For about half an hour Friday, the national energy market got a glimpse of what a renewable-powered future might look like.
Solar power overtook coal as the leading energy source in the energy market for about half an hour on Friday. Most of the power came from rooftop solar panels, not large-scale solar farms. Energy experts say that’s a sign of things to come. Australia is transitioning to renewable energy
Solar has overtaken coal as the leading energy source in the energy market, covering all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
It wasn’t the first time, but experts said it was the first time it had happened under relatively “normal” conditions.
It wasn’t caused by a lack of coal-fired power, and it happened outside of the sunniest time of the year.
This is especially important, said Joshua Stabler of energy consulting firm Energy Edge.
“This is the first time in business as usual that we’re seeing coal dethroned. [the] is the number one source of fuel on the market,” he said.
“Coal accounted for 80 or 90 percent of the energy coming to the market.
“That means it’s a big event.”
The milestone occurred at lunchtime on Friday, with solar accounting for about 40 percent of the market share and coal at 38 percent.
At that time, wind was the third largest source of energy, followed by water and gas.
In total, renewables provided 60 percent of the market’s power.
Energy experts say this is a clear sign of things to come.
Spring is the time for the sun to shine
Mr. Stabler said such moments, when coal takes a clear backseat in electricity generation, will become more common, especially at this time of year.
He said the perfect conditions are lots of sun and relatively mild temperatures.
“This is the first of many such events,” he said.
“Any kind of spring-work period, what we have is a lot of sun in the sky and not a lot of demand.
“What we’re going to see is more cases where solar becomes the number one generator in the market in September and October and March and April.”
Australia’s electricity grid is still dominated by coal during the evening peak, but experts say it’s a solvable problem. (Reuters: Loren Elliott)
Most of the energy came not from large-scale solar farms, but from rooftop solar panels installed on top of homes and businesses.
During the evening peak when solar sources are not available, coal still dominates the grid.
But Richie Merzian, of the progressive think tank Australia Institute, said it could be solved by transforming the energy grid.
“We can generate more energy on our rooftops in our communities, we can integrate more large-scale renewables, but we need a grid that can accommodate that,” he said.
“If we have the right parameters, renewable energy will fill that gap and provide us with cheaper energy.”
Mr. Merzian cited the federal government’s planned $20 billion investment in the national power grid as a promising start.
But he said for now, renewables will do more of the heavy lifting during the day.
“In the middle of the day, we’re seeing renewables continue to fill those key gaps,” he said.
“Renewable energy sources are 30 percent [of total annual generation in the NEM]but they will continue to grow dramatically.”