Looking at energy reliability and security in Australia
A modern electricity grid powered by diverse renewable energy and storage can provide reliable and secure, clean and affordable power for Australians.
A secure, reliable electricity system needs to ensure that:
- Demand for electricity (from households, business and industry) is met with enough supply from power stations.
- The system meets certain technical requirements for grid stability, to be able to withstand disturbances to the power system.
- The system is designed to withstand increasingly severe weather events associated with climate change.
What is a Reliable Electricity System?
To ensure a reliable supply of power, the electricity system needs to closely balance supply (electricity generation from power plants) and demand (electricity use by households, businesses and industry).
A mix of technologies including variable renewables (like wind and solar photovoltaics), on-demand renewables (such as solar thermal, biomass or established hydro), storage (such as pumped hydro or batteries) and “demand response” (paying consumers to reduce their energy usage) may be used to ensure reliable supply.
Electricity systems relying on high levels of renewable energy from variable sources like solar and wind have already been achieved in countries such as Denmark, Ireland, Spain and Germany without compromising reliability of electricity supply (IEA 2017).
What is a Secure Electricity System?
A secure electricity system is one that can rapidly overcome disruptions or major fluctuations in electricity supply or demand. Operating the power grid within certain technical parameters (described by terms such as frequency, voltage, fault current levels) ensures the system maintains a stable operating state.
As electricity grids transition away from inflexible, baseload power to modern, flexible systems, these services can be provided by renewable energy ( solar thermal, hydro, biomass plants, modern wind and solar technology) combined with energy storage (such as batteries).
What is a Resilient Electricity System?
The Australian Energy Market Operator (2017) has identified extreme weather as one of the largest risks to a secure supply of electricity in Australia, particularly heatwaves. Australia has experienced the impact of extreme weather on our electricity system in recent years, such as heatwaves (in New South Wales) and storms (in South Australia).
Electricity systems that rely on single massive sources of power transported over long distances, from large coal and gas power generators with a long “skinny” grid, are more vulnerable to extreme weather such as bushfires, storms and heatwaves.
Ageing coal and gas electricity infrastructure is vulnerable to increasingly severe weather events influenced by climate change.
A more distributed system where smaller power generation units are spread geographically and utilise a wider variety of supplies – wind, solar, biomass, hydro and storage – is far more resilient to disruption from extreme weather.
Renewable Energy Can Provide Reliable, Secure & Resilient Power
A modern grid powered by diverse renewable energy and storage can provide secure, reliable, clean and affordable power for Australians.
Major authorities, CSIRO, AEMO and the Finkel Review are highly consistent in their findings that there are no technical barriers to Australia achieving secure, reliable power from a very high proportion of renewable electricity.
Combining low cost wind and solar PV with other renewable energy technologies such as solar thermal, hydro and biomass plants can provide round-the-clock, or on-demand power as well as meeting technical requirements for grid stability.
Adding energy storage in the form of grid scale batteries, pumped hydro and heat storage (as part of a solar thermal plant) and greater interconnection between states by transmission lines will enhance the security and reliability of power supply and increase competition in the electricity market.
Major economies like California, Germany, and Spain are already actively transitioning to more flexible, modern grids powered by renewable energy. California is on track to reach 50% renewable power by 2020.