By Rod Duke, CEO, Energy Queensland

Energy Queensland CEO, Rod Duke, explores the role electricity will play in the future of Australia’s fuels, renewable energy sources, infrastructure and economy.

I recently had an opportunity to share some of my concerns and observations at a forum hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, discussing future fuels and Queensland’s energy transition.

It has taken the electricity sector 100 years to develop, design and construct today’s infrastructure – and now we’re going to need to quadruple its capability – or even more – in the next few decades or so just to keep pace.

Why? Electricity will either be the fuel for the future of Australia, or it will be used to power emerging industries such as hydrogen production.

Energy Queensland has a lot of skin in the game.

The company runs Australia’s largest electricity network business with an enterprise value in excess of $26 billion.

Our 7,400 employees deliver an annual program of works worth $1.6 billion.

Our subsidiaries, Ergon Energy and Energex, support one of the world’s largest distribution networks, delivering 35,000GWh of power to 2.3 million premises and 763,000 retail customers from Tweed River to Torres Strait and from Brisbane across to Birdsville.

They’re moving electrons, with around 1.7 million power poles, almost 180,000km of overhead power lines, 29,000km of underground power cable and controlling it with nearly 11,000km of fibre optic cable.

With Queensland and Australia’s commitments to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 – forecasts show that we will need to move from having electricity as around 25 per cent of Australia’s primary energy usage to perhaps 80 per cent.

Almost every source of renewable energy ends up manifesting itself as electricity; solar, hydro and wind are the main three.

They are first converted into electricity which is then used to heat, cool, light, and power communities and industries.

Renewable energy, by its very nature, fluctuates depending on the time of day and the weather. Too much power generated during the day and not enough at night causes problems for networks and customers.

There is more than 4.2GW of distributed energy resources connected to Queensland’s networks – two very large power stations – and includes 21 major solar farms and 26 bioenergy generators.

As we connect more renewable generation to the network, there will be greater variability of electricity flows. A new issue of ‘minimum demand’ is creating challenges for managing voltage on the distribution network, and more broadly, causing system stability issues.

This increase in variability requires more network monitoring and controls to be in place.

As an industry, we need the electricity network to respond quickly to changes to make sure the lights stay on.

More investments are required in copper, aluminium, steel, equipment and people to make sure we can meet the demands of the grid of the near-future.

Queensland – and Australia – will need storage for the extra daytime generation, in the form of batteries and pumped hydropower.

Energy Queensland has already started addressing this issue.

Construction is almost completed on five 8MWh network batteries at our substations in areas where there is significant rooftop solar.

Our businesses would like to build more. We have to, because it’s clear Queensland will need much more energy storage capacity than is already being delivered.

Our engineering teams are developing tools to offer customers a dynamic connection that will support greater installation of renewables, batteries and electric vehicles for customers who want them, without putting excessive pressure on the network.

Customers will also need to play a vital role. They will soon have opportunities to be active participants on the network through advanced digital meters, cost reflective tariffs and ‘smart’ inverter standards that are being developed.

Fundamentally, our networks need to be able to move electricity between generators and users, not only to where they require it, but from when it is made, to when they use it.

The networks and the businesses running the electricity networks must keep pace with the growing number of electric vehicles, batteries, solar PV systems and emerging industries that consume large amounts of electricity.

In short, we must continue to invest in the fuel of the future – electricity – so our economy and communities continue to grow and keep pace with the impending change.

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