Massive Jump In Solar Energy Roll-Out Means Scarcity Fears Unfounded: Council

Fairfax - Peter Hannam

Official estimates of the risk of an electricity shortfall this summer are exaggerated because much more solar energy - as much as six times current large-scale capacity - is ready to be built, the Australian Solar Council says.
Completed large-scale plants total 310.8 megawatts,which will be dwarfed by the 2054 MW of large-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) plants that have secured finance and/or a power purchase agreement, the council says.
The Nyngan solar plant near Dubbo, NSW, built by AGL with government help, got the ball rolling on large-scale solar plants. Photo: Supplied
However, the project pipeline would put even that increase in the shade, with 10,266 MW in some part of the approval process.
"You have a massive build and development under way," John Grimes, the council's chief executive, said.
Solar PV plants are rolling out faster than regulators have forecast. Photo: Supplied
The short construction time for solar PV plants compared with other generation capacity - particularly coal - means the electricity market is unlikely to have the supply squeeze that the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) identified in a report this month.
"You don't have an energy scarcity problem," Mr Grimes said. "What discussions you should be having is how you can have the infrastructure needed to bring the additional supply from areas such as north Queensland to major markets."
The Turnbull government this month seized on the AEMO report that indicated there was a risk Victoria and South Australia could face electricity shortages this summer.
AEMO also cited the planned closure of AGL's 1680 MW coal-fire power plant in the Hunter Valley as potentially bringing supply shortages to NSW in 2024-25 if other generation capacity were to close by then.
Critics of the AEMO forecast, though, have pointed out the shortage predictions exclude actions taken by all three states - and others - to meet electricity demand.
They also highlight that AEMO has failed to include clean energy supplies that are under construction or have financial close that will be added to the market.
Mr Grimes said economic forecasters had been wildly wrong, particularly when it came to estimating the falling cost and rising efficiency of solar PV.
For instance, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics forecast in 2009 that solar use would rise to 231 MW by 2017.
Instead, including rooftop PV on homes and businesses, it had reached about 6000 MW, Mr Grimes said.
Solar energy's advantages include plunging prices that make it the cheapest new capacity available, Australia's world-envied solar resource and now the support of states such as Queensland, Mr Grimes said.
The forecast failures are "a pattern that we see from our energy planners, and in the discussions in the parliamentary debate that seek to lock in coal", he said.
Walking away from renewables, as the Turnbull government seems to be doing, "is so far removed from reality",  Mr Grimes said.
Fairfax Media sought comment from AEMO.
Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said solar's share of the renewable energy market is advancing faster than expected.
Just a couple of years ago, when the Renewable Energy Target was reset at a goal of 33,000 gigawatt-hours a year by 2020, the expected split between wind and solar was forecast at 75:25 for the 6000 MW of new capacity expected to be needed.
"But now it's looking like 50:50, and over time that spilt will just continue to grow" in solar's favour, Mr Thornton said.
"The reality is there is a real track record of this industry delivering more than forecast, more quickly," he said.


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