Welcome to the August 2019 issue of the NEEA Electricity Update, with data updated to the end of July 2019. The Electricity Update presents data on electricity demand, electricity supply, and electricity generation emissions in the National Electricity Market (NEM), plus electricity demand in the South West Interconnected System (SWIS). Since the start of 2018 we have been charting the rapid growth in wind and solar generation. There can be no doubt that Australia’s electricity system is well along the road to a fundamental transition in terms of both the means by which electricity is generated and the system through which electricity is supplied to consumers. For this issue we have prepared some new graphs that show the transition over the more than twenty years since the National Electricity Market was launched, in December 1998. In addition, we include a particular focus on South Australia, where the transition is most advanced. Every few years possible risks to the security of Australia’s access to petroleum fuels enters into the public debate, as has occurred over the past couple of weeks. As our contribution to the discussion, we have prepared a table which summarises where Australia sourced its oil imports last year.

Key points:

  • Wind generation across the NEM set a new record in July of 4,586 MW, (equivalent to the capacity of over two Liddell power stations), supplying 18% of total NEM generation at 9pm on 14 July.
  • South Australia has always been more energy insecure compared to the eastern states and it is why the Heywood connector was the first interstate transmission line built in Australia.
  • For nine of the last eighteen months, half of all energy supplied in South Australia has been from renewable generators, including rooftop solar.
  • The South Australian system remains reliant on high gas generation for the stable operation of the supply system, as its currently configured, even when renewable generation is large enough to meet all demand in the state.
  • South Australia is a test case for future scenarios of high penetration renewables and while AEMO continues to intervene in the market by either directing gas generators to run or directing windfarms to curtail output, or both, as it judges to be necessary to maintain system security, AEMO has acknowledged that, as it gains more experience it feels able to gradually reduce such interventions.
  • South Australian electricity supply system provides real world evidence of how a new base load generator, such as a nuclear power station, could not be incorporated into a system with a high proportion of variable renewable generation. The best complement for high renewables is storage and a diversity (in location and type) of renewables.
  • Liquid fuel security will continue to be a concern, given even if an Australian government blocked all exports of crude oil, local production would only be sufficient to meet one fifth to one quarter of total domestic petroleum fuel consumption
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