Safeguarding The Viability and Reliability of Renewable Energy In Victoria

Introduction

            In 2016, the Australian state of Victoria pledged to diminish its net carbon emissions to zero by the year 2050 through the adoption of renewable energy sources and subsequent elimination of pollutant energy sources. The labor state government said it would reach this target by legislating amendments to the Climate Change Act of 2010 as well as implementing a pledge program that would allow individuals, community groups, businesses, and the government to contribute in cutting the state’s carbon emissions. Some of the major agendas brought forth by concerned legislators to support the program include regulation of new fossil fuel developments, espousal of solar, wind, Hydro, and geothermal technologies, provision of tutelage concerning the benefits of renewable energy to masses, as well as creation of jobs and investments in the energy sector. Nevertheless, critics have raised concerns about the reliability of renewable energy sources, citing unviability and undependability of supply. This report reviews these concerns and provides policy recommendations designed to safeguard both the viability and reliability of renewable energy sources in meeting Victoria’s energy demands.

Status of Renewable Energy in Victoria

            Victoria strives to be a front-runner in renewable energy technologies and green energy production across Australia, as outlined in the state’s Renewable Energy Roadmap 2015. As the most densely populated territory in the country, the state is among the largest contributors of greenhouse emissions in the Australian continent. Therefore, there is a need to embrace greener technologies and energy sources in order to curb the current emissions and accomplish the Net Zero target by 2050. The government has already committed to a minimum of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020 and a formative $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund (NEJF), which will support state-based projects that create sustainable jobs, increase in approval of renewable energy generation, drive innovation in fresh technologies and trim down greenhouse gas emissions (State Government of Victoria, 2017).

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            Presently, Victoria has made progress as far as installation and acceptance of cleaner energy sources are concerned. As of 2015, a significant 12 percent of state’s energy was produced by renewable energy sources: There were 17 wind farms, 596 wind turbines, 1230 MW wind capacity, 282,059 domestic solar systems, and 860MW domestic solar capacity (Council, C.E., 2016). Additionally, Victoria has a wealth of clean energy resources that are expected to play a part in meeting the state’s future energy needs. The Clean Energy Australia maintains that energy costs will continue to rise and hence, it is necessary for households and organizations to install solar power for heating as a cost-saving measure. With respect to demand and reliability, energy needs are expected to grow in the next three years, compelling the state to resort to greener options of sourcing energy.

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Viability of Renewable Energy

            The theme of climate change has elicited a substantial controversy over whether Victoria should fully transition from conventional energy sources such as fossil fuels to the so-called “renewable” energy sources. Of course, such feat would require years to realize, but should the state attempt it at all?  A review of the benefits and costs of installing these sources and abandoning conventional ones can help to assess the viability and the resources that would be required to achieve the transition. By definition, “renewable” energy refers to energy that has infinite reserves or one that is always available. In this report, renewable energy sources will include solar, wind, hydro, and biomass (Johansson and Burnham, 1993). Nevertheless, geothermal and hydro are limited by the inability to scale up and should not be considered as major contributors to the overall portfolio of renewable energy sources in the state of Victoria. Solar and wind, on the other hand, have a perceived advantage of zero emissions during operation.

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            “Viability” of an energy sources alludes to its capability to “work” and function. If renewable energy sources can “work” in the case of Victoria,” then they are viable and fitting to replace conventional energy sources. On the other hand, if they cannot “work,” then they are not viable and should not be used as replacements of other energy sources. It is also imperative to consider whether a source will be viable at a certain point in time in the future. This review will include conventional energy sources that are currently in use in the state of Victoria, including natural gas, coal, and oil.

