As we enter the new decade, the devastation of the Australian bushfire season has dominated the news at home and abroad. This has highlighted the vulnerabilities that Australian's face during times of disaster.
One area prone to risk is our electricity grid and the impact bushfires can have on the national electricity market. This vulnerability was laid bare only four days into 2020. The first Saturday of the year is traditionally many businesses are still closed and electricity demand is lower.
What was different was that the temperature on January 4 was particularly diabolical with the mercury going well into the forties. Penrith cracked 48.9 degrees making it the hottest day on record in Greater Sydney and one of the hottest places in the world.
In Canberra, temperature records also tumbled, with the nation's capital reaching 43.6 degrees.
We demonstrated the benefits of our renewable hedge during this extremely volatile period by using a mix of both wind and solar generation.
With the state sweltering and air-conditioners cranking, electricity demand rose throughout the day.
Further pressure mounted on the electricity grid with bushfires disrupting transmission from Snowy Hydro. Escalating the situation, NSW was effectively cut-off from Victoria when sections of the network tripped, and the interconnector shut off.
A lack of supply to meet this high demand meant NSW was heading for sky-rocketing prices and blackouts. Urgent appeals were made to reduce electricity use across the state.
Locally, Tomago Aluminium switched off parts of its production to prevent the grid collapsing.
Against this backdrop, the City of Newcastle had just switched over to 100 per cent renewable electricity supply for all its operations. This includes large sites such as libraries, galleries, administration centres, works depots, 200 small sites and more than 14,000 street lights.
The City of Newcastle is the first local government in NSW to transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity supply, with City of Sydney also making the move this year. This was achieved through constructing solar generation assets, installation of battery storage and signing a Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Sapphire Wind Farm. This approach diversifies supply and builds a resilient energy strategy.
- Newcastle first council to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy
- Billions of dollars worth of large-scale renewable energy are in the pipeline across the Hunter
- Molycop goes with the flow to help power Waratah steel manufacturing plant
- University of Newcastle becomes the first Australian University to buy 100 per cent renewable energy
Detailed analysis and modelling predicted that the City of Newcastle would achieve significant long-term financial savings by moving to these new arrangements. The new energy strategy would also take advantage of cost-reflective electricity pricing through smart energy management.
A key piece of the city's energy strategy is the 5 Megawatt solar farm located on rehabilitated landfill at Summerhill Waste Management Centre. This began operating in November, in time to begin pumping out significant amounts of new renewable electricity generation for summer, into the local distribution network in Newcastle.
Only four days into the new contract, the chaotic pricing unfolding that Saturday was going to be an extraordinary test of this strategic direction.
After receiving an alert from the retailer about the peak pricing event, City of Newcastle actioned what demand reduction it could, with the CEO directing site operators to minimise electricity use. This included adjusting air-conditioners, switching off air compressors and lighting, and evaluating what IT equipment could be shut down. At the same time, available battery storage systems were deployed.
While the timing was favourable, with reduced demand due to the weekend, solar generation in play and street lights not yet on, it also demonstrated the system's resilience.
City of Newcastle was able to ride through this event as a net energy exporter. We provided support to the grid and importantly utilised local assets to provide decentralised and local generation capability to the city.
At the same time, we demonstrated the benefits of our renewable hedge during this extremely volatile period by using a mix of both wind and solar generation to cover both daytime and night-time demand. Renewable energy production on this particular day covered almost 90 per cent of our electricity needs.
It is early encouragement for the forward-thinking decision to move to 100 per cent renewables and this extraordinary event was a great test, but the proof will be demonstrated over time.
City of Newcastle will now focus on the next phase of more detailed demand response planning and investigating additional battery storage to increase our city's resilience and fully insure against these future challenges.