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Why WA Needs Long-Term Thinking on Energy to Prevent More Power Outages

10 January 2020 power outage is indicative of things to come.

Without a strategy for the future, it’s forecast that power outages will become more frequent and both households and businesses will end up paying more for power.

The outage on Friday, 10 January was caused by a generator failing while in operation. Supply must meet demand and when a large generator is lost, things can quickly get out of control.

As renewable energy sources for power supply are becoming more common in households and businesses, the potential for a large loss of generation becomes more and more likely. This can be something as simple as cloud cover moving over the city.

When a generator fails in operation (or cloud cover significantly reduces solar PV generation), the rest of the generators need to pick up the slack. When there aren’t enough generators on, businesses and households must be disconnected to avoid the whole grid going dark.

A report from the Australian Energy Market Operator in June 2019 predicted that by 2026 a security risk to the grid could mean up to 300,000 households across Western Australia would be regularly impacted by power outages.

We need long-term thinking now to address the challenges of the next ten years.

When security risks are this high, low cost energy sources like solar and wind farms may be asked to turn their output down to increase the number of conventional generators online. The problem is roof top solar cannot currently be controlled in high risk states like the solar and wind farms.

For WA’s energy industry to remain sustainable, reliable and affordable over the next decade and beyond we should look to

  • Invest in more energy storage, both large and small-scale, which will allow distributed energy (produced by homes and offices through rooftop solar panels) to be used during more appropriate periods
  • Advancing residential metering, which provides operators around Western Australia with stronger and more complete data, meaning more accurate forecasting and therefore more efficient use of power
  • Commit to build a framework for virtual power plants, which permits both market and network operators to use their stored energy more efficiently
  • Retargeting some of the federal renewable energy subsidies, along with state subsidies, to discount electric vehicles – provided they are charged between late morning and early afternoon
  • Introduce price signals to encourage homes and businesses to modify the time of electricity consumption, for example several different electricity tariffs – High Peak, Peak, Low Peak, Off Peak

If we all start adopting long-term planning now, we can ensure our energy grid is fit for all our purposes in the years ahead.

Written by Martin Jurat