Over the next 12 months, 40 wind and solar farms are scheduled to begin full operation. Where are these projects located and why are there so many?
On April 30, the manager of the electricity grid AEMO (the Australian Energy Market Operator) released their updated generation information data. This data is updated every few months and provides a wealth of information about power stations in Australia’s electricity system (specifically the National Electricity Market, which includes all states and territories except the Northern Territory and Western Australia). This includes power stations in operation, under construction and planned.
Perhaps the most interesting information in this data is the Full Commercial Use Date estimations. This is an indication of when a new power station will become operationally available to generate electricity, after the completion of commissioning. The Full Commercial Use Date is not fixed and can change (see more below) but it is decent indicator of when new projects are expected to be connected to the electricity grid.
To make sense of this data, first a couple of definitions:
- A committed power station is a project that is proceeding to construction, with finance locked in and planning largely complete. It may have begun construction but it has not yet started commissioning or generating electricity.
- A power station in commissioning has completed construction and has begun the testing process in preparation for full commercial operation.
Now onto the data.
AEMO’s generation information shows that nine wind and solar farms are currently in the commissioning process, with another 31* committed projects scheduled to be fully operational within the next twelve months, by the end of April 2021.
In total that is an astonishing 40 new wind and solar farms ready or nearly ready to begin operation. The combined capacity of these power stations is 5,738MW – a huge amount of extra power, larger than the capacity of Victoria’s entire coal fleet.
Averaged out, this means a new wind or solar farm will begin operation every 9 days over the next year.
Victoria is home to 15 of these projects, Queensland has 10** and New South Wales has 10. South Australia has three and Tasmania has two. 21 of these projects are solar farms and 19 are wind farms. You can see the full list of projects in the table below.
This is an extraordinary amount of new renewable capacity. What is the explanation for this huge number of complete or nearly complete projects joining the grid in such a short space of time?
The truth is many of these projects have been complete for months or even longer. New tough regulations introduced by AEMO to make sure wind and solar farms can safely and reliably operate in the grid and a lack of proper grid planning in years gone by have led to a significant backlog of wind and solar projects that have finished construction but have been forced to wait to connect to the grid.
AEMO updates the generation information data every few months and in the short time since the previous update in February, six wind and solar projects have had full commercial use dates pushed back significantly.
In Queensland, the Kennedy solar and wind project has had its full operation date pushed back by four months, as has the Warwick solar farm. In New South Wales, the Darlington Point solar farm has been pushed back by five months. But the worst delays have been experienced by two Victorian solar farms: the full commercial use date for the Yatpool solar farm has been pushed back by six months and the Cohuna solar farm has been delayed by a full year.
There are so many new wind and solar farms on some parts of the electricity network that the grid is becoming very congested. In some parts of the grid, like north-west Victoria, these problems are becoming really severe and the existing grid is close to being full.
Nonetheless, it appears that AEMO have established a good process to clear this backlog of projects waiting to connect and with better systems in place, hopefully the connection process for future projects will be far more efficient.
So with 40 wind and solar farms beginning operation, does this mean the renewable industry is alive and thriving? Well, not exactly. But that is a topic for another post.
Table. Dates for full commercial operation of new wind and solar projects.
|State:||Wind and solar projects||Full commercial use date||Size (MW)|
|SA||Bungala Two solar||May-20||135|
|VIC||Murra Warra Stage 1 wind||May-20||226|
|VIC||Cherry Tree wind||Jun-20||58|
|QLD||Coopers Gap wind||Jul-20||453|
|TAS||Cattle Hill wind||Jul-20||144|
|VIC||Kiamal Stage 1 solar||Jul-20||200|
|SA||Lincoln Gap wind stage 2||Aug-20||86|
|SA||Lincoln Gap wind stage 1||Aug-20||126|
|VIC||Mortlake South wind||Aug-20||158|
|NSW||Darlington Point solar||Sep-20||275|
|TAS||Granville Harbour wind||Sep-20||112|
|QLD||Oakey 2 solar||Oct-20||56|
|NSW||Limondale solar 1||Nov-20||220|
|VIC||Stockyard Hill wind||Dec-20||532|
|VIC||Glenrowan West solar||Dec-20||106|
|VIC||Bulgana Green Power Hub wind||Jan-21||194|
|NSW||Crudine Ridge wind||Apr-21||135|
|Total: 40 projects||5,738|
Much of the data in this post was sourced from AEMO’s Generation Information April 2020. This is the one-stop shop for information on power stations in the National Electricity Market and is updated every few months.
*This total includes the Mortlake South wind farm and the Limondale One solar farm, which are technically classified as emerging and maturing projects rather than committed projects. But both projects are expected to have full commercial use by the end of this year so I have included them in this list.
** Queensland is also home to the Hughenden solar farm. This project is committed but a full commercial use date is not provided and as such, it is not included in this post.