As Bob Dylan more or less once sang wind power is the way to go. The problem is that wind is intermittent and at times not blowing at all. At other times there is too much wind and on a number of occasions South Australian wind generators have produced more than 100% of the state’s power and exported the excess. Continuous overproduction of electricity brings down the wholesale price of electricity until it approaches zero. The answer is to store the extra power. Combining wind power with storage – batteries and pumped hydro the obvious workable solutions – and used in conjunction with high voltage direct current (HVDC) cables and solar will enable Australia to approach the 100% renewable energy target much quicker than is thought.
Examples of all this technology exists now. Basslink’s HVDC link should be repaired soon and another – the mothballed Taswind project through King Island to the mainland – should be commenced as soon as possible. Long term planning should be in place to connect the Eastern Electricity market to WA and long distance connections should be progressively upgraded to HVDC. Pumped hydro is used in the Snowy Mountains, a company (Genex) in Queensland is planning to use abandoned deep open cut mines for this purpose and a number of proposals have been made to utilise the Hazelwood pondage and open cut for this purpose once the mine is closed. It goes without saying that following the Tesla promotion battery production is proliferating. Examples include lithium ion, zinc air and vanadium redox. And similar advances are being made on an almost daily basis with solar technology.
With a HVDC grid connected Australia the wind will usually be blowing somewhere. Likewise even at the shortest day some parts of the country will be getting sunshine for at least half the day and WA may still be producing solar energy during the Eastern States’ peak period. And when there is no sun and no wind, energy storage – hydro, pumped hydro, batteries and perhaps in a few years solar thermal – will come into play.
Wind has many other advantages. It retains some of the income earned in communities in the form of rent, or in the case of community owned generators, income. Further there is significant employment in the manufacture and installation of the turbines and permanent employment for care and regular maintenance for a smaller number. Most of the income earned will be retained in Australia and a substantial proportion of it distributed far and wide into communities with wind farms through rent and employment. The Waubra community north of Ballarat has 200 turbines and farmers on whose land they are located receive $8000 rent per turbine per annum. As well the company pays money into the local community and there are 26 permanent local jobs.
There are some very windy places in Gippsland. As well as a long coastal strip which is eminently suited to wind generation there are a number of ‘Blowhards’ and windy places in the high country including Ensay and Benambra where even much smaller projects could help revive the communities.