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Jun 1, 2012

A third of energy from solar by 2022? Depends who's connected

A new report suggests Australia could produce one third of our energy capacity via solar by 2022. The barrier will not be about cost or a lack of demand but the ability to get connected, writes Giles Pakinson of RenewEconomy

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It seems that the greatest barrier to the rapid deployment of solar in Australia will not be about cost or a lack of demand — it will be the ability to get connected.

That has been the common theme from a range of reports from different sources in recent weeks — from the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission’s inquiry into feed-in tariff’s in Victoria, the Australian Energy Market Operator’s landmark report on solar this week, the accompanying analysis from Sunwiz and Solar Business Services, and the Australian PV Association’s annual report for 2012.

The APVA report says most parts of Australia have reached grid parity, which might better be described as “socket parity”, meaning that solar panels now offer a cheaper alternative than power from the grid — a reality that will become increasingly obvious to the public as more solar leasing products and programs are rolled out to consumers.

The APVA notes that in 2011, a total of 837 MW of solar PV was installed in Australia, more than twice the capacity of 2010, taking the total installed capacity in Australia to 1.4 GW. The report noted that 36% of the new electricity capacity installed in Australia in 2011 was rooftop PV — even if it still only accounted for 3% of total electricity capacity and 1% of actual generation.

This is set to grow dramatically in coming years, because — despite the winding back of government tariffs and other incentives — the declining costs of PV and rising electricity prices meant that most residential PV customers and many commercial ones will be at parity.

The biggest issue, it says, is on long-term regulation, particularly the “right to connect”, and on appropriate tariffs being fed back to the grid. It wants restrictions to be placed on anti-competitive actions of electricity retailers and gentailers and more emphasis and support for energy storage to enable higher PV penetrations, as well as encouragement for customers on the on fringe of grids (who faced costly network upgrades) to convert to off-grid systems. (One interesting statistic was the increase in domestic off-grid installations, which more than doubled to 101MW in 2011.)

This actions of retailers and gentailers, as well as distribution networks, was an issue also identified by VCEC, which noted that utilities were often reluctant to provide connections — but did not offer a solution — while the AEMO said there may be physical constraints to the network.

AEMO also noted the various barriers in its groundbreaking report on solar earlier this week — the first time the energy regulator had formally recognised the potential size of the solar PV market, and its disruptive nature to the broader grid and energy businesses.

The AEMO report canvassed various scenarios for the rollout of PV, suggesting a high scenario of 18GW of installed PV on the National Electricity Market (so excluding WA, NT and other off grid areas) by 2031 — nearly 10 times the forecast of Treasury and other government advisory bodies.

Sunwiz, whose forecasts helped shape the AEMO report, have issued a separate paper suggesting an even more rapid deployment of PV, and predicting that if off-grid, utility-scale, and WA and NT solar installations are included, the installed capacity in Australia could reach 18GW by 2022 – or around 30 per cent of total capacity, and approaching 10 per cent of production.

In this scenario Sunwiz head Warwick Johnston notes that this will have a disruptive influence on generators and retailers — the merit order is changed, transported volumes decrease, and peak pricing events alter in their timing and frequency.

“Indeed, though deployment on this level may threaten current vested interests, PV can deliver outstanding benefits to the Australian community, environment, and economy,” Johnston writes in his report. “On the basis of PV’s inevitable financial favourability within a decade, it is likely that today’s owners of fossil fuel generators will be heavily invested in the deployment of solar power in the not too distant future.”

And, he notes, it means that home owners (and their capital) can take a more active role in climate mitigation. “Rather than relying entirely upon government or the top 500 Australian energy users to address climate change, most of the investment in solar electricity generation (and associated emissions reductions) entailed in the forecast would come from home and business owners, leveraging billions of private dollars to mitigate climate change and improve the financial sustainability of businesses.

“In the long run, the fewer barriers there are to solar power, the sooner solar power can distribute its benefits, to the betterment of current and future generations.”

