ACT funds new ANU renewables lab as Australia powers past target

Australia

Large-scale solar farms have burst on to the market. File photo.

A new Australian National University laboratory funded by the ACT Government will research and develop technologies that monitor, control and coordinate renewable energy generation.

The new Distributed Energy Resources Laboratory will develop technology and software to test and monitor renewable energy resources such as solar panels, batteries and wind generators.

The announcement comes as a new ANU analysis shows that Australia continues to install renewables at record rates, already exceeding the 2020 renewable energy target, and is on course to surpass the scrapped target of 41,000 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renewable energy generation around the end of 2020.

The ANU says the growing investment in large-scale solar and wind farms, as well as the increasing take-up of rooftop solar, meant the renewable energy generated by 2020 will be equivalent to 90 per cent of Victoria’s energy consumption and could power South Australia three times over.

The new lab will provide a testing environment for new monitoring devices, smart controllers, energy market models and other innovative products to help drive the rollout of renewables.

It will provide ANU students and researchers with opportunities to work alongside industry to better align their research and build their skills.

ACT Environment Minister Mick Gentleman said the lab would also attract industry, network companies and academics from around Australia and the world to bring their business, technology, and research and development to the ACT.

“Figuring out how to most effectively and reliably distribute renewables into our power grid is a key challenge that we are helping to solve as the ACT draws closer to its 100 per cent renewables target,” he said.

The $1.5 million in funding comes from the Government’s Priority Investment Program, which was established to work with industry, research and the tertiary sectors to attract investment and grow established and emerging priority areas of Canberra’s economy.

Dr Bjorn Sturmberg, who will lead the DER Lab, said it would provide a state-of-the-art testing facility which mirrors the energy grid for industry, researchers and regulators.

“This lab will help develop and test the technologies and control systems needed for Australia’s future energy system,” Dr Sturmberg said.

“The DER Lab will provide the Australian research and development community with a fail-safe power system in which to rapidly, efficiently, and securely develop and test the technologies and systems before deploying them.

“The technologies developed in the DER Lab will lower consumers’ energy bills and create the secure, reliable and low-carbon energy system of tomorrow.”

The facility builds on the capabilities of the ANU’s Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program.

Meanwhile, lead ANU researcher Dr Matthew Stocks, from the Research School of Electrical, Energy and Materials Engineering, said the new renewables analysis, including data released by the Clean Energy Regulator, showed Australia had powered through the scaled back renewable energy target of 33,000 GWh – reset by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015.

“The record installation rates from 2018 will be broken in 2019 despite the Renewable Energy Target being met,” said Dr Stocks.

“Projects that have been announced indicate that around the end of 2020 we will meet the old target of 41,000 GWh of renewable energy generation, which was reduced by the Abbott-led Coalition Government in 2015.

“The renewable energy industry has stepped up to deliver far beyond levels that were expected.”

The Coonooer Bridge Wind Farm in Victoria that supplies the ACT with electricity. Photo: Windlab.

Co-researcher Professor Kenneth Baldwin, Director of the ANU Energy Change Institute, said large-scale solar farms have burst onto the market, while rooftop solar continues to grow strongly.

“In the absence of Federal Government energy and climate policy, the installation of renewable energy is now driven largely by economics,” Professor Baldwin said.

“The price of electricity from large-scale solar photovoltaic and windfarms in Australia is now below $50 per megawatt hour – well below the National Electricity Market baseload future prices.”

Co-researcher Professor Andrew Blakers said Australia was leading the world in the rate at which the nation is transitioning its electricity system.

“Australia is on track to install 17 Gigawatts of wind and solar photovoltaics between 2018 and 2020. That’s 225 watts of renewable power per person per year,” he said.

“This is four to five times faster per capita than the European Union, Japan, the USA or China and 10 times faster than the world average.

“Australia is leading the world in rapid deployment of renewable energy, and this is causing rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity industry.”

Dr Stocks said getting electricity from new wind and solar farms to where it is needed is the main roadblock to continued strong growth.

“Our old network was built around coal generators, which are often not where the best wind and solar resources are,” he said.

“State and Federal governments need to unlock transmission deployment to ensure we continue to build on our current renewable energy success story.”

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