Build It And They Will Come: Transmission Key To 100% Renewable Energy

transmission lines

ANU’s Professor Andrew Blakers says we need to build out transmission lines urgently.

If you wanted to block the expansion of renewable energy, a good place to start is to put bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of new, long distance electricity transmission infrastructure.

Discussing his participation in last week’s 100% renewable energy workshop at ANU, the university’s Professor Andrew Blakers told SolarQuotes transmission is the biggest short-term problem facing renewables in Australia.

Getting power from eastern Australia’s most favourable solar energy zones is neither difficult nor expensive, he said, but:

“there’s effectively been a strike by the federal government on new transmission”.

The “archaic” approval process for new transmission is geared to the timelines for developing a new coal power station, he said.

“A coal power station takes five-to-ten years to construct, and the [approval] process goes along that timeline.”

Wind and solar power developments, on the other hand, can get up and running in one or two years.

The absence of renewable energy zones from the approval process ties approval to the old paradigm, where new transmission is approved according to demonstrated demand. For renewable energy zones, he said, proof of demand should be waived because solar, wind, and pumped hydro facilities will be “rapidly saturated” in today’s environment.

Blakers was talking to SolarQuotes about two presentations he participated in at the workshop:

  • his “100% renewables = 85% emissions reductions” here (PDF),
  • and as a co-author of Anna Nadolny et al’s “100% renewable transport via EVs, (PowerPoint) here.

In his 100% renewables paper, Blakers wrote that integration – the transmission infrastructure – is the bottleneck preventing Australia from hitting 50% renewable electricity by 2025.

It’s a bottleneck we need to get rid of fast, because reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 requires the “deep electrification of nearly everything” – electricity generation, land transport, heating/cooling, and heavy industry.

The Plan

Dividing the time between now and 2050 into ten-year chunks, Blakers said the tasks in front of us look a bit like this:

First ten years: Generation should reach 70-80% renewable (hence the importance of sorting out transmission as soon as possible); land transport should reach 50% electrification; and low-temperature heating and cooling (anything below 100℃) should using heat pumps to reach 100% electrification, to push gas out of household and commercial markets.

Professor Blakers told us this delivers 25% emission reduction by 2030, while electricity consumption will rise by 50%.

Second ten years: “The task for the 2030s is to push all oil out of land transport,” he said, and “all heating goes 100% renewables, and electricity is 100% renewable”.

This will lead to a doubling of electricity consumption compared to today, delivering a 75% reduction in emissions.

Third ten years: “The task for the 2040s is to eliminate carbon emissions from aviation and shipping, and from industrial processes like iron, steel, cement, and the like. Getting there will triple electricity consumption over today’s levels, and get the world to 85% emissions reduction. To take care of the other 15%, agriculture will “hopefully … get its act together”.

To-do items kept for the last ten years include some of the toughest challenges, such as replacing aviation fuel with synthetics created using renewables, and using hydrogen on a large scale for high-temperature heating – but we’ve got more than twenty years to put R&D into those issues.

Not knowing how to reach the destination is not a reason not to start, Blakers warned: the media line that we shouldn’t start until all the problems are solved is nothing more than a denialist’s delay tactic.

“We have enough to get on with now”, he told us.

One hopeful sign is key states are starting to work around the Federal Government’s inaction on transmission infrastructure.

“The Victorian government seems to have gotten tired of the slowness and is planning to bypass the NEM transmission rules,” Blakers said, adding that “every other state government needs to do the same”.

He said each state needs to nominate two or three renewable energy zones, and build multi-gigawatt transmission to those zones.

There are two NSW electorates which would be ideal homes for renewable energy zones: Calare (MP: Andrew Gee, National Party), and Hume (MP: Angus Taylor, Liberal Party).

Both are ideal for wind and solar power and pumped hydro storage, and both have good transmission corridors (for example, the Mount Piper coal power station is within Calare and has existing transmission links).

“We’re talking about tens of billions that could come into those electorates,” Blakers told us. “It’s unbelievable that the local federal and state members aren’t all over this”.

Professor Blakers said the other hopeful sign is there’s “nothing to invent” to switch the energy grid to 100% renewables:

“batteries can get better, but it’s all there – wind, solar, pumped hydro, batteries, and demand management”.

That led to discussion of the Anna Nadolny paper, because Professor Blakers said EVs represent the most important new load in the pipeline.

