The growing popularity of household and business solar panels could produce 85 per cent of Perth’s electricity demand by 2050, according to new research by the University of Western Australia.
Professor Bill Grace, from UWA’s School of Design, conducted modelling which showed the growing affordability of solar panels could see almost 60 per cent of houses and 50 per cent of businesses installing onsite solar photovoltaic systems by 2050, and a majority of these would also have onsite battery storage.
As a result, the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) would need to be capable of delivering additional energy only to complement private solar power.
To achieve this, the SWIS will need to introduce network storage capacity and also be capable of providing additional electricity quickly when solar power is not available and storages are depleted.
Professor Grace said given the strong momentum for private solar, it was questionable whether in the interim period it was necessary or economically viable to introduce large quantities of renewable energy to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity.
“It may be more appropriate to allow private generation to largely meet this objective while planning for a completely renewable system by 2050,” Professor Grace said.
“By then it is likely much less renewable energy of network scale will be required to supplement private solar generation.
“Retaining fast response open cycle gas turbines fuelled by renewable sources rather than natural gas is best.
“These are capable of increasing electricity generation quickly when solar cells and other large scale renewable sources such as wind and wave are unable to meet energy demands.
“This would be more economically viable than introducing massive storages.”
Professor Grace said WA’s most urgent electricity problem is the SWIS’s lack of network storage capacity.
“If private solar generation exceeds total demand in the middle of the day (which is predicted to occur from the early 2020s), solar generation will be restricted by the network operator due the lack of network storage capacity,” he said.
“Emission free power would then be substituted by highly polluting, expensive fossil fuel based generation, simply to enable the network to operate conventionally.”
Professor Grace recommended using pumped hydro, utilising Perth’s water supply dams, as a source of network energy storage.