Australia's wind power potential
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Contents of this page..
TablesPotential on-shore wind development in Australia (conservative)
GraphsAustralian electricity consumption | Potential wind power in Australia by state
MapWind resource map of Australia
In 2008, of the renewable energy resources, only hydro and wind could be called mature technologies, solar PV was still developing quickly and solar thermal was a long way behind on costs. There was little, if any, scope for additional large hydro-power development in Australia. There was scope for micro-hydro, run-of-river hydro, and for development of pumped-hydro as a short-term energy storage and recovery asset.
If more than a small fraction of Australia's wind power potential
is to be developed the electrical transmission system will have to be
considerably expanded (this was true in 2008, and is still true in 2016).
This problem is dealt with on
Wind and solar power are intermitant; it is quite possible to link the
power consumption rate with the availability of power; this
is also dealt with on
Australian electricity consumption
The greatest consumption is generally roughly proportional to the population of each state except for Queensland and Tasmania which consume more than the proportion expeced from their population.
Tasmania has a far higher proportion of renewable energy (mainly hydro) than any other state. South Australia was producing around 40% of its power by renewables by 2015, and in 2016 the ACT had a target of 100% renewable energy by 2020, most of this being generated outside of that Territory.
According to indexmundi.com, who credited the CIA World Factbook for its data, Australia's electricity consumption increased very little in the period from 2006 to 2012. (I believe that consumption, from the grid, did not much increase up to at least early 2017, although there was an increasing amount of solar PV power that was consumed 'behind the meter'.)
Australia's total electricity consumption declined over the period from
2010 to 2013.
Wind power potential in Australia
The map shows that the best wind resources are:
Wind farms have been proposed in the Hamilton and Colac areas of Victoria, the Broken Hill, Bathurst and New England areas of NSW. I have neglected these for the purpose of estimating Australia's wind resource, because the map indicates a second rate resource in these places and this page deals only with the areas having first rate wind resources.
Scientific American (March 2009) published figures for the estimated total
wind power generation for the world, (see
Sustainable Energy), these figures
confirm that the estimates on this page are highly conservative.
In the table on the right wind resource regions are assessed according to the number of turbines each could support.
I have allowed for there being no wind power development in areas of relatively high population, high tourism value or in conservation or other parks.
Most of the areas shown on the wind potential map tend to be long and narrow. Consequently I have based the estimates on the length of each area and the number of rows of turbines that could be installed in that area. Again, these figures are in most cases very conservative; for example, the 'Shark Bay to Moora hinterland' area of high wind is some 40 to 100km wide, it most likely could support more than three rows of turbines.
Within each row I have assumed four 2MW turbines per kilometre, based on several existing wind farms in Mid North South Australia.
The total, 91 760MW installed capacity, using a capacity factor of 34%, gives an annual electricity generation of 273TWhr, greater than the total Australian electricity consumption for the 2006-07 year, 262TWhr. Note that this does not imply that all of Australia's power could readily be generated by wind farms – because the wind is intermittent; a massive amount of electricity storage would also be required.
In Sustainable Energy I note that Scientific American published a figure of 167PWhr/yr as the total wind energy that could, in principle, be harvested with current technology in the whole world. The land area of Australia is 5% that of the whole world, 5% of 167PWhr is 8350TWhr; presumably this would be a fair estimate of the full potential of Australia's wind power, if all, rather than just the best, resources were harnesed. (Also, my figure of 241TWhr/yr is only for on-shore wind power.)
The US Department of Energy estimated that the total US wind energy potential is over 10 000 billion kilowatt-hours (100TWh) annually (Wind Power in the US: Technology, Economic, and Policy Issues; Congressional Research Service). Wind power potential in Australia would be of a similar magnitude.
Where do the best resources tend to be?The map clearly shows that the southern coasts and sections of the Queensland coast are windy.
Highlands have better wind resources than lowlands: for example, the Victorian and NSW Alps and the Atherton Tablelands of north Queensland. The strip of high quality resource running north from Ravensthorpe in WA corresponds to a plateau.
Any line of hills that lies across the direction of the prevailing winds seems to have a particularly good resource: the north-south trending Mount Lofty/Flinders Ranges, for example, lie across the prevailing westerly winds of the area.
Kangaroo IslandKangaroo Island is an interesting case study. (It lies south of Yorke and Fleurieu peninsulas and is about 140km long and 40km wide.)
KI has a population of around 4500; assuming two people per houshold and 1kW power consumption per house we can calculate a domestic load for KI of 2.25MW. Assuming another 2.25MW for industry, the total load would probably be near 4.5MW; about one thousandth of the potential wind generation capacity for the island. Calculating $10 000 land leasing fee for each 2MW turbine and 1000 turbines, the potential earning from this source alone would be about $10 million annually; about $2200 per person. There would also be employment for the people needed to maintain the wind farms.
