Our Future || A new electricity grid for a new climate era

Monday 3 February 2020
Roof top solar panels

The good news is that we can use the millions of rooftop solar systems across Australia to establish regional microgrids and keep the power on in isolated areas.

Australia's horror bushfire season isn't over yet, but we know that the losses this summer will remain with us for decades.

As we rebuild, we must redesign all aspects of life for a hotter, drier, and more intense climate - including how we build and operate the power system.

We also need a system that tackles climate change - the major factor behind Australia's worsening extreme weather-by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Heatwaves, which are intensifying due to climate change, put stress on the power system. They drive up demand for power as everyone cranks up the air conditioning. The efficiency of coal, gas, and solar generators all decrease, making it harder to produce power.

Australia's ageing coal generators are also prone to tripping off unexpectedly due to heat stress, pushing whole states to the brink of blackouts.

The best way to address these challenges is to build new transmission lines across the country to connect new wind and solar farms, and strengthen the connection between the states.

Doing so boosts the supply of renewable energy (which is more heat resistant) and allows power to flow between the different parts of the country.

We must also plan for more bushfires and storms knocking down poles and wires. This cuts off power to bushfire-affected communities, as we have seen in towns like Corryong and Bateman's Bay, right when they need it most to fight fires, treat their water supply, and keep appliances running.

The good news is that we can use the millions of rooftop solar systems across Australia to establish regional microgrids and keep the power on in isolated areas.

In a microgrid, a control device and a battery balance electricity use-from homes and businesses, and generation, from wind turbines and solar panels.

Modern microgrids are able to quickly disconnect from the national grid when this is stressed, and reconnect when safe to do so.

If each region in Australia adopted microgrid technology, like the suburbs of Mooroolbark and the Lower Yorke Peninsula have done, the national grid would become much more disaster-resilient. 

As our government looks for solutions to address climate change, investing in microgrids and transmission lines are obvious starting points.

Written by Bjorn Sturmberg, Research Leader, Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

This article originally appeared in The Canberra Times.

 

Updated:  07 April 2020/Responsible Officer:  Director, Energy Change Institute/Page Contact:  Webmaster