EVs: The Perfect Interruptible Load

While EVs add about 35% to electricity generation requirements, they are “a wonderful demand management tool”. Vehicles are stationary most of their lives, and EVs can be plugged into the grid when they’re not moving, so “the utility can choose when to add electrons”.

“It’s a wonderful interruptible demand, just like hot water, but it will be much bigger,” Blakers added.

And, of course, when to draw down on that storage, because so few drivers need the full battery range to be available at any given moment. You only need enough to get you to the next period the car will be plugged in.

The typical commuter will get home and plug the car in at 7pm, and no matter what happens in the next twelve hours, the car will probably be at 100% charge in time for the morning commute.

As with solar, wind, batteries and pumped hydro, there’s pretty much nothing to invent to make use of EV batteries this way. “Adaptive charging” sounds impressive, but Blakers said it means simply that there’s a low-tech controller so that the utility avoids charging the EV battery when the grid is under stress.

About Richard Chirgwin

Joining the SolarQuotes blog team in 2019, Richard is a journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing, science and solar. When not writing for us, he runs a solar-powered off-grid eco-resort in NSW’s blue mountains. Read Richard's full bio.


  1. Graham.revill says

    I thought that one of the strong points of renewables was that the generators are distributed so less high power transmission is required.

    To make this work you probably need to have more distributed storage as well.
    Then you only need lower power inter-connectors.
    If this is correct then we should be putting new renewable near existing transmission lines in the expectation that bigger better batteries will be available if 5 years time and then we start filling in the more remote locations. The chances of getting the high power transmission system in the optimum location is greater if we wait.

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      “The cost of avoiding catastrophic global warming is cheaper if we wait”, is along the same lines, and is a fallacy.

      We need to address the lack of transmission lines relatively urgently because it is impeding our progress/development, and we simultaneously need to get the most out of our existing transmission lines (which works with our new transmission lines anyway).

      This means:
      – New transmission lines (they have a use-by date anyway, and need fixing/repairs)
      – Installing storage technology (batteries, synchonous condensors, pumped hydro / etc)
      – Massively distributed control coordination/interconnection. We don’t want to be shuffling power between batteries/storage many times, because of the losses involved …. if we store in a battery with 90% efficiency / 10% losses …. if we move the energy from battery to battery, we then have 81% efficiency / 19% loss of power …. do it a third time and 73% efficiency / 27.1% losses.

  2. Philip Venton says

    The transmission network is essentially “privatised.
    Th transmission network upgrade is “end to end”. Because of this, any upgrade involves the whole of the transmission segment, and its not cost effective (or possible) to undertake incremental expansion.
    Several years ago Dampier to Bunbury gas pipeline (WA) used this to prevent any incremental expansion, because it required the organisation requesting increased capacity to pay for expanding the whole 1300 km of the pipeline, and associated compression.
    The electric transmission owners must be incentivised to invest in incremental capacity expansion, and make this available to new generators. Otherwise the generators may have to start investing in competing transmission systems.

  3. Dennis Murphy says

    For Goodness Sake!
    Let us GO!
    Are they really TRUE LUDDITES up there?
    Actually blocking the lorries!

    This was exciting!

  4. NSW Nats are going to support a NSW One Nation upper house motion to build nuclear power plants. I live in a country area and I can’t believe they still get voted in. How stupid are we in the country and regional areas.

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      The whole country is thinking the same thing ….. but then …. my electorate voted for the COALition by about 65-70% …
      I recall that our local member constantly spouts nonsense:
      – cherry picked weather events at a specific location, at a specific time, in an attempt to debunk climate science in it’s entirety
      – makes invalid claims about the BOM “massaging the data”, when these corrections actually reduced the temperature increases
      – goes on international news shows, calls highly educated meteorologist an “ignorant weath girl” … backed up by his PHD in “Working at his mum & dads furniture shop as a salesman”

      • Bret Busby in Western Australia says

        Ah, yes – Craig Kelly – The Piltdown Man.

        International representative of the Looney Neolithic Party.

  5. Bret Busby in Western Australia says

    So, what is the cost per household, of these new, extra, transmission lines, and, utility scale photovoltaic and wind energy generation power stations and utility scale storage batteries?

    And, how does that costing compare with the costing of each household getting a 6.6kW domestic rooftop photovoltaic system with 25kWh of storage battery capacity (including UPS functionality) and the resultant extra transmission lines capacity (which should, consequently, be substantially reduced from having utility scale photovoltaic and wind energy generation power stations and utility scale storage batteries)?

