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Through the roof: How our solar obsession has slashed pressure on power grid


Queensland is breaking records in renewable energy output, but that is not always good news.

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Last Sunday, in the middle of school holidays and with bright sunshine, Queensland broke the record for the lowest daytime scheduled electricity demand in 16 years.

It was all because of the astonishing uptake in rooftop solar, which has effectively meant the state has not had to build a major power station for some time. Kogan Creek was the last coal-fired station built in Queensland in 2007.

According to the Clean Energy Regulator, about 2.46 million Australian homes now have rooftop solar power systems installed, with penetration rates at a state-based level as high as 42 per cent in Queensland, which is also Australia’s highest.

Chair of the Clean Energy Regulator David Parker said that renewable investment in both small-scale and large-scale renewables has exceeded expectations and provided support to the Australian economy.

“Rooftop solar PV installations are likely to exceed the previous estimate of 2.7 gigawatts for 2020 and reach 2.9 gigawatts, this is a tremendous result considering COVID-19 impacts. Last year’s record was just under 2.2 gigawatts”, said Mr Parker.

“The strong growth in rooftop solar PV over the first six months of the year is estimated to have added 2800 jobs at a time when employment in other sectors has contracted.”

But according to WattClarity, a website which charts and comments on energy issues led by Paul McArdle, the record indicated there was a “race to the bottom” as wholesale prices steadily fall.

The previous lowest point was only set in August.

He said it was a disconcerting event “given the accelerating and unresolved challenges confronting the grid with the cannibalisation of the keeping-the-lights-on services by the growth of anywhere-anytime services”.

The issue is that the Australian grid has difficulty dealing with the variability of renewable generation, a problem that can be fixed but at a cost.

Another factor is that the surge in renewable projects has meant that the wholesale prices are now falling to zero or even into negative territory meaning generator companies are paying others to take their supply.

That means investing in renewables is far less attractive than previously.

However, the State Government under Labor is a supporter of renewables and has a target of 50 per cent of generation capacity coming from renewable resources by 2030. It is currently at 20 per cent.

It has also promised three renewable energy zones and further subsidies for renewable projects.





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