At 40 Percent Generation, Renewables are Mothballing Coal Plants on the South Australian Grid

Rapid renewable energy adoption by homeowners and grid visionaries resulting in the mothballing of dirty and dangerous power sources. It’s the kind of action that’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to have a prayer in dealing with human-caused climate change. And South Australia is making impressive strides by doing just that.

*    *    *    *

Despite being afflicted with a backwards Federal Government that is radically opposed to the further expansion of renewable energy, Australia continued to make amazing gains in alternative energy adoption this year. Throughout the country, rooftop solar installations surged — spurred on by a combination of high electricity costs, plummeting panel prices, and a grid readily capable of handling renewable energy additions.

Both the upgraded grid and the incentives for home renewable energy use that started this trend can be attributed to earlier and wiser governments. And, as a result, Australia boasts a massive distributed solar capacity with one out of every five homes (19 percent) across the country featuring solar arrays.

South Australia — Smooth Grid Loading, 52 Percent Generation From Renewables on Boxing Day

In South Australia, the story is amplified. This region of Australia features the highest home owner adoption of solar energy in the country — with more than 23 percent of homes equipped to generate solar based electricity. In addition, the grid in South Australia is heavily supported by 1,500 megawatts of wind turbine generated power.

As the wind tends to peak at night and solar peaks at mid-day, South Australian grid operators show few strong peaks in demand. And this makes grid operation quite a bit easier and less taxing on personnel and equipment.

The typical mid-day peak is smoothed out by solar even as wind powers up through the night. The only peak in the system occurs at midnight — when water heaters are programmed to switch on and take advantage of supposedly cheapest times. However, ramping solar energy adoption has tipped this previously intelligent feature on its ear as cheapest times now come at noon with the surge in solar wattage.

As we can see from December 26 figures, grid loading is mostly smooth but for the anomalous midnight peak:

December 25-27 South Australia Grid Loading

(South Australia December 25-27 grid loading shows that renewables smooth out peak demand curves. Image source: Clean Technica)

On this day, solar energy’s contribution to grid generation surged to 30 percent even as wind dropped off in the heat of the day. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that fully 52 percent of this region’s electricity was generated by renewables — with the lesser portion being derived from coal, gas and imports.

This majority generation from wind and solar flies in the face of renewable energy detractors who have long stated that high loads from wind and solar energy would be too variable to be useful to grid integrators. But the net effect for South Australia is both abundance and smoothing:

Total Renewable Generation South Australia

(Renewable dominate power generation in South Australia. Image source: Clean Technica)

South Australia’s 1500 MW worth of wind and high solar rooftop penetration resulted in an average of 40 percent of electricity coming from renewables in 2014. A figure that is expected to surge above 50 percent well before 2025.

An upshot of this is that two coal fired plants have been mothballed. These plants will no longer crank out tons and tons of greenhouse gasses. They have been idled, set to pasture by far less harmful energy sources.

Meanwhile, Rob Stobbe, CEO of SA Power Networks notes that he sees no future for large conventional fossil fuel generators. Stobbe’s vision is instead for rooftop solar, storage and renewable-based micro grids served by an operator and integrator like SA Power Networks.


One out of Every Five Australian Homes Use Solar Energy

Rooftop Solar in South Australia Met 1/3 of Electricity Demand

Leave a comment


  1. Leif Knutsen

     /  January 15, 2015

    Capitalism, unrestrained by the requirements of Planetary life support systems, is guaranteed mutually assured destruction. Socially enabled capitalism is clearly a failed paradigm. Help end tax funded pollution of the commons for starters.

    • This is base responsibility. A technology supported by social systems and then deployed through the markets. It’s not pure capitalism at all. FDR would be proud. And it’s working. Hopefully it will work fast enough. I’m tired of fossil fuel special interests polluting the system.

      And absolutely let’s end tax supports to fossil fuel special interests polluting the commons.

  2. Seemorerocks

     /  January 15, 2015

    This just does not seem credible to me. For one it goes against what I know is happening in NZ where energy companies are cutting back on money paid to fi summers feeding electricity back into the grid, and what I believe is happening in NSW. Take-up of alternatives depends on subsidies. The result of collapsing oil and foal prices is more likely to be deflationary depression, which is good for no one, least of all, the environment.

    “Optimism is the absense if realism”

    • The story jibes with reality. Despite actions by Australia’s government, renewables penetration and adoption rate continues to increase. This is primarily driven by falling panel costs for solar. In SA these were the power levels achieved this year and the CEO for the grid operator sees complete removal of FF as both desirable and likely.

      As for realism and optimism. I wouldn’t necessarily call this optimistic yet. I would, though, call it a shot at a fighting chance.