  6. I would rather see solar and wind farms connecting SA with WA

    • Bret Busby in Western Australia says

      Mark – I think the problem with “solar and wind farms connecting SA with WA”, especially in the context of the article above, and, in the context of moves by the electricity companies in WA, to replace transmission lines with localised microgrids, is the “tyranny of distance”, and, the costs involved, for transmission networks between South Australia and Western Australia.

      It would be far better, for ARENA to continue to be funded (it has been published that, under the coal-fired feral government, funding is expected to cease for ARENA, to be diverted into new coal-fired power stations and new coal mines), and for ARENA and the CEFC, to provide interest-free finance for householders, to install 6.6kW domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems, with up to 25kWh of battery storage capacity, with UPS functionality.

      But, we need a political party to be elected to the feral parliament, that has a genuine interest in clean energy, and in making it accessible to us plebs, and, eliminating combustion based generation of electricity.

      • Can you remember the gas shortage. How much did that cost. Now if the gas/water and now interconector was built the next event won’t be so bad

        • Bret Busby in Western Australia says

          Mark – I do not remember a gas shortage in WA.

          I am aware, since you mention water, of the water shortage in WA, deliberately imposed on WA, by the state parliament, in its war against WA, by refusing to implement the Ord River Pipeline.

          In terms of the increasing (yet again, after we householders previously overcame it, by installing domestic rooftop photovoltaic electricity generation, shoring it up) instability, unsafeness, and, fragility, of the SWIS grid, it is significant that WA is, if not the only state, then, one of the few states, in Australia, to not provide financial assistance to householders, to get installed, domestic rooftop photovoltaic systems with battery storage.

          But, then again, stupid people in WA, voted for the LNP/ALP party, to siphon off WA’s GST revenue, to pay it to their rich mates in the eastern states, and, to mine and burn more coal.

          And, the majority of voters across Australia, voted for a government that came about by a criminal coup (which, surprise, surprise, has never been investigated by the AFP), and, which government has, as its leader, a man who swans off to Hawaii, to fiddle with his wife and daughters, while Australia burnt, and, no doubt, sat in the bathroom, strumming his ukelele, singing the LNP party song, “She’ll be right mate”.

          It appears that the LNP/ALP want the Australian national anthem, changed to “We don’t need no education, …., all and all, we’re as thick as the bricks in the wall, …”.

          And, the Australian public, being as bright as it is, responds with “Yeah, put another stubbie on the Barbie, and. make sure the lights don’t go off at the footie game.”

          After all – this IS Australia, the land of apathy – who really cares, in Australia?

          Not enough people.

      • Gas shortage? You’ve clearly not noticed that Australia is the number 1 gas exported on the planet. What you might mention is that the Howard government let it all go offshore and now we have none for ourselves and are being told we have to frack to get some gas.
        Lets put this in perspective. We have gas. Plenty of it. Its just that our coalition governments have sold it off. The irony is we are getting zip for our gas. Go figure.

        • Bret Busby in Western Australia says

          Clarification – Michael’s post, staring with “Gas shortage”, shows as a reply to my post;

          michael commented on Build It And They Will Come: Transmission Key To 100% Renewable Energy.

          in response to Bret Busby in Western Australia:

          Mark – I think the problem with “solar and wind farms connecting SA with WA”, especially in the context of the article above, and, in the context of moves by the electricity companies in WA, to replace transmission lines with localised microgrids, is the “tyranny of distance”, and, the costs involved, for transmission networks between […]

          Gas shortage? You’ve clearly not noticed that Australia is the number 1 gas exported on the planet. …

          I did not contend that a gas shortage had occurred.

          I had explicitly stated that I did not remember a gas shortage having occurred, that was contended by Mark, to have occurred.

          I do remember a petrol shortage, in 1978, but, not a gas shortage in 2008, and, I do not contend that one occurred.

          An interesting thought, in the context of the content of the post by Michael, to which I am responding, in terms of the gas being sold cheap to overseas interests, while we pay premium prices for the gas, is that, if overseas interests (and other industrial users in Australia), were charged fair prices (royalties) for the resources extracted from Australian ground, then something like the Alaskan Permanent Fund (look it up – Wikipedia has a good article about it), could be implemented in Australia, which could reverse the bankruptcy into which the feral parliament has wilfully forced Australia.

          • Thanks for the commentary.

            The gas shortages I referred to were in the past 4 years, not 2008. The current government is plugging fracking, God help us all, to fix up what its Howard predecessors did to us.

