Wind turbines off the coast could help Australia become an energy superpower, research finds


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Sven Teske, University of Technology Sydney; Chris Briggs, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Hemer, CSIRO; Philip Marsh, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, University of Technology SydneyOffshore wind farms are an increasingly common sight overseas. But Australia has neglected the technology, despite the ample wind gusts buffeting much of our coastline.

New research released today confirms Australia’s offshore wind resources offer vast potential both for electricity generation and new jobs. In fact, wind conditions off southern Australia rival those in the North Sea, between Britain and Europe, where the offshore wind industry is well established.

More than ten offshore wind farms are currently proposed for Australia. If built, their combined capacity would be greater than all coal-fired power plants in the nation.

Offshore wind projects can provide a win-win-win for Australia: creating jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers, replacing energy supplies lost when coal plants close, and helping Australia become a renewable energy superpower.

offshore wind turbine from above
Australia’s potential for offshore wind rivals the North Sea’s.
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The time is now

Globally, offshore wind is booming. The United Kingdom plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 – enough to power every home in the nation. Other jurisdictions also have ambitious 2030 offshore wind targets including the European Union (60GW), the United States (30GW), South Korea (12GW) and Japan (10GW).

Australia’s coastal waters are relatively deep, which limits the scope to fix offshore wind turbines to the bottom of the ocean. This, combined with Australia’s ample onshore wind and solar energy resources, means offshore wind has been overlooked in Australia’s energy system planning.

But recent changes are producing new opportunities for Australia. The development of larger turbines has created economies of scale which reduce technology costs. And floating turbine foundations, which can operate in very deep waters, open access to more windy offshore locations.

More than ten offshore wind projects are proposed in Australia. Star of the South, to be built off Gippsland in Victoria, is the most advanced. Others include those off Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

floating wind turbine
Floating wind turbines can operate in deep waters.
SAITEC

Our findings

Our study sought to examine the potential of offshore wind energy for Australia.

First, we examined locations considered feasible for offshore wind projects, namely those that were:

  • less than 100km from shore
  • within 100km of substations and transmission lines (excluding environmentally restricted areas)
  • in water depths less than 1,000 metres.

Wind resources at those locations totalled 2,233GW of capacity and would generate far more than current and projected electricity demand across Australia.

Second, we looked at so-called “capacity factor” – the ratio between the energy an offshore wind turbine would generate with the winds available at a location, relative to the turbine’s potential maximum output.

The best sites were south of Tasmania, with a capacity factor of 80%. The next-best sites were in Bass Strait and off Western Australia and North Queensland (55%), followed by South Australia and New South Wales (45%). By comparison, the capacity factor of onshore wind turbines is generally 35–45%.

Average annual wind speeds in Bass Strait, around Tasmania and along the mainland’s southwest coast equal those in the North Sea, where offshore wind is an established industry. Wind conditions in southern Australia are also more favourable than in the East China and Yellow seas, which are growth regions for commercial wind farms.

Map showing average wind speed
Average wind speed (metres per second) from 2010-2019 in the study area at 100 metres.
Authors provided

Next, we compared offshore wind resources on an hourly basis against the output of onshore solar and wind farms at 12 locations around Australia.

At most sites, offshore wind continued to operate at high capacity during periods when onshore wind and solar generation output was low. For example, meteorological data shows offshore wind at the Star of the South location is particularly strong on hot days when energy demand is high.

Australia’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is ageing, and the exact date each facility will retire is uncertain. This creates risks of disruption to energy supplies, however offshore wind power could help mitigate this. A single offshore wind project can be up to five times the size of an onshore wind project.

Some of the best sites for offshore winds are located near the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in NSW. Those regions boast strong electricity grid infrastructure built around coal plants, and offshore wind projects could plug into this via undersea cables.

And building wind energy offshore can also avoid the planning conflicts and community opposition which sometimes affect onshore renewables developments.

Global average wind speed
Global average wind speed (metres per second at 100m level.
Authors provided



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Winds of change

Our research found offshore wind could help Australia become a renewable energy “superpower”. As Australia seeks to reduce its greenhouse has emissions, sectors such as transport will need increased supplies of renewable energy. Clean energy will also be needed to produce hydrogen for export and to manufacture “green” steel and aluminium.

Offshore wind can also support a “just transition” – in other words, ensure fossil fuel workers and their communities are not left behind in the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Our research found offshore wind could produce around 8,000 jobs under the scenario used in our study – almost as many as those employed in Australia’s offshore oil and gas sector.

Many skills used in the oil and gas industry, such as those in construction, safety and mechanics, overlap with those needed in offshore wind energy. Coal workers could also be re-employed in offshore wind manufacturing, port assembly and engineering.

Realising these opportunities from offshore wind will take time and proactive policy and planning. Our report includes ten recommendations, including:

  • establishing a regulatory regime in Commonwealth waters
  • integrating offshore wind into energy planning and innovation funding
  • further research on the cost-benefits of the sector to ensure Australia meets its commitments to a well managed sustainable ocean economy.