Energy Imperatives to Consider

            There are four imperatives for energy sources, according to Robert Bryce, and they include energy density, power density, scalability, cost, and reliability (Ossai, Boswell, and Davies, 2014). Energy density denotes the capacity of energy per unit volume of a particular source and mainly applies to fossil fuels. For instance, hydrogen is less dense compared to oil. The power density refers to the compatibility or diversity of energy sources used in power production. Power plants that rely on fossil fuels tend to be more compact while solar and wind plants require huge amounts of space to operate. The scalability of an energy source expresses whether it can be scaled up to useable size in future. For example, hydro and geothermal are limited in scalability since they can only be installed in certain locations. The cost refers to operating costs and capital required to initiate and run a power generation facility. For transportation fuel, the cost refers to the rate per unit yield. Lastly, reliability implies the ability of an energy source to produce power when it is needed. Critics have decried the reliability of wind, citing that it can only produce useful power only when the wind blows in a specified range. Similarly, it has been said that solar only produces usable power when the sun is shining with clear skies and optimum angle of the sun.

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Evaluation of power generation Costs

            It is difficult to evaluate energy sources for power generation costs on a precise scale because of the many factors involved in location, plant size, and technologies, among others. However, different costs from various projects implemented in the past can help reveal how different energy sources compare. This review referred to a range of data sources in order to assess the comparative costs of generating power. Among them, the International Energy Agency (IEA)/ Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report provided the most useful insight on the subject as it includes an analysis of 130 power plants using various technologies and fuels under consideration. The analysis utilized a Levelised Lifetim Cost,” which is akin to life cycle cost analysis, and includes operating costs and capital cost of a 40 year plant cycle.

Alternatives of electricity Generation
 Cost of construction ($/KW)LCOE ($/MWh)Capacity Factor %
Gas-fired400-80037-6085%
Coal-fired1000-150025-5085%
Nuclear1000-200021-3185%
Wind, offshore1000-200035-9540-45%
Wind, onshore1000-200035-9517-38%
Solar PV3640+150-3009-24%

The leveled costs of electricity approach is more advantageous as it allows the combination of costs into a single project lifetime cost that enables comparison of different energy sources. Nevertheless, calculations have excluded distribution and transmission costs as a way of ensuring simplicity in comparison. It is important to note that this cost exclusion has not given any cost advantage to renewable sources. While conventional sources can be installed near the areas they serve, solar and wind can only be located in areas that produce maximum energy, that is, optimum sites for sunlight and stronger and frequent winds. As shown in the table, conventional power generation methods like natural gas and coal fall in the range of $20-60/MWh, and even though they may vary in cost, they are technically in the same range. On the other hand, renewable energy sources are more expensive with solar surpassing other sources by a factor of 3 to 10.

Reliability

Costs are an important factor to consider but the reliability is perhaps the most crucial energy imperative to take into account. Most conventional power sources have a capacity factor rating of 85% but may be regarded as 100% reliable, for all practical purposes. To provide power reliably, wind must be in a certain range, for the reason that wind power varies as a cube of the velocity of wind. In the case of solar energy, solar farms cannot generate power at night and can only produce a small percentage during cloudy days. Full solar output requires clear days when the sun is at its maximum incidence such as during summer or at midday (Twidell and Weir, 2015). Thus, because of these limitations, solar and wind energy sources have a smaller capacity factors compared to conventional energy sources.

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The variability of the sun and wind means that these sources cannot be relied upon as interrupted sources of electricity. They must depend on back up from other power sources in order to offer constant supply of power to the grid. Then, if the state of Victoria is proposing the renewable energy sources as alternatives power sources, their reliability is a cause for concern. The Net Zero emission target implies that either Victoria will have to fully replace traditional methods of power generation with renewable sources or to invest in carbon capture technology. The first choice necessitates renewable energy to be “stand alone” alternatives, meaning that they must have the capacity to provide reliable power independent of the options they are proposed to replace. Therefore, there is a need to devise a method of energy storage that can be utilized to meet demand when the sun and wind are not available. In addition, renewable energy sources must have the capacity to produce more power in order to charge these backup solutions.

Possible conceptual alternatives for providing reliable storage solutions include flywheels, flow batteries, pumped hydroelectric, as well as compressed air (Kousksou et al., 2014). These solutions require significant amounts of resources to build and maintain in addition to those of building and supporting renewable power generation plants. There is also a need for more capacity to charge storage facilities for later use.

Renewable Energy Capital Investments

The intermittent nature of renewable energy sources requires significant expenditures to install and support power generation and storage solutions. For that reason, these sources add to the amount of capital investments that have already been capitalized in conventional energy generation methods (Decisions, 2015). Some critics claim that renewable sources do not add anything to the overall power supply and neither do they reduce capital investment.