            As regards royalties Australia has received zip as Chevron rips the gas out of the ground and flogs it off to Asia. My wife and I owned shares in the Australian company which originally owned Gorgon (3rd largest LNG deposit on the planet). It was our superannuation but we were sold out by Howard. Now we survive but a constrained lifestyle.
            I don’t know much about the Alaskan Permanent Fund but America looks after its own. Its what colonial powers do. We are of course being milked within an inch of our lives but who cares…… There’s an old saying a country deserves what it gets and we keep electing the same side of politics who continue to come after ordinary citizens whilst they give money to the wealthy and their institutions and sell off our country.

    • wayne poulsen says

      1855km Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta HVDC?

      • Ronald Brakels says

        Looks too expensive to be practical, although it could go undersea for most of the way, which should help with the cost.

  7. Seems like not enough research was done by wind and solar developers before construction to determine how their power would affect the existing grid by consultation with grid owners. It should be common sense that pumping in variable surges of electricity (wind speed varies, surges from clouds clearing) would destabilize the grid. Maybe solar and wind developers should combine to build their own grid and put it below ground in rural areas.

    • Untrue. South Australian solar and batteries has stablised the grid. My understanding is its working like a charm, but you never hear about that from the business owned media which avoids informing voters of the many pluses renewable energy brings. Nor does it explain that no government in the past 6 years has done anything to redesign the grid to cope with energy being pumped back in going the wrong way. If one were a sceptic one might think they wanted the grid to fail so that new coal fired power stations could be justified and built.

  8. Geoff Miell says

    Meanwhile, there are reportedly some interesting comments at budget estimates by Matt Kean, the NSW Energy and Environment Minister, on the Liddell Power Station:

    “…the oldest operating coal-fired power station of its type in the world. Even Russia has more modern coal-fired power stations.”

    “…a very old bit of kit” that “obviously becomes more dangerous” as it ages.

    We live in interesting times!

  9. Thomas Bunn says

    By the way the oldest power station in the world is not Liddell built late sixties and early seventies. But Kostolac Power Station in Serbia from Wikipedia. “Between 1947 and 1950, the hydroelectric power plant Sokolovica and coal power plants Mali Kostolac and Veliki Kostolac, the first power stations to be built in Serbia after the Second World War. Both of these plants are still operational. So please get the fact right!!!

    • Geoff Miell says

      Thomas Bunn,
      Kostolac A (100 MW + 210 MW) & B (2x 350 MW) power stations are lignite (brown) coal-fired.

      I think Matt Kean’s statement:
      “…the oldest operating coal-fired power station of its type in the world.”

      …is referring to the fact that Liddell is black coal-fired. Unless you can nominate another black coal-fired power station of “its type” that is older and still operating, then perhaps you need to retract your statement:
      “So please get the fact right!!!”

  10. The issue remains the current coal funded government. There’s a reason why it wants to block new renewable energy and a reason why it wants to construct new coal fired power. Its not rocket science you know.
    Solar may have its drawbacks but when battery technology builds the next great thing it’ll all be over for the fossil fuel industry, but try telling that to the army of business people still sucking on the carcass. They’ll be the last to abandon their dirty habit and in the meantime they care not one iota about the future of the human race.

    Whilst I’m on this rant Finn you may want to devote a few regular comment about the other side to this debate, population growth which nobody wants to talk about. Its not theoretical science that we are all putting unsustainable demands on this planet whilst business pushed more and more population to drive its business model.

    The problem we have is not bureaucracy. Its government which has been bought by business and businessmen who are selling out the planet as long as they get their lifestyle during their lifetime.

  11. Geoff Miell says

    It seems to me that some people may have been paying careful attention to Professor Andrew Blakers’ presentations in the 100% renewable energy workshops at ANU referred in Richard Chirgwin’s post above, and have been busy since.

    Published recently by EnergyAustralia were the December 2020 minutes of the Lithgow Community Consultative Committee, that included an appended letter (right at the end) by Professor Andrew Blakers, dated 10 November 2020, concerning a prospective Calare (NSW Lithgow/Bathurst/Orange region) Renewable Energy Zone, prepared for the Lithgow Community Power Project Inc.
    …and then scroll down to “Meeting Notes”, click and expand, then click on “December 2020” to download minutes, presentation slides, and Blakers letter.

    Neoen Australia apparently has also been busy preparing a big battery storage proposal for Wallerawang NSW.
    See my comment:

    What else is in the works?

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