Wind power a winner for all but Queensland, research finds

Wind turbines set against beautiful blue sky and sunrise (equinix)
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There are clear winners and losers for wind power generation across Australia in the century ahead even though climate change will have little impact on wind speeds, according to new research.

The research by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of NSW (UNSW) was published in Environmental Research Letters. 

It looks at changing winds caused by climate change across Australia, advances in technology and investment risk factors to explore how the economic viability of extracting energy from wind farms may change in the future.

Those states south of the 20° latitude generally come out ahead with Tasmania and Western Australia the biggest winners in terms of power generation and profitability.

But it’s an ill wind for Queensland, which becomes less competitive with other states because of a slight drop in wind speeds and the increased investment risk that comes with the ever-present threat of cyclones.

“Importantly, the research revealed prime locations in Tasmania and Western Australia for wind farms near existing transmission networks that have yet to be exploited,” lead author from the UNSW’s hub of the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes Professor Jason Evans said.

“And our research shows these regions will only get better with time as wind speeds in those locations are expected to increase.”

In general, most areas in Australia south of the 20° latitude are expected to experience small reductions in wind speed as a result of climate change.

Despite this, the research shows wind farms in these areas will still be profitable and remain low investment risks for renewable energy into the future.

“Once improvements in technology were factored into the equation, we calculated that the cost of generating power across Australia is likely to decrease by 30 per cent, meaning existing and future wind farms are likely to be more profitable than today,” author Dr Merlinde Kay from the UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering said.

By contrast north of the 20° latitude, the potential risk overrode profits.

Even the east coast of Cape York, which showed a significant increase in wind strength with climate change, became a risky investment because of the cyclone threat.

This was also true in north of Western Australia.

“North of the 20° latitude the risks increase as wind turbines are subject to cyclonic conditions and investment becomes subject to a potentially increased infrastructure replacement issue,” said Dr Kay said.

“However, that doesn’t mean renewable energy has no place in our far north.

“As long as the Sunshine State can maintain a climate that is – as they like to say – beautiful one day and perfect the next, it is likely solar energy will play a key role in renewable power generation in Central Queensland and our far north.”

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