Repower WA with Renewables: 90% by 2030

Aerial view of a solar panel farm

Western Australia’s energy sector is one of the best places to start to create thousands of jobs and drive down emissions. With the best sun and wind resources in the world, it’s time to harness the economic benefits and renewable potential of our state. All Australia’s other states & territories are embracing the clean energy transition with renewable energy targets, and WA’s lack of such a plan is a failure to grasp an excellent opportunity.

Repowering WA with renewable energy provides a once in a generation opportunity for infrastructure investment, jobs and value creation that will be a powerful driver for economic activity for decades to come.

The proposal

Powering WA’s Southwest electricity grid with renewable energy by 2030 is both affordable and achievable.

The costs of building and delivering renewable energy solutions are reducing every year, and large scale wind and solar are already able to deliver cheaper electricity than coal and gas. Repowering WA can reduce energy bills for homes and businesses, and support significant growth in manufacturing, minerals processing and other energy-intensive industries that can employ more people here in WA.

A report commissioned by Clean State has found the move to 90% renewable electricity on WA’s South West Interconnected System (SWIS) is technologically possible by 2030 and would create over 8600 jobs.

The 90% Renewable Energy Roadmap created by expert group Sustainable Energy Now provides a transition blueprint for the SWIS – WA’s main electricity grid covering most of the population and spanning from Geraldton to Kalgoorlie.

For this plan, new renewable energy generation capacity totalling 11.7 GW of will be required by 2030. Optimising the mix of technology to take into consideration electricity demand, weather, cost, technology and the design of the SWIS grid, the SEN model suggests that this should be made up of:

  • 5000 MW wind
  • 4500 MW rooftop solar
  • 2200 MW utility solar

This investment would provide a significant number of jobs to build the infrastructure required. Each year, 800MW of new renewable energy capacity would need to be added, which is, roughly equivalent to the sum of the following:

  • 2 windfarms the size of Merredin’s Collgar wind farm, each year (206MW)
  • 1.5 solar farms the size of the Merredin Solar Farm, currently WA’s biggest, every year (132MW)
  • 1 ‘big battery’ the size of SA’s Tesla giant battery at Hornsdale every two years (100MW); and
  • ~3500 ‘prosumer’ batteries the size of the Tesla Powerwall installed each year (13.5kWh/0.135MW)

There would also be additional investment and employment opportunities in providing energy storage and grid services to compliment this generation mix.

Much of the rooftop solar can be delivered by private investment if WA’s electricity market is reformed to enable rooftop solar and battery systems to link into the grid productively. Increased battery storage would stabilise the network, and with 78,000 houses in WA coming off a 40c feed in-tariff this year, there is a prime opportunity to encourage these households to upgrade and battery.

Besides the climate benefits and direct employment gains accompanying these investments and reforms, a timetable for the staged and managed closure of WA’s coal-fired power stations will avoid energy and business uncertainty, both for the state and for those currently working in the industry.

Many credible studies have found that the SWIS, WA’s main grid, can transition to 100% Renewable sources by 2030. These include:

  • 90-100% Renewable Electricity for the South West Interconnected System of WA’ (ANU, 2017)
  • Energy 2030 (Sustainable Energy Now, 2017)
  • Collie at the Crossroads – Planning a future beyond coal (Beyond Zero Emissions, 2019)

Jobs and Benefits

The SEN modelling estimates that transitioning to 90% renewable electricity by 2030 would create 8650 jobs in 2030, with an average of 5500 per year. This includes:
  • 4450 construction and installation jobs
  • 2800 permanent jobs in operations and maintenance
  • 700 manufacturing jobs
  • 700 jobs in upgrading the grid and decommissioning old generators
The above estimates assume 10–33% local manufacture (depending on the technology); however, WA could capture a greater share of manufacturing with targeted programs and policies to support local manufacturing industries.

Carbon Savings

Climate Analytics modelled a Paris Agreement compatible and cost-optimal emissions pathway for WA’s electricity generation to be one-third renewable by 2025, 90% renewable by 2030 and 100% in the early 2030s. This would reduce emissions from the electricity sector by 95% by 2030 and see the sector achieve net zero emissions by 2035.

What would it cost?

Repowering WA will require a mix of investment by government and the private sector. While some assets such as grid infrastructure should be maintained in public ownership, the need for significant new generation capacity presents opportunities for private investment. In other states, ‘reverse auction’ processes have been used successfully by government to underwrite investment in new generation at no net cost to government