JD Ross: How the increased wind development in Australia is creating challenges for regional power networks

As part of Opus Talent Solutions, JD Ross Energy provide recruitment solutions for the energy market. Based in 4 global locations including Sydney, Australia, our team look into the increasing challenges resulting from increased wind development.

Victoria has transformed into a major energy hub for Australia, but the surge of new developments has created challenges for regional power networks. It is believed that up to 5 GW of new wind and solar power will be produced in Victoria western region by 2025. Industry experts have claimed that the majority of this power will not be capable of reaching the grid via the existing rural transmission lines, which experts regard as a ‘single lane bush track’.

With a number of developers making plans to develop wind and solar projects in the region, national energy operators are now being urged to prioritise the upgrade of Victoria’s transmission networks.

At present, there is over $3 billions worth of projects currently in development in the region, according to Stuart Benjamin, chairman of the Victorian Government-commissioned taskforce. The region is regularly referred to as experiencing a ‘gold rush’ in new renewable energy projects. Benjamin believes that if these challenges are addressed sooner than later, the level of planned infrastructure could expand even further.

Transmission upgrades essential

National energy market operators are claiming transmission upgrades are essential in Victoria’s west to transmit the new energy intended to come online by 2025. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has suggested that as much as 5,000 MW of new renewable energy will be produced in this area by 2025. At present, Victoria produces approximately 11,000 MW in total.

The problem lies with the existing electrical lines, which in some areas of Victoria, are incapable of handling large volumes of electrical flow without overheating, according to researchers at the Australian National University Energy Change Institute.

Based on the existing infrastructure, the rural transmission lines are simply not capable of withstanding the predicted increase of energy without considerable improvements.

Investment needed

The AEMO is urging the government to provide investment in the region of $370 million to improve and upgrade the regional network, including the creation of double circuit transmission lines in specific areas and the potential development of a new terminal station. The financial costs of the development work will be recovered through transmission charges on energy bills once the infrastructure is complete.

Recently, Victoria experienced energy disruptions which led to thousands of homes losing power and businesses failing to provide enough power on one of the hottest days of the year. A number of factors, one of which being infrastructure failures related to coal and gas facilities caused the AEMO to divert loads to ensure the entire system didn't fail. Whilst coal-fired power stations were being disrupted, renewable energy remained strong.

The regional government is placing a lot of hope on the development of large-scale renewable energy, with 19 new wind sites confirmed for construction, mainly in western Victoria. Combined this with solar, the projects create more than the equivalent of two coal-fired power stations worth of electricity over the next few years.

Local authorities have claimed they are now trying to maintain a balance with the rapid uptake of renewable energy in the region. The government is working closely with the AEMO to manage network congestion. In a recent statement, energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio explained renewable energy was a cheaper, cleaner and more efficient way of energy generation and Victoria is continuing to develop more of it. D’Ambrosio explains the region is enhancing its grid to support the transition towards a cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy system. There is, however, the challenge of a significant supply increase, which can cause problems when connected to the current transition network. The rapid uptake of renewable energy in the region is causing government and regulators to reconsider their energy plans and ensure they are prepared for the transition towards a cleaner energy network.

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