WHO: Robert Huva, Roger Dargaville and Simon Caine
WHAT: Electrical power grids powered by renewable energy
WHEN: Published in Energy [41 (2012) 326-334]. April 2012
WHERE: Earth Sciences department, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
TITLE: Prototype large-scale renewable energy system optimisation for Victoria, Australia (subs required)
One of the major barriers to the full scale take-up of renewable energy to power electricity grids has been the need to provide baseload power to users. This is the power required to keep your fridge running through the night, the power to keep traffic lights running all day and night and many other things. It’s the minimum amount of electricity required to keep the modern world running.
Renewable power is not constant, because the sun doesn’t shine at night and it’s not always windy, and water runs through rivers at different speeds depending on the time of year. So in order to provide the constant power needed, a hybrid system of renewable energy sources needs to be used.
This paper from the University of Melbourne in Australia has done that. They used detailed weather maps for the state of Victoria to determine the best locations for solar and wind power.
They then combined the outputs of the solar and the wind with other forms of renewable energy, including hydro-electricity (running water spinning a turbine to make power) and wind-hydro hybrids where excess wind power will pump water up a hill to a raised dam, and when the wind dies down, the dam gets opened and the hydro starts producing electricity.
They found that the entire electricity needs of the state of Victoria could be met from renewable power sources with only 2% back up from natural gas needed.
Hybrid renewable systems – meeting demand
So what does this mean for reducing the effects of climate change?
It means that renewable power is viable in the state of Victoria, which will allow the state to switch from it’s current power source of brown coal (which is much dirtier than your standard black coal when it burns, releasing more carbon pollution into the atmosphere).
Making the transition to a hybrid renewable system will also significantly reduce carbon emissions in the state of Victoria since 49% of energy in the state comes from coal power. It will create a large number of new jobs, as the renewable energy market increases from 12% (in 2011) to the 98% that has been shown in the research, which we will need to do in the next 30 years if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.
How can it be done? By ensuring areas are able to access either localised power production (in rural or remote areas), or smart grids (in cities) that are able to monitor and respond to changing power production levels and changing energy use levels, hybrid systems of renewable electricity are fully capable of providing the power we need to run our lives.
*Full disclosure: The name is not a coincidence – this research was conducted by my brother as part of his PhD research (yes, I’m using my brother’s research to test out my own blog 🙂 )