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  • Writer's pictureGregory Andrews

Australia No Longer Needs Baseload Power

The concept of baseload power – the idea of needing a constant, reliable source of electricity generation to meet the minimum demand – is a thing of the past, especially for Australia. New technologies and new ways of thinking about energy, mean investing in baseload is not only wasteful and uneconomic, but hinders opportunities for communities and the environment. That's why as our ageing fleet of coal power plants closes, we don't need to replace them with gas or nuclear.


Australia's climate and geography give us a unique advantage in producing renewable energy. With vast expanses of land receiving high levels of solar radiation and extensive areas exposed to consistent winds, we are well-placed to generate solar and wind power. These resources, unlike traditional baseload sources such as coal or gas-fired power plants, emit no greenhouse gases. But their variable nature has been cited as a challenge for integration into the energy grid, which requires supply to meet demand at all times.


The answer though, is advancement in battery storage and other technologies which have become game-changers, making the variability of renewable sources less of a concern. Large-scale battery storage solutions can store excess energy produced during peak generation times and release it when the demand is higher, ensuring a steady supply of electricity. Old coal-fired power stations are ideal locations for these battery hubs because the distribution infrastructure is already in place. Storage capability diminishes the need for constant baseload power generation. Renewable energy plus storage can provide the necessary grid stability and flexibility. EVs and home batteries also have huge potential to smooth out demand and supply on the grid - by storing when supply is high and sharing back to the grid when demand peaks. Every EV is a mobile battery that can plug into the grid at home, work, or in supermarket carparks to do this.


The concepts of demand and supply response – adjusting demand to match the available supply and vice versa – are also increasingly gaining traction. Smart grid technologies and energy management systems enable more dynamic balancing of supply and demand. Consumers can be incentivised to use energy during off-peak times or when renewable generation is high, reducing the reliance on constant baseload generation. And from a supply perspective, EV and home battery owners can be incentivised to share power during peak times. In the UK, EV owners can now earn rebates of over $1,200 per annum by agreeing to share power from their EV during demand peaks.


Economically, transitioning away from baseload power makes sense for Australia. Old baseload power stations run around the clock, buring fossil fuels even when their electricity is not needed. Fossil fuel generation costs are increasing and are set to rise further. Renewable energy sources, in contrast, are already significantly cheaper and continue to fall. Investment in renewable energy is booming, driven by their increasingly attractive economics and the potential for significant export revenues from green hydrogen and other renewable energy technologies.


The environmental imperative for moving away from baseload power generation is clear. Climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, poses a significant threat to Australia and the world. Transitioning to a renewable energy based system is essential for reducing these emissions. Moreover, renewable energy projects can be deployed much faster and more broadly than traditional power plants. This allows for a quicker transition to a clean energy future.


Finally, moving away from reliance on baseload power benefits local communities. It fosters community participation in energy generation and management and this helps reduce costs and creates new income generation sources for communities. It also enhances energy independence and resilience - which is particularly important in remote and regional places. And it boosts local economies through job creation and investment. Importantly for communities located close to existing fossil-fuelled baseload power stations, shifting to renewables and storage also means improved health outcomes due to reduced air pollution.


As ageing and unreliable coal-fired power stations close, emerging technology mixes mean we can move away from outdated thinking on the need for baseload. This makes arguments for adopting nuclear - which is already too expensive and too slow - even less compelling. Advancements in renewables technology, combined with energy storage solutions and increasingly decentralised generation and storage, offer more reliable, cleaner, sustainable, immediate and increasingly economical alternatives to coal, gas and nuclear.


Baseload is clearly the dinosaur of Australia's energy debate.


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2 Comments


el_gallo_azul
Mar 21

What's in it for us, as individuals (the underlying basis of our still-British culture in Australia)?


  1. Cheap energy. Zero-marginal-cost "generation" can afford to carry a very sizeable markup (profit margin), yet still remain the most cost-effective (by far) for the end-user.

  2. Increased reliability. Seven million points of redundancy (the approximate number of houses in Australia) trumps a single point of failure, which is what we currently have with centralised electricity generation and transmission. All we need is many instances of small-scale storage, connected to the shared resource of "the grid". Just like we did with photovoltaics in the 2010s which prompted the installation of rooftop solar systems, we can incentivise grid feed-in during the night, and all of a sudden…


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Ian Millner
Ian Millner
Mar 21

The solution is so simple, unfortunately the dinosaurs that have kept investing in fossil fuels just want to protect their poor investment decisions over the billions of people in the world that will and are been affected by climate change.

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