Renewables’ ‘record-breaking’ contribution to NSW energy mix

The NSW energy mix is quickly turning to renewable energy sources for its electricity, and as such, renewables are now contributing one-fifth of the energy required to power the state.

In 2016, renewable energy sources made a “record-breaking contribution” to NSW energy mix with 19.6 percent which came from solar, hydro, wind, small hydro and bioenergy.

Currently, coal-fired power production accounts for about 75.8 percent of the electricity supply in the state, with gas making 4.6 percent of NSW energy mix.

Amy Kean the renewable energy advocate for the NSW Government said the biggest clean energy contributors were the well-established Snowy Hydro scheme, the solar-producing large industrial-sized projects, and rooftops that are generating massive renewable energy.

“Solar is the real winner right now, we’ve seen a transformation in the home with one in seven homes harnessing the sun,” Ms. Kean said.

“We’ve seen huge changes in the last five years, renewable energy has doubled capacity.”

Ms. Kean further noted that the “exponential growth” was mostly driven by the plummeting costs of solar and wind.

The private sector is pumping $14 billion in renewable energy projects or “10,000 megawatts in the system waiting to be built,” claimed Ms. Kean.

At the moment, twelve renewable projects are in the pipeline, under construction.

Ms. Kean said an additional 37 NSW solar farm projects have already been approved or awaiting approval, with 24 of these having moved into the planning system since September 2016.

“I’d say there’s a boom — large-scale projects are being built across the state,” she said.

Renewables in QLD, SA, VIC lead NSW energy mix

Andrew Stock, an energy specialist for the Climate Council has described the NSW energy mix as “a late starter” in the renewables race.

“Others states are way out in front. Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria are way out in front,” he said.

“There’s a great opportunity here and I think what’s disappointing here is that NSW is late to capture that opportunity.”

However, they say better late than never. Stock welcomed the NSW energy mix progress.

“There’re well over 1,000 megawatts of renewables being constructed or being committed in New South Wales and that’s more than Liddell was putting into the grid in February this year when it was extremely hot and there was load shedding,” he stated.

The planned closure of Liddell in 2022, will see the industry embracing clean alternatives from Australia’s natural assets in a bit to cover for the current energy contribution by the state’s old coal-fired power station.

“I expect a transformation to occur, an orderly transformation, as we transition away from old coal-fired power generators to new technology, that doesn’t require fuel but utilises our natural assets,” Ms. Kean stated.

Seven locations set aside for solar plants

One of the biggest renewables investors in NSW is the publicly listed global company Photon Energy Australia which plans to set up seven solar plants within the state.

The company’s managing director and co-founder Michael Gartner noted that Photon Energy Australia had secured several sites and was “now going through the state’s significant development process”.

Mr. Gartner added that they still needed to sort a few details entailing the transmission network and purchase agreements before launching the projects and that the company was also seeking more certainty from the Federal Government.

Even with much pressure from the country’s chief scientist, Australia will not have any renewable energy target (RET) beyond 2020.

“What it does is it actually slows down the level of investment into renewable energy because it’s more attractive to have a stable environment for investment and stability on the revenue side,” Mr. Gartner said.

In a statement, the Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said: “The Turnbull Government is focused on delivering affordable and reliable energy as we transition to a lower emissions future. Our approach to energy policy is technology neutral and non-ideological.”

“In 2016, with support from a renewable energy target, Australia saw a fivefold increase in renewable energy investment. And since, we have adopted the chief scientist’s recommendation of ensuring smart storage technology is built alongside it.

“So, renewables with storage will certainly play an important role in our future energy mix — just as coal, gas and hydro will.”

The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.