3.3 GW renewables pipeline provides cover for coal-fired power plant closures


The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) this week revealed 32 projects totalling more than 3.3 GW of new renewable energy projects were registered for connection into the National Electricity Market (NEM) in 2020 and there are no signs of the growth in renewables slowing.

New figures released by AEMO earlier this week show that since March 1, 2021, the federal energy market operator has registered four new wind and solar generators in the NEM with a total capacity of 226 MW while five generators contributing a total of 383 MW completed their commissioning and in commercial operation.

The ongoing growth in renewables has served to offset concerns of potential electricity supply shortfalls triggered by the earlier-than-expected closure of the Yallourn Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

EnergyAustralia announced in March it would shutter Yallourn in 2028, four years sooner than initially scheduled, building a 350 MW capacity big battery in its stead. The four-hour utility scale battery is expected to be complete by 2026.

The 1.45 GW Yallourn power plant currently supplies about 20% of Victoria’s electricity demand or 8% of the NEM and modelling from AEMO suggests its closure could lead to potential electricity supply shortfalls emerging between 2028 and 2030.

AEMO’s 2020 Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESOO) Update models the Yallourn Power Station’s exit from the grid and additional ‘committed’ generation and storage projects not considered in the 2020 ESOO.

AEMO chief systems design officer Dr Alex Wonhas said the fresh modelling suggests there will be a breach of the market’s minimum reliability standards in the absence of a “further commitment of dispatchable capacity”.

“The modelling of the Yallourn exit and new connections since the 2020 ESOO result in an increase in forecast unserved energy (USE) for Victoria and South Australia,” he said.

“As a result, the Interim Reliability Measure (IRM) will be exceeded in both states in 2028-29 and 2029-30, unless there is further commitment of dispatchable capacity.”

EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn Power Station will be closed down in 2028.

Image: EnergyAustralia

While the loss of Yallourn’s capacity is an issue, figures published by AEMO indicate more than enough dispatchable capacity is expected to be built to address these reliability concerns.

“Based on the pipeline of registered and commissioned renewable projects, we’re well ahead of the 2020 Integrated System Plan’s ‘step change’ scenario which would see more than 90% renewable penetration, including rooftop solar PV, by 2040,” Wonhas said.

AEMO said more than 40 projects totalling nearly 4.9 GW completed registration or began exporting to the grid in 2020 while another 300 generation and storage projects totalling 55 GW are proposed across the NEM.

The 120 MW Gangarri Solar Farm in Queensland is among the new generators registered along with the 85 MW Winton Solar Farm and 7 MW Ferguson South Wind Farm in Victoria and the 14 MW Adelaide Desalination Plant Solar and Battery in South Australia.

The 100 MW Bomen Solar Farm leads the way for the new generators which have already been commissioned and are in commercial operation. Others include the 30 MW Molong Solar Farm in NSW, the 27 MW Maryborough Solar Farm in Queensland and the 144 MW Cattle Hill and the 82 MW Elaine wind farms in Tasmania and Victoria respectively.

Victoria has the strongest connection pipeline of any NEM state with 32.8 GW across 131 projects in the connection pipeline. Victoria’s proposed capacity is 80% more than the next biggest state, New South Wales, which has 8.1 GW across 52 projects in the application or completion process.

“We’ve seen registrations of new wind and solar projects in Victoria more than double from 467 MWs in 2019 to 1,146 MW in 2020,” Wonhas said.

“We expect registrations to further increase in 2021, with 2,000 MW of new wind, solar and battery storage projects forecast.

“These new generation sources will help transition our electricity market as two out of three of today’s coal-fired generators are due to retire by 2040.”


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