WA will triple its rooftop solar capacity by 2030 – with more than 40 per cent of its energy mix to come from renewable sources, a new report has predicted.
Energy Networks Australia (ENA) and the CSIRO have spent two years analysing the future of the nation’s electricity system.
ENA chief executive officer John Bradley said the report predicted 44 per cent of WA’s energy would come from renewable sources by 2030 – as is the case in South Australia today.
“Western Australia is set to lead the edge-of-grid energy transformation in the coming decade and beyond as more customers continue to take up distributed energy resources like solar and batteries,” he said.
Data released earlier this year found WA households and businesses have been installing solar panels at a record rate, with installations up 33 per cent last year, driven by rising power prices and the falling cost of the technology.
CSIRO chief economist of energy, Paul Graham said the rapid shift towards renewable energy would provide choice for customers, particularly those in remote areas of the state.
“High levels of rooftop solar and other distributed generation will enable networks to deliver services efficiently but this will also create operational challenges, with the potential for ‘reverse flow’ in parts of the Western Australian power system,” Mr Graham said.
Batteries to play key role in transition
The report found part of the solution to the reliability problems with renewables would be to manage peak demand.
It found the rapid rise in WA’s rooftop solar uptake would happen in conjunction with the installation of more than 2,000 MWh of small-scale battery storage as the cost of the systems started to fall.
Mr Graham said that could include rewarding people for using their batteries during times of peak demand.
“If you could turn your battery on at that time, that might save the grid some costs. That is the sort of signal we need,” he said.
Subsidies provided by the Western Australian and South Australian governments have enabled these states to achieve high rooftop solar installation rates relative to their population.
Though last September, a storm set off a catastrophic chain of events which resulted in South Australia becoming an electrical island, separated from the national grid.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) did not see this chain of events coming, even though it had warned of a statewide blackout in South Australia in similar circumstances just months before.
WA ‘perfect for solar’
Jemma Green is the co-founder of Power Ledger, A WA start-up company which uses its blockchain-based software to allow peer-to-peer energy trading.
She said the report showed WA was perfectly positioned to lead solar up-take.
“We have very high electricity prices here — relative to the national average,” Dr Green said.
“Plus the amount of sunshine we have, nearly 300 days a year, means the pay-back period for installing this is faster for consumers.”
She said it helped that WA was one of the largest producers of lithium in the world — one of the main materials used to make solar batteries.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for Western Australia to lead the way and show what the energy system of tomorrow could look like and sell that technology to other parts of the world,” she said.
And she said while the notion of going ‘off-grid’ was often romanticised, the traditional power grid was still integral.
“The transmission network may be less utilised … as we turn off coal fired power stations and rely more on distributive energy and storage,” Dr Green said.
“But the distribution network could see ongoing relevance with the right policy settings and we really have a window of opportunity to get that right over the next five years.”