There is quite a bit of elevated land close to the coast of Kangaroo Island that would be well suited to pumped storage of energy. (See my notes on Pumped hydro in SA? on another page on this site.) Some of the land within two kilometres of the north coast is 160m plus in altitude and well suited for pumped hydro storages. Combining pumped hydro and wind power could make Kangaroo Island a very serious source of electricity, including base-load electricity.
To deliver the power to a market (in Adelaide) would require a
line about 200km long if it went via Backstairs Passage to minimise
the length of undersea cable (14km).
If the line went from near Stokes Bay on the northern coast of Kangaroo
Island the 53km beneath Investigator Stait to
Yorke Peninsula to pick up the substantial southern Yorke Peninsula
wind resource, then the 63km beneath Gulf St Vincent to Adelaide, the
total distance would be about 150km.
Matching electricity consumption to generation
Spatial matchingThe states with the best wind resources do not match the states with the greatest electricity consumption, as shown in the table on the right and the pie diagrams above.
WA, with by far the greatest wind resource, is a long way from the big electricity consuming states of the east, probably too far for the current state of power transmission technology. (High Voltage Direct Current [HVDC] is increasingly used to efficiently transmit large quantities of power over long distances.)
Transmitting power from SA to the eastern states would be a practicality, while perhaps progressively moving high consumption industries such as aluminium smelting from the mainland eastern states to WA could be considered if the wind resource is to be utilised and Australia's greenhouse gas production rates reduced.
Temporal matchingThe other main problem with using large percentages of wind (or solar) energy in any national system is the miss-match between the timing of availability and consumption. This can be alleviated to some extent by making consumption rates responsive to electricity availability (called price-responsive-load), I have discussed this in Sustainable electricity. Methods of efficiently storing electricity are discussed on the same page.
Off-shore wind power
Technological and financial constraints preclude developing the resource in deep water at present, but turbines could be erected anywhere around the coast in the shallower waters.
The Australian off-shore wind resource is potentially similar in size to the on-shore resource. As costs are higher there is no good reason to expect off-shore development before good on-shore sites are used up. Therefore I have not put any numbers to off-shore potential for the present.
Bass StraitWikipedia states that Bass Strait is generally around 50m deep.
In Bass Strait the continental shelf extends from west of King Island around 500km to east of Flinders Island and the Strait is about 200km wide.
Bass Strait has the advantage of being close to the most populated part of Australia. It seems that if off-shore wind power was to be developed on a large scale anywhere in Australia, the shallower parts of Bass Strait would be attractive.
Cost of off-shore wind powerThe recently opened (November 2008) Snowtown Wind Farm had a total cost of Aust$220 million for 99MW of wind turbines: Aust$2.22 million per MW. The Princess Amalia Wind Farm off the cost of the Netherlands - which exported its first power in December 2007, as did Snowtown - cost 383 million Euros and is rated at 120MW. 383 million Euros converts to Aust$729 million (Nov. 2008), giving a cost of Aust$6.07 million per MW.
Will it affect the weather?A wind turbine takes energy from the wind by slowing the wind. The wind tends to flow around any obstacle that restricts its movement. An entire wind farm would presumably tend to divert the wind flow on a larger scale than a single turbine. If 50 to 100GW of wind power was developed in Australia there would be a slightly increased tendency for winds to blow around the continent rather than over it. Would it be significant? I don't know.
There are two effects, not only is the direction of the wind slightly changed, but energy is taken from the wind. One turbine taking 2MW of power from the wind, or even 100 turbines taking 200MW from the wind probably has very little affect on the weather, but 50 000 turbines taking 100GW from the wind? The effect on the wind would be something like planting extensive forests where before there was bare ground. Would it significantly change the weather? I don't know.
Moving from fossil fuel to wind is a technological 'fix' to the primary problem that we are using energy wastefully. Technological fixes can always have unforseen and undesirable consequences. Using a mix of wind, solar, geothermal, biological and other sustainable energy would be safer than relying on just wind. Using a mix of distributed (eg. solar panels on house roofs) and centralised utility scale power production would be safer than relying on just the latter.
But the safest thing of all would be to reduce our energy consumption.
LinksWind velocity maps of Australia; Bureau of Meteorology
Bonzle gives data on
the windiest and calmest places in Australia.
Australian electricity consumption
Electricity consumption compared to resource
Matching electricity consumption to generation
Potential on-shore wind development in Australia
Potential wind power in Australia by state
Where do the best resources tend to be?
Will it affect the weather?
Wind power potential in Australia
Wind resource map of Australia