According to the Grattan Institute, Australia must substantially and quickly change the nature of its electricity supply. The Federal Government’s goal is to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 80 per cent below 2000 levels by 2050. Much of this reduction will need to come from changes in electricity production, while keeping energy secure and affordable for Australians.
The report assesses the prospects for seven technologies that generate electricity with near-zero emissions, which are already developed enough that their large-scale deployment by 2050 is plausible.
The technologies – wind, photovoltaic solar, geothermal, concentrating solar power, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage and nuclear – are assessed for their performance and future potential, and what would need to change for them to be deployed at large-scale and at sufficiently low cost.
When looking at the issues involved with the transmission of electricity generated by the seven technologies, the report addressed a number of factors to consider.Article continues below…
To ensure markets work properly, governments must remove barriers to the deployment of several technologies, such as transmission connection hurdles and subsidies to incumbent technologies.
Major new transmission infrastructure can involve long lead times of several years, due to significant preparatory work and construction time. Regulation can be an additional brake on transmission deployment. Furthermore, construction of transmission lines is governed by an approval process that sets out what transmission companies can and cannot build, working in five-year periods.
This could produce time lags for both generator and transmission deployment, which in turn would increase uncertainty and could increase overall costs.
Transmission capacity is essential to renewable energy technologies because their fuel cannot be transported economically. The only viable means to transport their energy is as electricity.
The best quality solar and geothermal resources tend to be located far from significant transmission network capacity. Wind faces less difficulty, but nonetheless there are locations containing rich wind resources where transmission capacity is heavily constrained.
Both wind and solar power would benefit from greater interconnection between Australian states, as this would help to mitigate variable output due to weather changes. While biomass is more readily transported, its low energy density makes transport significantly more costly than fossil fuels.
As such, it is more viable to locate bioenergy power plants close to their fuel source. To date there has been limited analysis of the capacity of Australian networks to connect generation in areas rich in prospective biomass resources.