  3. Reblogged this on jpratt27.

  4. Matt

     /  January 15, 2015

    No surprise here that South Australia was (until recent Victorian election) the only remaining Labor (yes for those not living in Aus, spelt witout a “u”) state in the country, not that Labor are moving any way quick enough on the issue either. Quite a bit of the PV uptake was never intended by our illustrious leaders, they provided tarrif incentives but never really expected the equipment prices to plummet so quickly, hence there are “sunset clauses” in most states now and thay are also charging people with solar higher rates for power after sunset! Mind you this has a positive effect, in that now it is encouraging people such as myself to install large storage systems also!

    • Seems to me that there’s a bit of a solar rebellion ongoing in various parts of the world. Is it helping to form new political coalitions in SA?

  5. Matt

     /  January 15, 2015

    Also while i am on my soap box, because the “incentives” were always for limited time frames etc. it has led to many poorly placed panels and shoddy install jobs. When wanting my system installed i was constantly offered inferior small systems as to install “ground mounted” was not the same as they usually do it so “bugger off it’s to hard”. I finally ended up having to build a Garage (facing north @ the correct pitch and roof size) and then they came running! when i drive around my little state i see so many inefficeint systems on homes where i am sure the occupants wanted to do the right thing, but have been let down by dodgy contractors.

    • mikkel

       /  January 15, 2015

      Sigh, this is a common issue. The same problem has occurred in NZ for heat pumps and to a lesser extent, insulation (although I’ve read that Oz has also had very poor insulation outcomes too). Here is a link about biomass boilers in the UK

      It’s almost like they’re doing the fossil fuel industry’s job for them…

      It is clear to me that up front subsidies and guaranteed payouts aren’t smart: companies that manufacture and install the equipment need to be on the hook for long term performance. PPA agreements where solar companies are installing PV and then getting paid for output over 20 years seems to be a good way to force skin in the game, even though the customer doesn’t quite fully capture the savings (Solar city in NZ has a $0 down plan that should save $8300 over 20 years vs a full install of a $10,000 system that should save about $15k with power price inflation).

      I’m trying to get the same thing set up for energy efficiency.

  6. T-rev

     /  January 15, 2015

    “40 percent of energy coming from renewables in 2014”
    ??? or was that supposed to be 40% of electricity…

  7. Great information, and some encouraging news.

    • There are a few bright patches here and there. What’s most encouraging is that the economics on renewable power generation provide savings over fossil fuel generation. This is a major sea change.

      Given the fact that batteries are also now hitting efficiency gains and economies of scale, we should see a similar result RE EVs and off grid storage within about 2-5 years. Very exciting times, even if they’re also increasingly endangered due to climate change…

  8. Phil

     /  January 15, 2015

    South Australia has the best renewable record of any of the states in Austalia by a wide margin and its wind generation development has been noticeable. South Australia also had a significant proportion of their generation fleet that was gas (baseload gas thermal, baseload NGCC and peak load OCGT).

    That component of the fleet is currently under pressure with expected hikes in natural gas prices accompanying advent of CSG/LNG export out of Queensland and Western Australia. That may perhaps have been a reason why Torrens Island A in South Australia is scheduled for closure from 2017 – current gas supply contract may have terminated and new gas was much more expensive.

    The NGCC Swanbank E power station in Queensland also closed for 3 years last year because they could make more money onselling the gas instead of burning it to generate electricity. There are also rumours that alot of existing baseload NGCC plant could also de-couple their steam turbines and transition to peak load OCGT gas generators.

    There has been pretty much no investment in large scale renewables in 2014 especially in relation to wind generation as support for renewable energy came under attack from the Commonwealth Government and also many conseravtive state governments. The newly developed windfarms currently being developed and completed were locked in before the previous Labour Government lost power in late 2013.

    With the high gas prices likely to curtail gas generation, prospects for reduced hydro from run down storages (in Tasmania) and stalled investent in large scale renewables means that the dominant role of coal generation has been locked in somewhat, especially after the repeal of the carbon tax at the end of June 2014.

    However, interestingly, the Commonwealth Government has not (as yet) got the large scale renewable energy target removed or scaled back and the target really ramps up from around 2017 to 2020. We are around 3000MW of renewable capacity short currently to meet the target around 2017 and up to around 8000MW short (depending upon capacity factor assumed) to meet the 2020 target. The current surplus of large scale renewable energy certificates is expected to be exhausted sometime in 2017 meaning that from 2017, generation will have to fully produce to meet the targets. A shortfall will incur a penaly cost around three times the current price of these large scale renewable energy certificates so things will become interesting from 2016 onwards especially of the current targets are not repealed. However, I suspect the Labour opposition will cave in and agree to some scale back of the large scale renewable energy target although probably not to the extent desired by the current Commonwealth Government.

