The Energy Change Institute of the Australian National University (ANU) studied the growth potential of renewable energy, and they published a report that reveals a promising outlook. With the current growth rate of wind farms and solar systems, Australia could be powered 100% by renewable energy shortly after 2030, while reaching the emissions reduction target in the Paris Agreement by 2025 – five years early.
According to the ANU Energy Change Institute report, Australia will install 10,400 MW of wind and solar power before the end of 2019. Large-scale wind farms and solar arrays account for 7,200 MW, while the remaining 3,200 MW are reached with small-scale solar PV systems.
The study also indicates how wind and solar power are now cheaper than new coal-fired power stations. On average, wind and solar systems in Australia have an electricity price in the range of $50 to $65 per megawatt-hour, while a new coal-fired power station exceeds $70/MWh.
Considering the upcoming capacity additions, Australia will surpass its large-scale Renewable Energy Target of 33,000 GWh by 2020. With a sustained growth rate, renewables can gradually take over the electricity sector:
Each year, Australia would be deploying 2,000 MW of large-scale solar farms, 1,600 MW of small-scale solar systems, and 2,000 MW of wind turbines. The respective capacity factors assumed by the ANU research team are 21%, 15% and 40%.
The growth of renewable power brings a rapid drop in greenhouse gas emissions, and the Australian electricity sector could achieve a 26% reduction between 2020 and 2021. A few years later, between 2024 and 2025, Australia can meet the Paris Agreement target – a 26% emissions reduction for its entire economy.
Although the electricity sector is not the only source of emissions in Australia, other sectors such as transportation and heating are more difficult and expensive to decarbonise. Therefore, the best strategy is focusing on the power sector, where emission cuts can be achieved faster and for a lower cost.
According to the Energy Change Institute, network reliability and energy storage play a fundamental role in Australia’s shift to 100% renewable power. Wind turbines and solar panels can deliver low-cost electricity, but they are dependent on variable inputs, requiring energy storage to provide electricity on demand.
Network interconnections between Australian states must also be improved, ensuring that electricity can be delivered to the point of use at any time. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) have determined that network issue cause over 97% of electricity supply interruptions in Australia.