South Australia offers renewable lessons to the rest of the world

With a new report stating wind and solar dominated grids are possible worldwide, South Australia continues to set ambitious targets for renewable energy distribution.

The report from US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), makes two very bold statements. Firstly, that South Australia is leading the way in demonstrating the implementation of variable renewable energy (VRE) and distributed energy resources (DER) to the rest of the world. And secondly, that ambitious renewable energy plans can drive economic growth.

These statements are among a total of seven ‘lessons’ that the IEEFA believes can be learnt by global energy generators and distributors from South Australia’s experiences of renewable energy development.

Wind and solar domination

Highlighting the growth in renewable supply over the past five years alone – going from 36% to 60% of South Australia’s demand being met by wind and solar power – the data also shows that fossil-fuelled power generation had gone from total supply in 2006 to zero coal and minimal gas by 2020. 

In the past 12 months, Fundamentals has highlighted the positive financial impact renewables are having across the whole of Australia, while also pointing out the challenges set by rooftop solar systems on the country’s grid management.

However, the IEEFA’s bullish report urges the setting of ambitious renewable targets by national generators and distributors as South Australia is already demonstrating how fast and how far targets are being exceeded.

Beyond expectations

For example, the report states that the Australian Government has increased its target to achieve  100% renewables by 2030, while the Australian Energy Market Operator expects South Australia to achieve that target by 2025. 

Only eclipsed by Germany, the UK and the EU as a whole, Australia is ahead of the rest of the world in terms of percentage share of electricity production for G20 countries.

The report claims that government policies, along with specific market features, have driven high renewable adoption in South Australia and can deliver the same performance across other parts of the world. 

More importantly, the report also urges ambitious renewable planning as a way of driving wider economic growth.  It notes that South Australia’s government has gone far beyond the 100% renewables target and is aiming to reach 500% renewables by 2050 to make it a “renewable energy superpower”.  Not only would this provide energy exports to neighbouring states, but also international expert opportunities in ‘green’ steel, hydrogen and other non-energy products.

The magnificent seven

Overall, the report offers seven key lessons learnt from Australia that can be exported worldwide with regard to renewable energy.  These are:

  1. Over 60% of annual demand can be provided by variable wind and solar and 100% in certain time periods.
  2. Government policy and market features can drive high adoption of renewables.
  3. Ambitious renewables plans can drive economic growth.
  4. Wind and solar bring down wholesale electricity prices.
  5. System reliability and security can be maintained in a high renewables grid.
  6. Batteries (utility scale and behind the meter storage) can help maintain system reliability and security.
  7. High penetrations of rooftop solar can be managed with distribution network innovation.