    • Seems the big story this year was the rapid increase in distributed solar adoption.

      How likely is it that the current government will switch soon?

      • Phil

         /  January 15, 2015

        Uptake of rooftop solar has progressed over the last couple of years particularly in South Australia and Queensland and with perhaps some action also in New South Wales. That has reduced average and peak demand and significantly cramped the size of the pie for large-scale generation sector. The reduction in peak demand has also tended to reduce times of VOLL events in which the generators make supra-normal profits that are used to pay off capital cost liabilities. This is why the Commonwealth government attempted to scale back small scale solar target but there was too much opposition and they instead re-focused attention onto large scale renewables.

        They have been attracting alot of opposition to their renewables policy but they are also facing alot of opposition to other social policies as they try and implement ‘tea-party’ type economic and social policies in Australia. The environment is just one area of alot of areas the Commonwealth Government is facing problems over currently.

        If the Governments are of a conservative persuasion, as they see the environment/climate change gain some traction with voters, they try to overcome this with a minimalist approaches – hard on rhetoric but very short on action and hope the electorate buy’s it.

  9. Moisture Shortfall, Heat Threaten Southwestern Forests

    “Pinecone-littered forests draped over tens of millions of acres of mountaintops through the American Southwest are in danger of being scorched out of existence by global warming.

    It’s not just rising heat that threatens to put a meteorological flamethrower to lush montane swaths of Arizona and New Mexico better known for low-altitude cacti and desert plains. A fire-wielding threat also comes from a rise in vapor pressure deficit, or VPD — a parching force linked to climate change that rises as heat increases or as humidity decreases.”

    • VPD is a direct upshot of increased evaporation rates due to climate change. Just one more reason why wildfires are that much more explosive.

  10. climatehawk1

     /  January 15, 2015

    Great post, tweet scheduled.

  11. Andy in San Diego

     /  January 15, 2015

    Sistema Cantareira down to 6.2% (loss of ~0.9% so far for the month).

    Rainfall for Jan on track to be ~50% of the monthly normal.

    • Solar adoption is amazing this year. The fossil fuel backers seeking to legislatively suppress this energy source are swimming against the tide.

  12. Andy in San Diego

     /  January 15, 2015

    100,000 people migrate due to ~1 million acres of land become arid. Major contributors being intrusion of salt water due to sea level rise, Dams cutting water supply, deforestation.

  13. Andy in San Diego

     /  January 15, 2015

    Mexico investing $14B into 8 wind farms.

    With installed, under construction and the new planned capacity they are looking at something over 8,000MW (8GW) generating capacity.

    • Excellent. Now if the US could just get the Koch brothers monkey off the back, we could start to tap our own massive offshore wind potential.

  14. Andy in San Diego

     /  January 15, 2015
  15. wili

     /  January 15, 2015

    Thanks for those great posts and links, Andy. Interesting developments in Mexico, sounds like.
    Here’s a nice recent post at SkS on (climate) “Uncertainty, sensitivity and policy”

  16. Loni

     /  January 15, 2015

    Robert, thanks again for a great post.
    I have a request but hesitate to ask you because I can only imagine how busy you are, but I suppose I’m gonna ask anyway. I have posted an idea on Geoengineering, hosted by Sam Carana, (and invited by him to post it there), that I’ve been kickin’ ’round lately. It is a very low tech approach to what we may do in the Arctic, but at this point, it could use some educated scrutiny. My entry starts on 1-12-15 and works down from there answering questions. It is probably a four minute read. If you have the time, please blow holes in it for me, ’cause I do feel it has merit. In simplicity if nothing else.
    Thanks and if you can’t make it, no problem, I totally understand.

    • Would you post the link, Loni? I’d be happy to take a look.

      My general sense is that any kind of radiative forcing manipulation or attempts to, by proxy, influence the carbon cycle tend to be rather serious urn intended consequence. Atmospheric carbon capture through changes in land use appear to result in the least negative impact, while direct chemical carbon capture and enhanced weather methods are also probably much lower negative impact.

      CCS + biomass in my opinion has some promise as long as the captured carbon is then stored and not used for enhanced fossil fuel extraction. However, there is a rather unsettling risk that the sequestered carbon finds an escape route, resulting I danger to nearby inhabitants and atmospheric release of the stored carbon.

      Fiddling with ocean currents can result in serious ocean health problems. Pumping carbon into the deep ocean raises the chemocline and can also have some rather unfortunate impacts on ocean health.

      In general, I think that most methods, aside from various atmospheric carbon capture techniques and possibly a prudent use of CCS + biomass, are too dangerous.

