Renewables Revolution

Banner: Renwables costs plummeting

We are in the middle of a revolution in renewable energy.

  • the costs of generating electricity from wind and sun continue to plummet,
  • the cost of batteries is also plummeting,
  • the Tesla battery at Hornsdale in South Australia has shown the world that grid-scale batteries can perform critical roles in running a grid, and
  • AEMO examined various energy futures and found that the fastest transition to renewable energy gave the greatest benefit.

These changes are driving Australia towards becoming a renewable energy superpower.

Driver: Cost of renewables is low & plummeting

Graph source: Tree Hugger: 15 April 2015

The orange curve shows the price of solar panels, in dollars per watt, over the 40 years from 1975.

  • In 1975 the price was $ 101.00 per watt, and
  • in 2015 it was $ 0.61 per watt.

That’s a price drop of 99% in 40 years. It’s an average price drop of 12 percent each year over those 40 years.

This sort of continuing price drop is what we have seen in computers since the 1960s.

In the decade 2010 – 2020:

  • battery costs have dropped by 90%,
  • wind energy costs by 45%, and
  • solar energy costs by 80%.

And these cost drops are continuing.

(“100% Solar, wind & batteries” is just the beginning: 26 Aug 2020: Adam Dorr: 10-minute video)

This is part of a larger disruption that is happening in both energy and transport. Here’s a mind somersaulting video.

(The clean disruption of energy & transport: Video 31 minutes: Tony Seba: 30 Oct 2019)

The renewables revolution is happening because the cost of renewable energy is now low and continues to plummet.

(The future of solar power: From unbelievably cheap to insanely cheap: Renew Economy: 18 May 2020)
(Wind, solar and storage still the cheapest new build by far: CSIRO report: Renew Economy: 11 Dec 2020)

Driver: Big batteries are now proven

The Hornsdale Telsa big battery in South Australia

In Hornsdale, South Australia, the Tesla big battery was the biggest lithium-ion battery in the world for the three years from December 2017. Right from the start, this battery demonstrated that big batteries could be a powerful tool for controlling power grids.

The South Australian Hornsdale battery is kicking goals

For example, on 14 December 2017, a coal unit at Loy Yang in Victoria failed. (Our old coal generators often fail, suddenly removing large amounts of power from the grid.) The Tesla battery, 1,000 km away from Loy Yang, began to stabilise the grid within a hundredth of a second. A swift response. The battery started providing electricity, stopped the abrupt drop in grid frequency, and began increasing frequency. A long 4 seconds later, after the battery had done all this, the emergency coal generator responded. The battery held the fort until the cavalry arrived.

The battery has:

  • improved grid security and reliability,
  • led to lower costs to consumers, &
  • delivered a handsome return to its owners.

This rapid battery response has enabled a new, precise control of the whole grid. Discovering this in South Australia has been a break-through development for the entire world. These big batteries can also enable transmission lines to transfer more electricity. By December 2020, we had five grid-scale batteries on the east coast grid and over a dozen more planned.

(Deep dive into the first year of Tesla big battery at Hornsdale: Renew Economy: 7 Dec 2018)
(Big batteries are getting bigger and smarter and doing things that fossil fuel generators cannot do: Renew Economy: 25 Nov 2020)

AEMO backs 94% renewables by 2040

The organisation that runs our east Coast Grid, minute by minute is the Australian Energy Management Operator (AEMO). In July 2020, AEMO released a 20-year plan for the east coast grid.

AEMO concluded that their planning scenario with the greatest renewable generation gave the greatest benefit. This scenario had the grid reaching 94% renewables by 2040 and gave a $40 billion benefit. They are confident that we will find ways to run the grid reliably with 94% renewables.

This plan assumes that 63% of our old and unreliable coal generators will retire by 2040, and each of the planning scenarios has large growth in renewable generation. Their “business as usual” led to 74% renewables by 2040, and their slowest change scenario led to 49% renewables.

AEMO says that the energy transition is inevitable, & that the east coast grid is now experiencing the biggest and fastest transformation in the world.

(World’s fastest energy transition: AEMO maps path to 94 per cent renewables: Renew Economy: 30 July 2020)
(Australia’s trilemma of providing good, fast and cheap energy finally has a clear solution: Guardian: Simon Holmes à Court: 31 Jul 2020)

AEMO to study an “export superpower scenario”

AEMO plans to study more rapid uptake of renewable energy, including one scenario in which Australia becomes a renewable energy export superpower, and we reach net-zero emissions between 2040 and 2045.

(Export superpower scenario: AEMO to model even faster paths to net-zero emissions: Renew Economy: 17 Dec 2020)

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Updated 20 Jan 2021