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11 January 2024 4 min read

Key points

  • Renewables are set to transform Australia’s energy system as soon as 2030.
  • We’ll need to adapt our energy system for a safe and secure power supply.
  • We are working with global research partners to develop new tools and technologies.

Australia’s energy system faces a big transformation in the coming years.

By 2030, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) predicts solar and wind capacity in the national grid will triple. Rooftop solar capacity is expected to double. Storage capacity is also set to increase by a factor of six.

That’s why Australia needs a well-rounded strategy to integrate more renewable energy into our existing power systems.

Effective management of energy generation through rooftop solar is critical

Collaborating for sustainable energy

 At a recent event organised by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Energy Networks Leader Dr John McKibbin explained how we’re working towards a sustainable and efficient energy transformation.

“One of the main ways CSIRO is contributing is through the Global Power Systems Transformation Initiative (GPST),” John said.

GPST is a global research consortium of organisations like AEMO, universities, and industry leaders. It aims to integrate renewable energy into power systems, while keeping them secure and stable.

“There’s a big need for global collaboration if we’re to achieve these goals. It’s crucial to overcoming hurdles and making the most of international research and development,” he said.

The event was initiated by the Commonwealth through the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environmental, and Water (DCCEEW).  It gave John the opportunity to lay out some of the key challenges in Australia’s energy transformation.

Australia’s energy transformation challenges

Transmitting renewable energy

Energy transmission is the process of moving energy from one place to another. When it comes to renewables, it involves capturing the energy produced in one location (like a solar panel or wind turbine) and delivering it to homes or businesses.

Operators are set to introduce up to three times as much wind and solar power by 2030. These power supplies vary with changing conditions like weather. It is clear Australia’s regional transmission system is set to become much more dynamic. This calls for better tools, like advanced modelling programs and monitoring devices. With further assistance from artificial intelligence, operators will be able to assess the security of our power system in real time.

Through the GPST, we are working with the Electric Power Research Institute to help AEMO develop these new capabilities.

Distributing power from rooftop solar 

With rooftop solar capacity expected to double by 2030, Australia will need to adapt its local power distribution system. A power distribution system is a network of structures and devices that deliver electricity from power plants to homes, schools, and businesses. It includes power lines, transformers, and other equipment that works together to transport and control the flow of electricity. 

But the growing number of Australians feeding power back into the network from their rooftop solar is pushing the system’s limits.

“The existing network was not designed for such a large share of power to be generated by customers,” John said.

In the future, those in charge of distributing electricity will have to predict and manage when the local power lines might get too crowded. They'll also have to set prices in a way that encourages people to use, generate, and store electricity responsively in their own neighbourhoods.

Through the GPST, we’re working with the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne to develop new methods and capabilities for enhanced power distribution. It includes things like Dynamic Operating Envelopes which can dynamically estimate and allocate capacity on the distribution network. This helps houses and businesses with rooftop solar feed back into the network, without undermining it.

Enhancing flexibility for electrification 

From hot water systems to space heaters, electric vehicles and induction cooking, Australian households are set to go electric. This presents both challenges and opportunities.

“There’s potential for households and businesses to get cheaper electricity through what’s called ‘load flexibility,’” John said.

“This just means adjusting energy use to match supply. So, running appliances and charging devices when there’s more power in the grid. When we do that, we’re effectively running these devices as a giant virtual battery for the power system."

Our researchers are helping unlock resources to support flexible demand for energy. One way we’re doing this is by giving home- and building-owners better data visibility and control through the Data Clearing House (DCH) initiative. 

Need for better collaboration 

Australia has set a target to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Meeting this target involves investing in renewable energy infrastructure and transitioning away from coal-fired power plants. 

Meeting decarbonisation targets is a complex task, and collaboration is key to success. Our Smart Energy Mission is coordinating extensive collaboration between businesses, governments, communities, and research institutes. Our focus is on educating, communicating transparently, and addressing community concerns.

We are partnering with other countries for technical advancements, and working with utilities, the transportation and agricultural sectors, NGOs, startups, research institutions (through programs such as the GPST and DCH) and renewable energy projects.

The critical message is clear: collaboration is a powerful tool to overcome challenges, efficiently use resources, and pave the way for a sustainable and resilient energy future.

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