Electricity: Australia’s future energy transition

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By Rod Duke, CEO, Energy Queensland

Energy Queensland CEO Rod Duke explores the role electricity will play in the future of Australia’s fuels, renewable energy sources, infrastructure and economy.

I recently had the opportunity to share some of my concerns and observations at a forum organized by the Committee for Economic Development Australia, on Queensland’s future fuels and energy transition.

It took the electricity industry 100 years to develop, design and build today’s infrastructure – and now we’re going to have to quadruple its capacity – or even more – in the next few decades or more just to keep up.

Why? Electricity will either be the fuel of Australia’s future or it will be used to power emerging industries such as hydrogen production.

Energy Queensland has a lot of skin in the game.

The company operates Australia’s largest power grid business with an enterprise value of over $26 billion.

Our 7,400 employees carry out an annual work program worth $1.6 billion.

Our subsidiaries, Ergon Energy and Energex, support one of the largest distribution networks in the world, supplying 35,000 GWh of electricity to 2.3 million premises and 763,000 retail customers from Tweed River to Torres Strait and Brisbane in Birdsville.

They move electrons, with about 1.7 million utility poles, nearly 180,000 km of overhead power lines, 29,000 km of underground power cable, and control it with nearly 11,000 km of fiber optic cable.

With Queensland and Australia’s commitments to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, forecasts show that we will need to move from electricity consumption of around 25% of Australia’s primary energy consumption to Australia at maybe 80%.

Almost all renewable energy sources eventually manifest as electricity; solar, hydro and wind are the three main ones.

They are first converted into electricity which is then used to heat, cool, light and power communities and industries.

Renewable energy, by its very nature, fluctuates with the time of day and the weather. Too much energy produced during the day and not enough at night causes problems for networks and customers.

There are over 4.2GW of distributed energy resources connected to Queensland’s grids – two very large power stations – and includes 21 large solar farms and 26 bio-energy generators.

As we connect more renewable energy generation to the grid, there will be greater variability in electricity flows. A new “minimum demand” problem creates challenges for voltage management on the distribution network and, more broadly, causes system stability issues.

This increase in variability requires more network monitoring and control.

As an industry, we need the power grid to respond quickly to changes to ensure the lights stay on.

More investment is needed in copper, aluminum, steel, equipment and personnel to ensure that we can meet the network requirements of the near future.

Queensland – and Australia – will need storage for daytime supplemental generation, in the form of batteries and pumped hydro.

Energy Queensland has already started to tackle this problem.

The construction of five 8 MWh grid batteries is nearing completion at our substations located in areas where rooftop solar power is important.

Our companies would like to build more. We need to do this because it is clear that Queensland will need far more energy storage capacity than is already provided.

Our engineering teams are developing tools to provide customers with a dynamic connection that will support greater installation of renewables, batteries and electric vehicles for customers who want them, without putting undue strain on the grid.

Customers will also have to play a vital role. They will soon have the opportunity to actively participate in the grid with advanced digital meters, cost-reflective tariffs and “smart” inverter standards under development.

Fundamentally, our networks must be able to deliver electricity between producers and users, not only where they need it, but also from the time it is produced until the time they use it.

Grids and the companies that operate power grids must keep pace with the growing number of electric vehicles, batteries, solar photovoltaic systems and emerging industries that consume large amounts of electricity.

In short, we must continue to invest in the fuel of the future – electricity – so that our economy and our communities continue to grow and keep pace with the impending changes.

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