If we get this right, offshore wind can play a crucial role in Australia’s energy transition.




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The Conversation


Sven Teske, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Chris Briggs, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Hemer, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Philip Marsh, Post doctoral researcher, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, Research Consultant, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We could be a superpower: 3 ways Australia can take advantage of the changing geopolitics of energy


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Christian Downie, Australian National UniversityThe International Energy Agency confirmed last week what many already knew: the world is undergoing a huge transformation in global energy markets. Fossil fuels are dying and renewables are on the rise.

Much of the focus has been on what this means for Australia, given the IEA declared there can be no new fossil fuel projects if global temperature rise is to be kept below 2℃.

But what the discussion has missed is how the shift to renewable energy is also set to transform Australia’s geopolitical environment. For a country that likes to think of itself as an energy superpower, it’s time we started paying attention.

Australia should embrace the opportunity to become a renewable energy power. If we don’t act now, with the global energy transition gathering pace, Australia could be exposed to a hostile international energy environment with profound economic, security and diplomatic consequences.

The new geopolitics of energy

The IEA’s declaration that new fossil fuel projects have to end now sits at odds with the federal government’s plans for a gas-led economic recovery, and its recent announcement of A$600 million to fund a major new gas-fired power plant.

But the IEA isn’t the only authoritative body making this claim. Most global energy transition scenarios project a peak in fossil fuel demand this decade and exponential growth in renewables, before a long decline in fossil fuel demand in the decades thereafter.

Recent commitments by Australia’s major trading partners to net-zero emissions, including China, Japan and South Korea, will only accelerate this process.

The IEA set out a roadmap to bring the planet to net-zero emissions by 2050. Indeed, under this net-zero scenario, oil demand peaked in 2019 and will fall by almost 75% between now and 2050. Demand for coal has peaked, too, and will fall even faster by 90%. The prospects for gas are only slightly better, with a decline of 55% out to 2050.

It’s no wonder Australian financial regulators keep warning about stranded assets.




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The geopolitical consequences of this transition will be profound. To varying degrees, the changes taking place in energy markets will reorder patterns of cooperation and conflict between states.

At one end of the spectrum, some states will emerge as renewable powers — think Chile with its large solar resources in the Atacama Desert, or China with its superiority in renewable technologies.

Aerial view of solar panels in the desert
A solar energy power plant in the Atacama desert, Chile.
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At the other end of the spectrum, some states will experience political instability from the decline of fossil fuel revenues — think countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where oil and gas revenues comprise more than 40% of their GDP.

Transitioning to clean energy will have huge upsides for Australia. But let’s start with the downsides, because the IEA has just put them up in lights.

Our international leverage will soon disappear

Successive federal governments have declared Australia to be an energy superpower.

One reason is our exports of coal and gas. Take LNG (liquefied gas) for example. In 2019 Australia overtook Qatar to become the largest exporter of LNG in the world, with total exports valued at A$48 billion, representing a 22% share of global exports.

The IEA says this must end if the world is to have any hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. If the gas industry hasn’t got the message yet, the IEA had some chilling news.

As the graph below shows, Australia’s gas exports will have to peak by 2025 and then fall off a cliff in the decades after, under a net-zero-by-2050 emissions scenario. The picture for coal is even worse.

The economic repercussions are obvious. As a political leader might say, it’s “jobs and growth” that’ll be hit hardest.

But this also has geopolitical implications. Australia has long relied on the economic strength we derive from being a dominant exporter of coal and gas to shape our bilateral relationships with countries, such as Japan and South Korea.

This leverage will soon disappear and it will force Australia to rethink how it engages with many nations and international organisations.

For example, potential disruptions to oil shipping lanes will likely become less of a concern. Nations may also compete to control the supply of rare minerals that are vital for a range of technologies needed for a clean energy transition, such as batteries and wind turbines.

What should Australia do?

First, Australia should harness its renewable resources. Australia’s solar radiation per year is around 10,000 times larger than our total energy consumption. If these resources are exploited, Australia can become energy self-sufficient and, at the same time, reduce its vulnerability to energy supply disruptions, such as from international conflicts.

Second, Australia should pursue export dominance. The rise of renewables will open up significant opportunities for Australia to become one of the primary exporters of clean electricity, hydrogen and critical minerals.

For example, growing demand for electricity in Asia combined with improvements in high-voltage direct current cables could see Australia export electricity to countries in our region, such as Indonesia and Singapore.




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Third, Australia should leverage its energy advantage. States with significant renewable resources that become energy self-sufficient and attain export dominance are likely to be “geopolitical winners”.

In other words, the economic power derived from Australia’s renewable energy advantage will open up opportunities to influence other countries and shape intergovernmental arrangements, such as those governing the future of international trade in hydrogen.

Being energy self-sufficient will also insulate Australia from the risk that other countries will seek to coerce it by disrupting energy supplies.

This opportunity won’t last forever. Countries that move first will gain an advantage in new industries, technologies and export markets. Those that wait may never catch up.




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The Conversation


Christian Downie, Associate professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.