Energy Transition Has Only Just Begun But Solar Has Already Changed The Game

So much has, is and will be written about Australia’s energy transition and the speed with which wind and solar farms are being built, and consumers – both household and business – are adopting rooftop solar.

It all points to a rapid change in Australia’s energy mix, with forecasts suggesting the country will likely get to a 50 per cent share of renewables by 2030, and the likes of AEMO highlighting the massive shift from centralised to distributed generation (solar, batteries and electric vehicles), with a potential seven-fold increase in rooftop solar possible by 2040.

Exactly how this transformation is managed is the subject of intense debate – from AEMO’s Integrated System Plan, to various private and university analysis and predictions, to warnings from the incumbents and all the way to scare campaigns from the conservative ideologues who don’t think it should or can happen at all.

Into this debate has landed a unique 500-page report card – the Generator Report Card – that maps the history of the National Electricity Market since its creation two decades ago, along with some observations and warnings about the hurdles ahead.

It is published by Global-Roam, the Brisbane-based data wonks and market analysts who provide the popular NEM-Watch widget and who write from time to time on the website Watt Clarity.

It is, literally, a mine of information – including, for instance, detailed analysis on the output and performance of every single generator in the National Electricity market (barring rooftop systems and other distributed resources), and observations on how the market has changed.

And there is no doubt it has. But the overwhelming observation, in historical context, is that this is just the start of the transition.

As the authors observe: “The fuel mix is at the start of a massive transformation,” and this graph above shows that in historical context, the increase in wind and the new arrival of solar has barely registered.

It notes that 4,000MW of new (large-scale) renewable supply has entered the market, and about 4,000MW of coal capacity has left. But there is still some 23,000MW of coal left in the system.

“All of this coal plant will be closing in the years ahead,” it says. “For several reasons it is highly unlikely that this capacity will be replaced by new coal fired generation.” Some would say there is zero chance, barring heavy government intervention, subsidies and indemnities.