Infrastructure Australia warns more storage capacity needed to avoid power blackouts on the road to net zero by 2050
The electricity grid will require “significant investments” in dispatchable energy storage to support a transition to net zero emissions by 2050 or risk major power outages, the nation’s independent infrastructure adviser has warned.
Infrastructure Australia’s 2021 priorities list, released on Friday, includes several high priority energy proposals including expanding storage, grid-scale renewable generators and grid connections including between NSW and South Australia — a project that has stalled — and NSW and Queensland.
Among 180 investment priorities, including a pipeline of 23 projects valued at $59bn deemed ready for a financial contribution from Canberra, IA is also pushing to develop hydrogen exports.
“The National Electricity Market (NEM) will require significant investments in dispatchable energy storage to support growing renewable energy generation and the future retirement of coal-fired generators,” IA said.
“Introduction of new firming capacity will complement variable renewable energy sources and support the transition to the new electricity mix.
“However, without sufficient dispatchable capacity, there is a risk of power outages and load shedding in the National Energy Market.”
IA executive director of policy and research Peter Colacino told The Australian that new energy sources were now cheaper than traditional energy.
“To reduce energy prices for consumers, transforming our electricity fuels will be critical,” he said. “The Australian electricity sector is an attractive place for private investment, however, we need to ensure we can untangle investment rules so that decarbonisation is consistently valued.
“The policy settings around investment to unlock renewable zones need to modernise and be consistently applied. As well as supporting decarbonisation, renewable energy and hydrogen will create employment and economic activity in our regions.”
Scott Morrison has said Australia should get to net zero emissions “as soon as possible”, and preferably by 2050. Nationals MPs have warned of the “complete destruction” of regional towns under a net zero target
Every state and territory has committed to net zero by 2050.
Anthony Albanese said he would enshrine a net zero emissions by 2050 target in legislation if Labor won the next election.
IA’s priorities report said new storage options range from large-scale investments, such as utility-scale pumped hydro, to smaller battery storage facilities.
“It is likely that a diverse mix of technologies will be required to support the NEM,” IA said.
As well, the NEM would require “significant new grid-scale renewable energy generators to replace retiring thermal generation facilities”.
The Australian Energy Market Operator has forecast more than 26 gigawatts of new grid-scale renewables will be required by 2040. AEMO said most of this would be met by 35 Renewable Energy Zones. IA says that could require either expansion of existing zones or new ones.
Mr Colacino said the “current focus for transformation of the electricity sector needs to be on transmission and firming to complement renewable generation, as well as on the distribution grid to support roof top solar and empowered consumers”.
“Beyond electricity, the role of hydrogen both supporting major industry onshore and for export are significant national opportunities for Australia,” he said.
“A clear infrastructure needs-assessment for hydrogen, supported by targeted investment, is needed to catalyse the sector. On hydrogen, (Chief Scientist) Alan Finkel looked at regional production hubs and the energy transformation, and Australia is very well placed. It’s not exclusively a regional opportunity, but places with established heavy industry like Townsville, Whyalla and Wollongong lend themselves to hydrogen initiatives.
“Australia is already a major energy exporter, however, hydrogen is part of the mix of new energy exports that will first complement and then displace lignite and coal. If we are to maintain our leadership as an energy exporter, we need to be ahead of the technology curve.’’
Mr Colacino said progress on the Morrison government’s Technology Investment Roadmap was critical to embed more sustainable construction practices, a renewed focus on energy efficiency and catalyse the electrification of transport.