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Taking Advantage of Its Abundant Solar Resource, WA Aims to Boost Its Economy with an AU$66.3 Million Renewable Investment Program
2020-08-01   |  Editor:et_editor  |  149 Numbers

As the name indicates, Western Australia (WA) occupies almost the entire western part of Australia. It is the largest of Australia’s six states, spanning an area of around 2.52 million square kilometers and accounting for one-third of the country’s landmass. WA also has the highest level of solar irradiation and the highest PV installation rate in the country. Banking on the region’s abundant solar resource, the WA Government has decided to launch a renewable investment program to accelerate the recovery of the state’s economy that has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan includes an investment of AU$56.4 million (or NT$1.17 billion) in PV generation.

WA is well known for being one of the sunniest parts of the world. Its capital Perth has the most sunlight hours in the country. These geographical and meteorological characteristics allow the solar market of the region to grow rapidly in the recent years. WA’s main grid system, which serves Perth and the populated southwestern tip of the country, draws a considerable portion of its electricity supply from residential rooftop PV systems. At the same time, nearly one-third of homes in the state have installed a rooftop PV system. The state’s largest single source of electricity generation is a coal-fired power plant with a capacity of 854MW. However, the total capacity of all residential rooftop PV systems in the state has surpassed that figure.

After going through the calamities of the worst bushfire in Australia’s history and the COVID-19 outbreak, the WA Government is hoping that it can depend on its booming solar market to play a major role in revitalizing the regional economy. The WA Recovery Plan, which is an AU$5.5 billion stimulus package, includes spending on renewable technologies totaling AU$66.3 million. This investment contains many items. It will see the development of 50 standalone renewable generation projects and nine battery energy storage facilities. Furthermore, the spending on renewable technologies will dramatically expand installations of rooftop PV systems on public buildings. The government will allocate AU$6 million to add solar panels on 500 social housing properties and AU$4 million to turn at least 10 schools into virtual power plants with solar-plus-storage systems. Up to 60 bus and rail stations will also be fitted with solar panels.

The renewable investment program that is part of the stimulus package will be making a strong push for the integration of PV generation and battery energy storage. A major negative consequence associated with the rapid growth of WA’s solar market is the increasing instability of the grid caused by the mismatch between PV generation and electricity demand. The widening adoption of battery energy storage systems will help with peak shaving and load leveling, thereby ensuring an optimal balance between supply and demand. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AMEO) that manages WA’s wholesale electricity market has stated that the incorporation of PV systems into the state’s grid system has reached the point of excess. AMEO has also warned that rolling blackouts will occur as early as 2022 if this situation is not remedied.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said that the renewable investment program is an all-encompassing strategy that brings many benefits. Strengthening the grid system will improve energy efficiency and lower electricity bills, while expanding PV generation will reduce carbon footprints and create new jobs.

Increasing employment opportunities is perhaps the key to economic recovery following the largest bushfire in the country and the COVID-19 outbreak. The Climate Council, which is a climate-change communication organization in Australia, has claimed that investments in large-scale renewable projects could create around 15,000 new jobs around the country. The Clean Jobs Plan, which was recently released by the Climate Council, lists 12 policy opportunities that will spur economic recovery by providing an estimated total of 76,000 “shovel-ready” jobs.

 (News source: TechNews. Photo credit: JR via Flickr CC BY 2.0.)