Renewable energy has become the world’s fastest growing energy source as a direct result of increasing concerns about the environmental damage that is being caused by fossil fuel and nuclear energy use. With the exception of large-scale hydro, however, very little of Australia’s electricity is supplied from renewable energy. Due to our lack of experience with the use of most renewable energy technologies and the associated lack of knowledge regarding their true potential, doubts remain as to how much electricity could be generated or displaced by renewable energy. Although renewable energy industries in Australia have recently begun to experience strong growth, this growth could be curtailed if there is a lack of faith in the potential for renewable energy.
The aim of this study is to further our understanding of the potential for renewable energy to contribute to electricity supply in Australia. This aim is achieved through the development and demonstration of methodologies for estimating potential electricity production from key renewable energy resources. The study demonstrates how methodologies for assessing the potential contribution of key renewable energy resources to electricity supply in Australia can be developed utilising a spatial assessment of important resource variables within the context of plausible utilisation of renewable energy resources.
A literature review provides the basis for an assessment of the current state of knowledge regarding the use of renewable energy for electricity supply in Australia. The range of different renewable energy technologies is canvassed, brief descriptions of the technologies are presented and an appraisal is made of their commercial development status. The extent to which different renewable energy technologies have been utilised for electricity supply in Australia and prospects for near-future developments are described.
Scenario analysis is used to provide insights into future development paths for renewable energy. This assists in the identification of key renewable energy technologies that will be examined in more detail and it helps in the setting of parameters for assessments of these technologies. Three scenarios are presented and these provide a framework for an analysis of possible contributions by renewable energy to electricity supply in Australia.
Of those technologies that could potentially make significant contributions to electricity supply in the near term, utility scale wind energy, domestic rooftop photovoltaics (rooftop BIPV) and domestic solar hot water (SHW) stand out as being key technologies where further research in relation to resource assessment would be beneficial. The dispersed nature of the resource bases utilised by these technologies has made it difficult to assess how much electricity they could generate or displace. Conventional methods of assessing electricity generation or displacement, based upon project or site-specific analyses, have not proven amenable to analyses of the total amount of electricity that could be generated or displaced by these technologies throughout Australia. Therefore, alternative methods for assessing the potential of these technologies are needed.
New models for analysing wind, BIPV and SHW performance are developed in this study. These models demonstrate the application of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for wind, BIPV and SHW resource mapping. Wind energy maps for Australia are created showing actual wind speeds suitable for use at elevations appropriate for wind turbines. These maps represent significant advances over traditional wind atlases used in other nations due to their presentation of estimated actual wind speeds, rather than isovent lines for idealised wind speed gradients. The use of GIS for analysing BIPV and SHW resources also represents a significant departure from traditional modelling processes and demonstrates a means of overcoming important limitations of existing BIPV and SHW evaluation tools. The wind, BIPV and SHW resource mapping processes that have been developed and applied in this study show how broad-area assessments of electricity supply or displacement can be produced for technologies where spatial variations in key performance attributes constrain the use of traditional modelling processes.