Forget gas exports to save the east coast: WA can be Australia's solar battery


"If billions are to be spent it seems obvious to finally make the WA-SA link because a JU HVDC powerline could potentially pump up to 10 times the electricity across the Nullarbor than the Snowy Mountains scheme upgrade could produce."

If WA is to play a part in the "nation building" energy debate, and $5 billion is up for grabs, then instead of diverting exportable gas to the east coast, the Federal Government should consider using this State's renewable-energy potential.

Natural gas is a valuable international commodity — just ask east coast energy users.

So why waste it domestically when this sun-baked country has the longitudinal spread to export two to three hours of cheap solar energy across the Nullarbor at peak times.

In the name of "objective" nation-building, Premier Mark McGowan should request that Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg assess the viability of making WA a gigantic solar battery for the east coast.

Along with some private sector solar-concentration power plants, we would need a 1800km bi-directional, High-Voltage Direct Current transmission line from Kalgoorlie to the start of the east coast grid at Port Augusta in South Australia.

HVDC is a low-energy-loss technology compared with the common alternating current systems and uses overhead lines and converter stations to transfer electricity over distances of up to 3000km.

Also known as an "interconnector", based on costs of projects in Canada and India, an estimate for a cross-Nullarbor HVDC line would also be about $5 billion.

That would be roughly double what they plan to spend on upgrading the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Such an energy conduit offers far more input flexibility than a gas pipeline and energy source controlled by multinational companies.

The Finkel report admitted investing in another interconnector was necessary.

"The benefits of this for power system security and reliability need to be weighed up against the added cost to consumers," it said.

"Recent analysis of potential solutions to the technical challenges posed by high renewable integration in South Australia found that some proposed interconnector options could be effective in addressing a range of technical issues, but they are either very expensive or have long lead times, or both."

If billions are to be spent it seems obvious to finally make the WA-SA link because a HVDC powerline could potentially pump up to 10 times the electricity across the Nullarbor than the Snowy Mountains scheme upgrade could produce.

WA gas could still play a part, but as high-value "peaking" and distributable energy controlled by WA, the cost of which would go a long way to offsetting GST losses.

The Finkel report said the national electricity market transmission network was unique in the developed world in terms of its long distances, low density and long, thin structure.

Spending billions patching an already unstable system makes little sense.

A WA-wide solar network acting as a battery, bolstered by wind energy and WA-based gas peaking power plants, would add tremendous flexibility to the national electricity grid, remove the potential for east coast supplier gouging and provide real revenue potential for WA businesses and households, too.

A power industry source told WestBusiness the Perth-Kalgoorlie interconnector needed an upgrade that could cost up to $1 billion. A cross-Nullarbor HVDC line with solar plants in the Goldfields could change that, providing a sizeable offset to any construction costs.

Last year global engineering giant ABB said connecting WA to the national power grid had become more viable because of improved technology.

"The larger the grid you can connect renewables to, the better the balance," ABB's president for Asia, Middle East and Africa, Frank Duggan, said.

"I would say in the long run this could be a viable solution and help to ease these problems."

In June, Australian Energy Market Operator chief executive Audrey Zibelman said that with more wind and solar power and less base load, it was becoming more important to have distributed energy resources "that can help manage the peakiness of the system".

"If it's cheaper to build better interconnection and be able to move power back and forth among the regions, and therefore drive down value to consumers and increase value to these assets with more certainty, we need to be examining that," she said.

But are the politicians willing too?