*This article was originally published at RenewEconomy

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29 thoughts on “A third of energy from solar by 2022? Depends who’s connected

  1. Hamis Hill

    John Bennetts the search is difficult but Beacon Energy and Australia’s PowerCorp have commercial products which are in use. Beacon has banks of storage units in place to beef up the grid at the very ends of long transmission lines. Rocketdune corps produced a unit for the US department of the ARMY which was completly mechanical, very chunky but was tested for its use in tanks by being used to energise underground coal mining shuttles which operated for two hours and were recharged in fifteen minutes. They can be used to instantaneously restore power for small periods until other generators kick in but PowerCorps PowerStore unit is rated at one mega watt hour and it is not intended to be used all at once. The december 1977 edition of The Scientific American, I tracked it down in a university library has the original article and some years later four young graduate mechanical engineers of the John hopkins university of Maeryland were asked to produce a flywheel energy storage device at the same price and enerergy storage of a typicall lead acid battery and their results are published in The Proceedings of the INternational Symposium on ENergy Storage held in Dubrovnik in the former Yugoslavia in 1979. This book is a united nations publication and a copy is held in the State Library of NSW. The usual claim for flywheels is a twenty year maintenance period. And flywheels are used for the dual purpose of energystorage and gyroscopic direction control on french satellites. That would be an interesting unit to play with. The latest I have seen claims to have reduced internal energy wasteage and that phenomenon’s affect on long term storage. and the US department of enegy did a State of the art
    study for the State of California on flywheel energy storage.
    No I cannot definitivelysay that units can be ordered and delivered for domestic use but the plans are available for making your own the John Hopkins study. But all the Very sceptical, they think they are the only people to have studied electrical engineering seem to insist that these storage uniys are only used for short-term provision of power in the event of an outage and seem incapable of comprehending the underlying physics which also allow sustained supply sufficient to overcome the intermittent supply of “natural” energy. Keep looking I’d say, and avoid the experts misconceptions of this device. The rocketdyne flywheel is the crunch example of the “Only used for outages” message from the can’ be bothered to even think about it experts. They all seem to be burned out on this issue.

  2. Graeme Harrison

    I’d like to take John Bennetts to task on a few of his statements. I’m an Electrical Engineer with time at five universities, served as a Harvard Consultant to The White House, and as a Deloitte/Touche expert to US Dept of Energy (but happily back living in Oz)…

    SOCKET PARITY:
    When we talk about cars, we talk about the cost to the public, not how much the raw materials cost the manufacturer. Similarly, the ONLY figure of importance to a consumer is the cost of power as seen by that consumer. Coal may only cost 5cents/kwh to produce dirty electricity, but then due to the costs of distribution etc, it does cost 25cents/kwh to the consumer. So if the consumer can put some PV panels on their roof and ‘opt-out’ of poorly-run state generating monopolies, then power to them! And if they can trim their electrical needs to the point where they go ‘off grid’, then even more power to them. I imagine John Bennett despises such people… not even wanting to connect to the grid run by his friends… opting to simply waste their surplus solar energy, rather than feed it back into a grid that does not want it!
    And no discussion of PV vs Coal can leave out the huge subsidies offered by state governments to the coal-fired power industry. The ‘sweatheart’ deal by NSW for the Gulgong coal project to enable the state to sell the state-owned power generators with a guaranteed long-term coal supply represents a ‘hugely negative carbon price’ in that it committed large amounts of state infrastructure for decades into the future to ship by rail all coal needed at a low cost.

    PEAK LOADS:
    Your statement that PV is of little use in the summer electrical peak, due to cloud or rain is misleading. The summer peak occurs on hot sunny days in early afternoon, when people put air conditioning on to max. Power usage is less on rainy/cloudy days.
    The summer mid-afternoon peak became larger than the winter evening peak (that you raised first) some decades ago, as Australians installed more air conditioning units.

    SOLAR ‘BURDEN’ ON GRID:
    You suggest solar is a burden on the grid. Having generation closer to loads is actually a help not a hinderance. And the network has to put a lot of capital and energy into ‘power factor correction’ devices, yet if utilities got behind PV, the next generation of DC-to-AC inverters people put on their PV installation will have an IP address, and could be controlled by the grid, so to the extent the grid manager needed a power factor correction, those PV inverters could supply it (at no cost – by adjusting the phase of their synchronising). PV could ‘help’ the grid long-term, replacing (at no cost to the generators) expensive power-factor correction equipment.

