Balancing act

The Victorian Government has been warned of the “unreliability” of renewable energies as it transitions away from traditional brown coal energy sources.

As the Latrobe Valley’s power stations head towards closure, the government has announced a number of renewable energy schemes, including the development of a $650 million, 96-turbine wind farm near Dundonnell.

But the Australian Energy Council has cited South Australia’s recent power crisis as a word of warning.

SA has experienced a surge in energy prices following a lack of wind, which coincided with the maintenance on the main cable it used to import power from Victoria.

As a result, the SA government directed the Pelican Point gas-fired power station near Adelaide to get back on line to power the state.

“Renewable generation will only be available when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, while thermal generation is able to run fairly continuously, so increased renewables are likely to lead to more ups and downs in wholesale electricity prices,” AEC chief executive Matthew Warren said.

“When wind and solar are available, prices will be low and when they aren’t, prices can be expected to be higher because there will be less dispatchable generation from plants like those in the Latrobe Valley.”

SA government opposition spokesperson for energy Daniel van Holst said Victoria had to get the renewable and energy base load mix right.

“If you install too many wind farms you haven’t got that mix right and you destabilise the market as the excess renewable energy can’t be stored,” Mr van Holst said.

“When you’ve got too many wind farms, they all put electricity into the market at the same time as each other, as it’s generally windy at the same time.

“So they push the electricity price down which seems good, but it puts the base load supply out of business. Then when they are needed they can’t respond quickly as they’ve shut down.”

Coal-powered stations take 24 hours to ramp up and ramp down.

Mr van Holst said until renewable energy could be stored, Victoria needed to look carefully to identify the level of demand for wind farms which must not be surpassed.

He said the state needed to maintain an adequate operating base load supply via another energy form.

“It’s about getting the mix right between solar, wind, power, hydro, coal,” Mr van Holst said.

The Victorian Greens energy spokesperson Ellen Sandell said the key was a national renewable distribution scheme.

“If you distribute renewables across Australia then you won’t have that problem – the wind is always blowing somewhere and the sun is always shining somewhere,” Ms Sandell said.

She said renewable storage was “just around the corner”, subject to government investment.

“The government needs to invest in the innovative solutions within the renewable sector,” Ms Sandell said.

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government supported wind energy “because it creates thousands of jobs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions”.

“Last month, (the Victorian Government) announced renewable energy targets for 2020 and 2025, and wind energy will be integral to achieving these targets,” the spokesperson said on Friday.

The South Australian Government did not respond to questions from The Express.