Dr Barry Manor, Sustainability Consultant, explains why 2017 was so important in terms of renewable energy, especially in South Australia. The amount of renewable energy installed in Australia in 2017 was more than in any other year in our history! The revolution started in the residential sector (1 in 4 houses in NSW currently has solar panels) and is now making inroads into the commercial sector. Shops, factories and many companies see renewables as a way of hedging against the volatility in the grid electricity market while getting energy security and cost security. It is difficult to say whether the federal government will support increased renewables, as there is a perception they are wedded to fossil fuel generation and believe that is the only way to achieve reliable energy security. The states, however, present a different picture, particularly South Australia. who have decided to go it alone to achieve a more reliable energy system.
South Australia is showing the world what can be done rather than the blinkered vision of coal and gas as the only way to get baseload energy. Indeed the very idea of baseload energy is an invention of the coal-fired electricity industry. Fossil fuel generators have to keep running because they can’t shut down or start up rapidly. Sourcing energy that can be virtually instantaneously connected to, or disconnected from the grid (dispatchable electricity) will see us saying goodbye to baseload and hello to dispatchable.
Gentailers like AGL (a generator and a retailer) are abandoning coal for renewables for purely economic reasons. Renewable generators are known as a near zero marginal cost form of generation. Once a plant is built and paid off then the electricity generated over the remaining service life of that system is almost free because you don’t need to keep feeding it fuel. Steam power started the first industrial revolution and renewable power generation will usher in another. The generation gap is being bridged, and South Australia is leading the way