Why don’t we just transition all electricity production to renewables right now? Well, it’s not quite that simple. We explain why.

In Australia, electricity production is responsible for about a third of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is because we currently rely on fossil fuels to generate roughly 67 per cent of our electricity. To meet our emissions goals, we must move towards renewable, low-emissions energy sources.

Encouragingly, our GenCost report showed that solar photovoltaics and wind continue to be the cheapest sources of newly built electricity.

So why don’t we just switch all electricity production to renewables right now? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Australia’s transition to renewables

When it comes to embracing renewables, Australians aren’t being left in the dark. We have a world-record one-in-four homes with rooftop solar panels.

Australia leads the world with rooftop solar on one-in-four homes.

Electricity from renewables increased by almost five per cent last year. Now it accounts for nearly a third of total electricity generation across the country. In fact, South Australia has at times seen electricity generated by renewables meet 100 per cent of demand!

So why don’t we just switch all power to renewables right now? Well, it’s not that simple.

Preparing our power system

We are connecting more and more renewables (like large-scale wind and solar farms) and distributed energy resources (like rooftop solar) to the electricity grid. At the same time, we are phasing out fossil fuel generators.

This means we need to make sure we have the right amount of energy available, at the right times and in the right places.

This is a very complex situation. Sometimes we may not generate enough electricity. Sometimes most of the electricity will be supplied by renewables and in a very different way to fossil fuel generators, requiring new sorts of operational mechanisms. There are quite a few challenges.

For example, when we use fossil fuels to produce most of our electricity, it is relatively easy to match the supply of electricity to the demand we predict. Traditionally, electricity demand peaks when everyone gets home in the evening and switches on the lights and television. When everyone switches off and goes to bed, demand is low.

Looking up at electric powerlines to represent their ability to help with the renewables transition
Our research is exploring ways that the electricity grid can support the transition to renewables.

But energy supply from renewable sources varies with wind speed and sunlight intensity. This makes it more difficult to match supply with demand, securely and reliably.

That’s why, along with Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), we’re part of an international research consortium, to understand and prepare our power system for these challenges.

Storing electricity while the sun shines

One way to address the variability of renewables is to store excess energy produced when it’s windy or sunny, to meet demand when it’s not.

So, we’re developing energy storage technologies that use thermal energy, batteries and ceramics to manage the variability of renewable energy. Our new Revolutionary Energy Storage Systems Future Science Platform will up the ante on scientific solutions to will take us beyond the limitations of today’s technology.

Energy storage and an integrated electricity grid are two major components of our electricity system of the future.

16 comments

  1. Hi Robert,

    We could deploy a variable renewable electricity system using existing forms of storage such as batteries and pumped hydro at reasonable cost, without further research.

    But, these technologies are not suitable in some parts of Australia.

    Also, if we can reduce storage costs even further, Australia will have more opportunities to use our vast renewable resources for global competitive advantage.

    Thanks,
    Team CSIRO

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