Recently I wrote about how renewable energy, and solar power in particular, is starting to hurt the bottom line of coal companies in Germany. Now, in Australia, Giles Parkinson has reported in the Guardian that even if coal were free to burn (which would never happen), centralized, coal-fired power plants couldn’t complete with the emerging solar power infrastructure.
Parkinson explains that last week the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland hovered around zero (normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hour), largely due to the increasing influence of The Sunshine State’s growing rooftop solar capacity. So called negative pricing of wholesale electricity is not uncommon at night; however, it has started happening in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest and Queensland’s solar panels are often working to their fullest extent.
Queensland now has over 350,000 buildings with solar installed, and during the middle of the day this extra, renewable output is competing with coal generators. This is a dramatic change from what are fast becoming “the old days”, when coal-fired plants used to run at full steam during the middle of the day, and make good profits. Not many coal generators made a profit last year, and are not looking like it this year either. As Parkinson points out, state-owned generators are blaming rooftop solar for this situation.
In many cases, it’s actually the cost of the transmission and distribution networks, and retail costs and taxes, that are driving people to install rooftop solar, Parkinson maintains. Add to this the influence of the rapidly declining cost of solar systems in recent years, and you have a recipe for stellar growth in solar. Indeed, rooftop solar is forecast to rise sixfold during the coming decade. What’s more, because network operators do not want households to export excess electricity back into the grid for use elsewhere, this is likely to help create a boom in battery storage. As we have recently reported, battery storage for solar power is poised to boom in other countries as well.
In a forecast reminiscent of the growth of another great distributed network, the Internet, the West Australian Independent Market Operator has forecast that by 2023-2024, 90% if commercial dwellings, and 75% of detached and semi detached dwellings, could have rooftop solar installed.
It seems the boom in solar has only just begun in Australia, and the future viability of coal-fired power is already looking shaky. What will it look like in another ten years or so?