This paper looks at a range of opportunities and presents four scenarios, not predictions, through which Australia can view potential futures for the national electricity system.
Australia’s electricity system is at a significant crossroads. Historically high retail electricity prices, widespread deployment of solar panels, greenhouse gas emissions abatement, and declining aggregate peak demand and consumption in most states are some of the major issues that have put it at this crossroads, and there are several potential future directions. Each direction has far-reaching implications for the future electricity supply chain and would alter the electricity model in this country. While many of these challenges also confront electricity supply in other parts of the world, Australia has its own set of unique strengths and vulnerabilities around which it will need to tailor effective solutions.
Recognising the extraordinary circumstances of this time in the electricity sector’s history, in 2012 CSIRO convened the Future Grid Forum, unique in composition (bringing together more than 120 representatives of every segment of the electricity industry, as well as government and community) and in approach (undertaking extensive whole-of-system quantitative modelling and customer social dimensions research to support its deliberations and findings).
Many studies and reviews have evaluated the drivers of change now affecting the electricity system, but most have focused on specific parts of the system or been from the perspective of particular stakeholders. Australia’s electricity sector recognised that the system cannot be analysed and optimised by only examining its separate parts. A whole-of-system evaluation was essential.
Although there are many areas where the Future Grid Forum reached a high level of agreement, this report should not be interpreted as a consensus statement. Rather, it is a summary of the Forum’s journey and its key conclusions. Our intent is to help inform public discussion and policy settings around the challenges and opportunities Australia will face in managing electricity needs to 2050.