    SOLAR NOT USEFUL:
    John said that all solar had to be backed-up by something else. But as we’ve known for decades, the real answer to variable demand is ‘demand management’, whereby the utility can send a signal (like off-peak signals or IP addressed) to the consumer’s premises which switches off non-critical equipment. This is ‘the’ alternative to black-outs, where the grid manager turns off major building’s air-con equipment for 10-minute periods, cycling between buildings in the city, and shuts down other non-critical equipment (water heating etc), or even ovens in industrial sites. The user gets a cheaper tarrif for allowing non-critical gear to be ‘demand managed’… and everyone’s computers keep working throughout what could have been a black-out.
    But solar is useful. And the best site to look at the detailed plan of how Australia could convert to totally-renewable energy, prepared by an Australian group of Electrical Engineers in Beyond Zero Emissions:
    http://beyondzeroemissions.org/zero-carbon-australia-2020
    It includes some larger-scale solar (mirror arrays) in places which are close to the existing grid, but in sunny locations (like Mildura). It also proposes a DC-link of the WA grid to the Eastern States, as this allows use of solar and wind power to be balanced around the country, depending upon where the sun is shining and the wind blowing.

    MISSING THE POINT:
    John’s argument is that how we produce our energy should come down to purely cost. This misses the point that a large number of Australians want to be more responsible than that. PV does allow them to vote with their feet. And if that leaves us with renewables as preferred supply, then so be it, if coal plays an ever-diminishing part. And there is nothing wrong with gas generation. Gas generators are only a tiny fraction of the cost of a coal-fired plant. And they can come ‘on line’ very quickly. So if a gas generator is needed at times when both the sun and wind are not performing, then that is no bad outcome. It would still mean that much of our power was coming from renewables, and the stop-gap supply was cleaner than coal anyway. John will need to start thinking in terms of environmental cost – how many kilograms of CO2 were used to produce each kwh of electricity. On that measure, it does not matter that the solar panels sit around unused at night – most coal-fired plants are at low load or turned off for much of that time anyway.

    STORAGE SOLUTIONS:
    Of course for some people, putting additional solar energy (PV or solar-thermal) into heat is not a bad use in winter. You can just pump hot water through piping into a 1-cubic metre block of concrete somewhere low in the centre of your house and it will radiate heat throughout the night.

    And pumped-hydro makes sense where there is a hill. But for truly mind-boggling concept of grid-capacity ‘battery’ consider heating huge volumes of well-insulated granite, such as this award-winning solution:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/apr/26/gravel-batteries-renewable-energy-storage?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

    And if you are a domestic consumer, and don’t use electricity for space heating or electric water heating, then you don’t need large lead-acid battery banks any more to feed laptops, TV and LED lights throughout the night. Low-cost Turnigy LiPo (Lithium ones just like laptop batteries) are now under $20 each for 3S (circa 12v) 5000mAh from http://www.hobbyking.com – I’ve just bought 20 of them. Each can deliver 100+ amps, and has excellent life… so if you can be sufficiently frugal with electricity, going off-grid is not impossible. So 20 in parallel could deliver up to 2000 Amps, but only for a short period. But they could run your laptops and many LED lights all night!

    GRID CONNECTION:
    But for all the objections the John Bennetts of this world, the grid companies still refuse to promptly connect small-scale renewable sources to their grid.
    It was proven by the mid-1970s in California (public hearings before utility pricing regulator) that a NECESSARY PRE-REQUISITE for renewable energy penetration was for the grid to pay for green energy (as much as a user generated) at the utility’s highest retail charge-out rate (as the green energy was more ‘valuable’ when re-sold to other consumers). Utility companies in the US initially refused a reasonable feed-in tarrif, but eventually conceded. And Australian utilities are dragged to the same conclusion many decades later. We should just get on with the Beyond Zero Emissions proposal ASAP!

  3. John Bennetts

    @ Graeme Harrison:
    I don’t propose to use 1200+ words to respond to Graeme’s ramblings.

    I short:

    Socket parity. Price comparisons for PV are appropriate only when the user is not grid connected. Otherwise, to the PV price must be added the costs of every service provided via the grid. PV users who are not grid connected need to include for battery storage, environemntal effects of battery ownerrshiop and operation and, unless prepared to sit in the dark and shiver during prolonged low sun periods, a backup generator running on fossil fuels.

    Peak Loads. Simply not correct. Re-read what I wrote first time.

    Solar burden on the grid. Make up your mind. If you aren’t prepared to include the cost of the grid THERE IS NO GRID. If you do connect to the grid, then the operator must manage the variability and unreliability of the PV input. There is no room for argument here – PV is a burden on the grid. Ask the Germans who are only now confronting the tens of billions of Euros cost which is needed to connect their wind in the north to their factories in the south, or lose the factories for ever.

