Wind energy map could drive electricity projects in regional Australia

The winds of change are blowing in Australia as wind power becomes a key component of our evolving energy market.

The wind sector led the country’s clean energy transition in 2021, adding 1.7 GW of new capacity throughout the year – a third record-breaking year in a row, according to the Clean Energy Australia Report 2022.

The same report notes wind energy accounted for 11.7% of the total Australian energy generated in 2021. Solar energy accounted for a total of 12.4%.

And the market share continues to grow.

In December 2022, the federal government expanded Australia’s wind footprint to include the realm beyond the beaches, with the declaration of Australia’s first offshore wind zone in the Bass Strait off Gippsland.

The federal government also awarded Major Project Status to the Star of the South Offshore Windfarm Project off the Gippsland coast, a project expected to begin operation in 2030 and generate up to 2.2GW of new capacity. That’s enough to power 1.2 million homes.

While the figures for 2022 are not yet out, Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) CEO Daniel Westerman said in September wind and solar remain the way forward.

Ceo aemo
Daniel Westerman

“Our GenCost report with the CSIRO shows wind and solar are, by far, the cheapest forms of generation,” Westerman said at the Clean Energy Council CEO Forum.

“Even with the cost of new transmission and grid integration. And even in today’s environment of elevated input costs and supply chain constraints.”

It’s a trend that is seeing regional Australia drive the transition.

Among the “pleasing developments” listed by Westerman at the forum were the commissioning of Australia’s largest operating wind farm in Stockyard Hill, 35km west of Ballarat, in June 2022.

The Golden Plains Wind Farm, 60km north-west of Geelong went from application stage in January to agreed performance standards in August – “one of the shortest timeframes we’ve managed”, according to Westerman. The Golden Plains turbines will be capable of producing more than 4000 GW annually, enough to power every home in regional Victoria.

Also in Cosmos: New legislation gives off shore wind farms a boost

The newest project, the offshore wind zone off Gippsland, is also creating waves with the federal government stating new projects could support more than 3000 jobs over the next 15 years during development and construction phases, and another 3000 ongoing operational jobs.

“Australia has huge potential in offshore wind and the Albanese government is giving this industry a green light,” Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen said.

“This formal declaration and the Major Project Status for Star of the South will help us catch up.”

The Victorian Government has already announced Offshore Wind Targets of 2 GW of offshore generation by 2032, 4 GW by 2035, and 9 GW by 2040. Estimates are that the Victorian coast has the potential to support 13 GW of capacity by 2050.

While Gippsland is the first zone to be declared, the federal government also has regions off the Hunter and Illawarra in New South Wales, the Southern Ocean region off Portland in Victoria, the Bass Strait off Northern Tasmania, and the Indian Ocean region off Perth/Bunbury in Western Australia in its sights for offshore wind energy.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) has also recognised Australia’s potential as a wind energy powerhouse.

“With an estimated 4,963 GW (fixed 1.6 TW and floating 3.4 TW) offshore wind potential, the opportunity in Australia is huge,” the GWEC’s Annual Wind Report 2022 states.

“Work has begun on the environmental assessments for the 2.2 GW Star of the South wind farm. There are more than 10 projects proposed in the pipeline, with a combined capacity of over 25 GW; this includes Oceanex plans to develop >9 GW of floating wind and Copenhagen Energy’s 3 GW project within Geographe Bay.”

As Australia’s regions continue to be earmarked for suitable sites, Australian National University (ANU) researchers have released a new tool aimed at farmers and landholders.

Farmers and landholders, they say, are a “crucial piece of the puzzle to help accelerate Australia’s solar and wind uptake and help the nation meet its renewable energy targets”.

The researchers have developed “heat maps” to show the best locations for wind or solar farms.

Screenshot 2022 12 27 120540 edited
Wind energy heat map

The overall map shows red speckles for the best locations lacing the lower edges of Australia.

The area between Goulburn and Lithgow in New South Wales has been identified as “especially suitable” for new clean energy sites because of the available transmission lines and good wind and solar resources, and the north coast of Tasmania, alongside King and Flinders islands, are also on the map.

“In Victoria, the Yallourn district is attractive because of good wind potential and strong existing transmission into Melbourne, plus there’s a need to replace local coal industry jobs. There’s also extensive wind potential west of Melbourne,” Professor Andrew Blakers, from the ANU College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics, said. 

“South Australia has excellent wind and solar potential to the east of the St Vincent and Spencer gulfs, while Queensland’s best wind and solar sites follow the coastal transmission lines north from Brisbane in areas such as Rockhampton and Mackay. 

“Perth, on the other hand, has an abundance of suitable solar and wind sites close to transmission lines that run from the north and the south of the city.”

Another of ANU’s researchers involved in the study, Cheng Cheng, said the idea of the project was to empower landowners to directly approach developers and negotiate solar or wind farms for their property.

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“Landholders who host solar or wind farms have another drought-proof income source. This is beneficial for farmers, as crops can be grown underneath both solar and wind farms and animals can have access to shade,” he said.

Researchers cross-referenced locations where wind and solar resources were good, with sites near existing and approved high-power transmission lines to come up with the heat maps. The maps show the relative cost of renewable energy on each 1,000m x 1,000m parcel of land for solar farms and 250m x 250m parcel for wind.

The heat maps divide all land in Australia into different cost categories for solar and wind generation, ranging from Class A to Class E. Class A, B and C sites are more ideal locations.

So is the rise in wind energy production set to continue? The answer is yes according to the Global Wind Energy Council’s Annual Wind Report 2022.

“Ninety-four percent (or 7.3 GW) of projected new installations in this region [the Pacific] in the next five years will come from Australia,” the report states.

“With the planned EnergyConnect link between South Australia and New South Wales coming online in 2023 and strong renewable commitments from state-level government (renewable energy zones) and from local mining and iron ore giants (green hydrogen), Australia will continue to be a key onshore wind market in this decade.”

Correction: In our original report we reported that solar energy accounts for 0.3% of total energy generated, but this should have been 12.4%.

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