WA will need to build significant renewable energy and storage capacity now if it is to phase-out coal-fired power stations by 2030 while avoiding power disruptions, according to an east coast energy expert.
The former head of engineering and system design at the Australian Energy Market Operator, Alex Wonhas, has described the State Government’s plan to close its coal-fired power stations by the end of 2029 as “ambitious but possible”.
The McGowan Government announced the staged closure of both the Muja and Collie power stations last month in a move it said would cut costs and reduce carbon emissions on the South West Interconnected System by 80 per cent.
To replace the lost capacity, the Government is planning to invest $3.8 billion in green electricity infrastructure over the next decade — including wind farms and 4000MW hours of storage in the form of batteries and pumped hydro.
Mr Wonhas said the lesson of the current east coast power crisis was that it was “really important” to have a “managed exit” from dependency on coal-fired power.
“That means you have to build the renewables, you have to build the storage before you take the coal-fired power stations out,” he said.
“I think that is possible because in particular batteries as well as renewable projects can be delivered quite quickly nowadays.
“But in order to do this by 2029, it requires action now and decisive action now to achieve that without disruption.”
Mr Wonhas made the comments while speaking to reporters on a media briefing organised by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering on the east coast energy crisis and the state of renewables in Australia.
Professor Renate Egan, who leads the University of New South Wales’ Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, noted WA had the advantage of public ownership of power infrastructure assets, which would allow the Government to make decisions and act on them.
WA is also less reliant on coal-fired power because the majority of its energy needs come from natural gas.
The Government also committed in June to not commission any new gas-fired power stations beyond 2030 — but the emissions-intensive electricity generators loom as the obvious back up should ambitious plans for pumped hydro and battery storage fail to materialise.
Professor Egan said Australia got 32 per cent of its energy from renewables, which had doubled in the past five years, but needed to double again.
Former Ausgrid managing director George George Maltabarow said the transition away from fossil fuels would require electrifying everything.
“The good news is we have all the technologies available, we now need the frameworks to manage the investment,” he said.
The head of the battery storage and grid integration program at the Australian National University, Professor Lachlan Blackhall, said between now and 2050, there would be 30-fold increase in the amount of energy storage.