In Australia, the state of South Australia leads the country in the uptake of wind energy and roof-top solar with renewable sources accounting for more than 50% of the electricity generated in the state.

It now serves as a global example of how traditional ‘baseload’ generation can be excluded from the electricity supply system.

South Australia builds renewable energy supplies

South Australia now generates more than 50% of its electricity from renewable sources.

South Australia closed its last coal-fired power station in 2016. While this initially increased the state’s reliance on energy supplies from the eastern Australian states, particularly in times of peak demand, The Australia Institute, a public policy think tank, has noted in its latest National Energy Emissions Audit (August 2019), that total renewable generation in South Australia equated to more than half of total consumption in nine of the past 12 months.

The audit also found that in July all demand in the state could be supplied by wind and solar for 88 trading intervals (44 hours) with some left over to export.

“What was the ‘base load’ in South Australia during July? The answer of course is that there was no base load and there never will be again,” the report states. “Eliminating base load is what the transition to a low emission renewable generation based electricity supply system is doing, in South Australia, in the rest of Australia, and around the world.”

The South Australian system remains reliant on high gas generation from its Torrens Island power station for a stable supply system, even when renewable generation is sufficient to meet all demand in the state.

Over the past six months the South Australian government has assessed applications for almost two gigawatts of renewable energy generation across six projects. Of these, the 280 MW Cultana Solar Farm was approved by the state’s Planning Minister Stephan Knoll in May.

Two other South Australian projects – the 95 MW Tailem Bend Solar Project and stage one of the 220 MW Bungala Solar Farm near Port Augusta – started exporting power to the national grid earlier this year.

There are also several large-scale energy storage projects being proposed. South Australia is home to Tesla’s 100 MW/129 MWh battery, which became the ‘world’s largest lithium-ion battery’ when it was installed at Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm in December 2017. The Tesla battery has played a critical role in maintaining grid security during times of instability.

The Australia Institute audit also sends a strong message to those who have suggested a baseload nuclear power plant be built in Australia. “The South Australian electricity supply system provides real world evidence of how a new base load generator, such as a nuclear power station, could not be incorporated into a system with a high proportion of variable renewable generation,” the report states. “The best complement for high renewables is storage and a diversity (in location and type) of renewables.”

Electricity infrastructure provider ElectraNet is planning a $1.5 billion 800 MW national energy grid interconnector linking South Australia and New South Wales. The 900 km interconnector, linking Robertstown in South Australia’s mid North with Wagga Wagga in central New South Wales, is expected to provide further grid stability and, when completed in 2022, allow South Australia more options to export electricity.

There are already three solar PV and battery storage projects planned along the 330 kV above-ground SA-NSW interconnector – two near Robertstown and one near Morgan – totalling 1140 MW of generation and 670 MW of storage.

Photo: Nathan Rodriguez

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.