    Cost. No mention of Least Cost of Energy? Afraid to consider all the costs of your preferred solution? Why not? Been drinking at the BZE2020 well? See below.

    BZE2020. BZE have refused to respond to the many, many criticisms of their poorly thought through and extremely expensive and impractical proposal. I won’t go into details here. I will say that BZE is a con job, a failure and has been well documented as such. Anybody who adopts their view of the world is set for a rough ride… at least until Melbourne Uni and its associates are prepared to do the academically honest thing and answer their critics.

  4. Hamis Hill

    Having studied two hundred hours of electrical engineering as part of another engineering degree I differ from John in not finding Graeme to be rambling. But that is just a personal thing.
    However mechanical batteries are real and proven and do allow windmills without load limited electrical energy transfer units(rated generators) to transfer the high windspeed energy through mechanical clutches which as the rocketdyne unit proves cannot “Burn-out” during high energy transfer rates. Not all energy users are or can be on the grid, and so a “Grid is god” mentality will disenfranchise these people, perhaps you could call it grid deterministic technology if you wanted to be a complete jargon wanker. Mass marketing or a mass market has an effect on price as mass production techniques come into play. South German factories can cogenerate or even develop and install their own storage devices, using low enviromental impact low cost and complexity vertical axis windrotors delivering through compressed air lines offering both heat and cooling by-products. This is not rambling this is physics and until they specialise most engineers have to gain proficiency in the subject especially if you want to ramble on about energy as opposed to electrons, Beyond Boring Really!
    Try thinking about energy as used in the steam age in order to gain the sort of non-specialised proficiency which may really be needed to understand all the energy options. Try not to confuse electricty with energy. Electricity involves energybut nit all energy is electrical. not all energy applications are electrical, Not all energy grids have been electrical. Not all energy grids have to be
    electrical. not all discussions of energy have to be electrical. Or do they?

  5. John Bennetts

    @ Hamis with his 200 hours of electrical engineering subjects under his belt, and with a nod to Graeme harrison:
    Knowledge is not measured by the hour. Get over it.

    The Grid Controller Energy Gods which Hamis proposes will fail, and fail badly, as soon as they start to turn off air conditioners, unless with extremely robust probity measures in place. Hamish has no such qualms. He sees a future where, at the whim of a grid operator – energy god, if you will – air conditioners and other appliances will be turned off for ten minutes (or longer?).

    The results of this will be:
    1. Immediately the power is turned back on, the air conditioners will kick back in and run till the set point is reached. No net gain. The same energy will be consumed. Fail!
    2. Overbuild by consumers of their AC&V plant so that the set point can be lowered, in expectation of capricious termination of power supply. This will involve greater capital expenditure, increased running costs and greater energy usage. Fail!
    3. Customer dissatisfaction and political action. Fail!

    As a multidiscipline engineer with more than 3 decades experience in the power industry, including design and construction of solar thermal and with a strong social conscience, I am appalled by the type of threats issued by some engineers who are seemingly unable to comprehend the practical, economic, commercial, social and political outcomes that would result from their actions.

    I am also appalled by the lack of professionalism and academic responsibility of the ZCA2020 team, who have for years declined to respond to the many reasoned and well presented criticisms of the so-called ZCA2020 Plan. The 2020 Plan has no chance of success, because it fails on many levels – too expensive, pays no heed to resource restraints, presumes that transmission costs will disappear while at the same time assuming massive increase in transmission capacity across thousands of miles and many, many other issues as well.

    There is a huge and pressing need for this nation and the world to decrease CO2-e emissions, but the ZCA2020 Plan is not an appropriate starting point for rational action.

    I am entirely happy to consider well thought through proposals to remotely manage my own air conditioning, pool pump, refrigerator, etc, but there not at all in the manner described. There are many related protocols which will need to be in place before this point can be contemplated, including local indication of the status (A light to indicate that the power is off? When will the power come back on?) and new equipmwent such as a thermometer with external indication to advise what the internal temperature of the refrigerator/freezer is and a warning not to open the door.

    Most of all, this is not an engineering issue. Once operators commence power rationing, especially capricious power rationing, the issue becomes political and social. Engineers only provide the tools. Engineers who think that they will be the electrical energy policy decision makers are very much having themselves on.

