with information collected at hundreds of sites established by the BOM during the 1990s. Tom Quirk and Paul Miskelly first reported wind droughts using the AEMO data which reports the output from the registered wind farms at five-minute intervals. Our wind droughts mostly last less than a day and they max out around three days, based on the AEMO records.”

With its own standalone grid, the Northern Territory (the “never never”) covers a vast area with massive solar and wind resources, but it is struggling with its dependence on the fossil fuel industry — particularly over fracked gas. Although the territory government has been slow to act, industry has not, with the Northern Territory playing host to some of the country’s biggest renewable projects, like the 26 GW Australian Renewable Energy Hub and the 50 GW Western Renewable Energy Hub. Sun Cable will also go ahead and is considering a wind component. The arid regions of the Northern Territory are ideal for wind generation at night, to complement to the solar generation during the day.

Sun Cable was acquired from administrators by a consortium consisting of Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners and Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Grok Ventures in May. The world’s biggest renewable energy and battery complex may include wind turbines. “Quinbrook’s Australian-based managing partner has been fielding inquiries from prospective investors and renewable energy providers in Australia and overseas about taking an equity stake or participating in building the mega-project in the Northern Territory. Sources familiar with the private talks, but not yet authorised to speak publicly about them, confirmed these included ‘several wind developers who are looking at how they could get involved’.” For background, read “Billionaires battle over Sun Cable.”

Tasmanian wind farms (in the far south of Australia) have the best performance record during May, whilst Queensland in the sunny north has the best producing solar farms. For those not aware, from Hobart (the capital of Tasmania) to Cairns (in the north of Queensland) is a short drive of three and a half thousand kilometres.

Given the latitudes involved, these results are totally expected. It gives the lie to the idea that there might be somewhere across the eastern seaboard of Australia where the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t blowing.

I expect that as winter progresses and wind increases, Australian wind farms will break more records. Add to that the number of wind farms coming into service and Australia will become a renewable energy powerhouse, hopefully able to wean itself from the fossil fuel teat.

Featured image created by Zach Shahan using DALL·E.

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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