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Renewable Energy sources and Reduction of CO2 Emissions

            Despite the questioned viability and reliability of renewable energy sources, they have a great potential of reducing greenhouse emissions. The justification of their installation would therefore necessitate the proof that greenhouse emissions are sufficiently harmful to counterweigh the expenditures that would be required for the transition. The most installed renewable energy source in Victoria as of today is wind, and as such, it is also the most referred when it comes to the comparison of renewable energy generation and conventional energy production. Wind sources are expected to contribute more to the state electric grid in the foreseeable future than solar power.

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Renewable energy technologies can help reduce carbon dioxide since the lifecycle of emissions emanating from these technologies is much lower than that of fossil fuels (Sims, Rogner, and Gregory, 2003).  If solar, wind, and biomass are combined with conventional methods, they can reduce emissions but not in every respect. Additionally, there are many limitations with regard to inefficiencies cited by critics regarding such combination. Contrariwise, reliance on renewable energy sources as “standalone” solutions poses significant cost challenges.

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Load Balancing

            Operation of electric power generation necessitates regular monitoring of energy demand on the grid and power must be adjusted accordingly to meet the unusual demands on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal basis. In this regard, the overall voltage of the grid needs to be regularly maintained in the correct range to avoid “brown outs” or damages (Liu et al., 2011). This means that suppliers must shut down the grid if the power supply falls short of demand. As long as the power supply is ample and reliable, load balancing (or matching supply to demand) is easy to manage but unpredictability on power supply makes it harder to manage the balance. Critics claim that renewable energy sources are not sufficient in terms of cost, density, scalability, and reliability, hence, it is hard to achieve effective load balancing with these sources.

Recommendations

In view of the concerns reviewed in this report, the author provides the following recommendations designed to protect the viability and reliability of renewable energy sources in meeting Victoria’s energy demand:

  • Victoria should adopt smart-grid technology to improve grid connectivity. Without smart-grid technology, it will be unfeasible to feed large amounts of renewable power to the state’s electric grid, especially in peak hours. Smart-grid technology will allow energy efficiency as well as maximization of energy sourced from renewable energy sources.
  • Victoria should increase support for renewable energy Research and Development (R&D), and demonstration activities. Given that the state wants to achieve zero net emissions by the year 2050, then it needs to develop an attractive market by increasing R&D and demonstrating efforts. The state should set up institution fully dedicated to upgrade deployment.
  • Victoria should offer fiscal incentives for renewable energy development to cover activities such as installation of household biogas digesters in rural areas, wind and solar generation, renovation of rural grids, and rural hydropower constructions.
  • Tax incentives for renewable energy in the state should be reduced to encourage more investors into the industry. Similarly, the state should introduce a range of preferential pricing schemes for generation of renewable power.
  • The Victorian government needs to invest on largescale battery storage technology and backup systems that will support renewable energy systems as well as technologies that that have a significantly larger lifespan.

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Conclusion            

Renewable energy sources are the only solutions to attaining Victoria’s Zero net emissions by the year 2050. Wind and solar and the most reliable and resilient because of their distribution and modular nature. However, the two sources are criticized for their insufficiency with regard to the five major energy imperatives, that is, energy density, power density, scalability, and cost. There are also other limitations that represent them as an unviable and unreliable. Even so, it is important to note that their reliability and efficiency can be enhanced via better control processes, superior technologies, and adoption of smart-grids. Renewable energy sources also come with numerous benefits compared with conventional sources. Since they are distributed, severe weather conditions cannot interfere with their power supply because they are spread out over a larger geographical area. Similar, their modular nature allows power production to continue even with the failure of a few units. In addition, although the installation costs are potentially high, the long-term benefits of renewable energy use outweighs them. Renewable energy sources offer provide little to no global warming emissions, improved environmental and health quality, a vast inexhaustible energy supply, economic benefits and jobs, stable energy prices, and a more resilient energy system. Above all, renewable energy is the key to achieving Victoria’s 2050 emissions target.

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