  6. Hamis Hill

    Ok I, you want to get real nothing punctures the pretentions of “specialists’ than those equipped ,by knowledge, to see their feet of clay. A multi disciplinary incapacity to track down anything on flywheel energy storage? As the Asia adage says “To know and not to act is not to know”.
    Or try George Bernard Shaw’s obsevation that “the specialist is, in the truest sense an idiot”.
    Have you levitated so far above the top of your pyramid that you can deride or forget entirely the wide base of knowledge needed to get you up there in the first place?
    The typical specialist response is to shut down the debate on the basis that if they do not “know” something then no-one else can.
    How about returning to first principles or have they been forgotten?
    Your precious Grid is an arbitrary construct, just like the aqueducts of Ancient Rome they simply support a city. perhaps the city is your god? Do you worship it blind.ly? Do we all have toaccept this “Received wisdom from the high priests as the originator of the term JK Galbraith described the
    High priests of economics. He was a scientist first, saw the feet of clay right away.
    So have you considered the Glory that was Rome and whether your “divine” Grid will survive?
    You abandoned rationality when you began to believe in “THE GRID”.
    Want to control the marke, capture a few customers ot them all, lock them in to genration after generation of “grid connection”, the Pharoahs of The Grid locking the fellahin in for millenia?
    I’ll finish with a quote from Shunryu Suzuki ‘Zen mind, beginners mind, the mind of the expert has few solutions but the mind of the beginner has many”. The next generation of consumers may say “grid begone” and it shall be so. Dinosaur barbeque anyone?

  7. John Bennetts

    Hamis Hill has in several posts stated that renewable energy will reduce the load on the grid, but has failed thus far to provide a current or anyu citation for his opinion.

    Germany, the poster boy of the renewables crowd, has a different reality.

    Here is an article about the recent announcement of tens of billions of euros to pay for over 8000 km of new and upgraded transmission lines as a direct result of the decision to phase out their fleet of 20-plus reactors:

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Germany_moves_to_bolster_grid-3005125.html

    “Germany has announced plans to upgrade and expand its electricity grid over the next decade in order to help renewable energy sources fill the gap left by its phase-out of nuclear power. An investment of some €20 billion ($25 billion) will be needed. ”

    This type of expenditure is huge and it is real. It would have been avoided if at all possible, but is is not. It is a direct and additional cost of bringing renewables to the market. It does not represent any increase in energy usage overall – it results from the fact that the power source (wind in the northern areas, primarily) must be connected to the load (industry in the southern areas).

    Not mentioned in this article is the unfortunate fact that many of the new power lines will have to be installed in new corridors through ancient forests – the loss of which is another unfortunate consequence of rushing in, unplanned, to a high cost renewables system.

    Bottom line: regardless of personal opinion from HH and others, transmission lines will continue to be the backbone of the electrical energy system, world-wide, for a very long time to come.

    Response to the greenhouse gas challenge cannot afford to wait – we must respond immediately and with the technologies which are available right now. And

    Hamish is listening to the wrong sources.

  8. Hamis Hill

    No John Bennetts renewable energy and energy storage will reduce connections to the grid.
    That the load on the grid may reduce as a consequence is only incidental, it does not requre a long rambling explanation (touche).
    World- wide vast territorial entities like Australia, India and China will look at your German model and decide to promote standalone for their scattered communities.
    They won’tbuy your Immer Besser BS Mr Bennett, read up on any flywheels lately, oh I forgot invented by a “Physicist” built by a “Physicist” Installed by a “Physicist” with never an electron boy in sight.
    Art thou multi-disciplined or even privately informed enough to know of the “Gordian Knot”, a group
    of proto- wire twisters proposed to a certain conqueror that he could only rule Gordia if he unravelled their overcomplicated knot. Well consumers are cutting their connections with your Gordian Knot Mr Bennet in the same way that Alexander The Great cut the original.
    The british pre-war grid was built on the destruction of small scale, stand alone hydroelectric installations in Wales. An element of totalitarian compulsion in you Grid? captive consumers.
    Or consider the failed twenty year stuggle of the Swedish Grid Ubergrupenfuhrers to force weekender owners to disconnect their stand alone, small scale hyroelectric installations and join the “Grid”.
    Or other readers may wish to consider these Grid Facts, JB will remain, no doubt, uninterested

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