  17. Loni

     /  January 15, 2015

    You know what Robert, my ignorance with these machines is frustrating to say the least. The post that I was providing to some, was another Geoengineering site. SHEESH.

    Okay, so a very abbreviated description:

    Pykrete Islands. Pykrete, named after Geoffrey Pyke is a mixture of 14% sawdust, (or other forms of cellulous, paper etc.), and 86% water. Developed by Geoffrey during WW II to construct an aircraft carrier for Britian. The Yanks took the idea and did in fact make some ship hulls out of the mixture, and the stuff proved tougher than hell.

    My thinking is to build islands out of the stuff, (I’m calling ’em Pykes Pads, as in lily pads), for these purposes;
    provide an albedo positive surface,
    habitat for polar bears, seals, etc.,
    wave break in the open Arctic Sea,
    provides a base for new ice to start forming,
    possible use as a radiator, cooling incoming waters from the lower latitudes.

    All the above is explained at length in my entry. But the beauty of it is that it’s cheap, it uses off the shelf stuff, and if the islands melt all that’s left is some sawdust, which of course is foreign material in the Arctic Seas, but that is also addressed in the entry. We would be making them in the Arctic using the burned timber from those horrible fires, but could also use hemp, bamboo etc. Bamboo, being blond in color would have a very good albedo influence, and be tough to boot, and fresh water from melting glaciers.
    Anyway, that’s it in a nut shell.

    As always, thanks for your time Robert.

    • OK —

      So you’re looking to increase sea ice resiliency by building structures made of Pykrete which will resist melting as Arctic heat rises.

      In my view, since what you are doing is altering existing physical structures to increase resiliency then the impact is likely to be low — especially since you are using natural materials as a basis for Pykrete. This to me would be a far more savory option than attempting to manage solar radiation through chemical injection in the upper atmosphere or seeding rain clouds with salt.

      I would think the scale do such efforts would need to quite massive given the extra heat uptake in the Arctic to have a noticeable impact. Effort would also have to be made to keep the Pykrete islands within the Arctic and to not see them ejected through the Fram.

      If you could replace a significant portion of lost multi year ice structures, this might buy us some time before a blue ocean event in the Arctic. Given current trends, we might want to get started soon!

      Overall, I’d put this in the category of preservation geo-engineering rather than mass disruption geo-engineering.

      Good job.

  18. Loni

     /  January 15, 2015

    Okay Robert, I think I’ve come to some understanding with this machine. If you go to my site on facebook, Loni D. Hollenbeck, you’ll see the original post, but to read the additional entries that develop on the theme, you’ll have to click on the word Geoengineering.
    Again, the beauty of it is that it is very low tech with little or no side affects that I can see. It certainly isn’t going to be a cure all, nor is it meant to be, but it will be forward motion, and in terms of that, I think there is value in it.


  19. There was a 10 per cent reduction in UK carbon dioxide emissions in the twelve months to October 2014 compared to the previous year, new government data shows.

    The reduction saw total UK carbon dioxide emissions fall to their lowest level in the past quarter-century, to 28 per cent below 1990 levels (the dark grey line on the chart below).

    If we had a really committed government, we could do more, quicker.

  20. Vic

     /  January 16, 2015

    Regarding South Australia’s 40% renewables milestone, I think an important point to make is that there was no “world war two scale effort” required to get to that point, merely sensible decisions by sensible people.
    No one suffered or made sacrifices. It just kind of happened and hardly anyone noticed.

    • Leif Knutsen

       /  January 16, 2015

      Good point and important to sing out at every opportunity.

      • It is amazing how rapid an energy switch could take place and with a minimum of expended resources. Long term, use of renewables improves the resource picture by requiring far less in the way of water and by not requiring the wreckage of natural wealth wholesale. The energy switch helps to generate safe havens and to preserve the safe havens that are now available.

        That said, once the energy switch happens, there will be new work — changing land use, farming, consumption patterns, and probably doing this and establishing other methods to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

        The World War II scale mobilization may be needed if things start to rapidly spiral out of hand — if we start to see cascading civilization collapses for example, or a worst case when it comes to Arctic methane. Failure to respond swiftly and effectively earlier begs the need for the mass mobilization later. So the more we do now, the more effectively we will be able to respond later. And the less we do now, the worse the future situation becomes.

        I suppose it is possible, in the absolute best case, that many of the worst outcomes could be avoided through swift action and that such a transition would be both beneficial and and economically virtuous. This would require a slower response from the climate system. But the stresses we see ongoing now are an early warning that negative impacts are rather swiftly piling up.

    • It happened there due to decent policy and improving economics.


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