The impact of that “exponentially growing” capacity of solar PV and wind on electricity generation in Australia

In previous posts, I several times made the remark that installed capacity is not a good measure to define the success of solar and wind energy. Those remarks were the reaction on the claims of Blakers and Stocks that solar PV and wind energy are “growing exponentially”, that they are “on the path of dominance” when it comes to new capacity and that they “are on track to entirely supplant fossil fuels worldwide within two decades”. The authors also claimed that other low-carbon energy sources would only play a minor supporting role.

The subject of this post will be the impact of this much celebrated new capacity of solar PV and wind when it comes to the actual production of electricity by those sources. I did something rather similar in another post with world data, my guess was that the outcome for Australia would be something rather similar.

To recapitulate, this is the graph that was used by Blakers and Stocks in the Conversation article:

and this one appeared in the 100% renewable electricity in Australia paper:

From the BP data that I used in last post, we could learn that for Australia this would mean an addition of 1.369 GW in 2014, 1.087 GW in 2015 and 0.893 GW in 2016. It is definitely growing, but the growth is slowing down, as also described in previous post.

Okay, let’s start with looking into the effect of those additions on actual electricity production in Australia. When I make a graph of the addition of solar PV and wind versus total electricity generation, then I get this:

Clearly, the effect of that additional capacity on total electricity generation is hardly noticeable. Sure, the additions of solar PV and wind might be the biggest of all power sources in the period 2014 – 2016, but the share of solar PV and wind is not that big to begin with, so the addition doesn’t really make much of a dent anyway.

There is also the issue of the capacity factor that are low for wind and even lower for solar. Calculating the capacity factor of both energy sources in Australia in 2016 give me 15% for solar PV and 33% for wind. If the same capacity is compared, than solar will potentially produce only half what wind would produce. So, comparing on basis of their additional capacity alone is misleading when energy sources with different capacity factors are involved.

When I look a bit closer at that graph, then I notice that the growth of solar PV and wind seems to be less than the growth of total electricity generation. When I make a graph of the addition of solar PV and wind versus the addition of total electricity, it is confirmed:

Apparently, solar PV and wind are not even able to keep up with the growth of electricity generation. The addition of solar PV & wind electricity generation was bigger than the that of total electricity generation in only 5 out of 16 years and only because electricity generation plummeted (probably because of the early 2000s recession and the recession of 2011?).

Claiming that this tiny growth, which is declining over the years and which is not even able to keep up with the growing electricity demand, will replace fossil fuels energy generation within two decades is just laughable.

Again, is the installed capacity of solar PV and wind growing in Australia? Yes, it surely is, albeit at an ever slower pace every passing year. Is it growing stronger than the capacity of other energy sources? This might well be the case. I don’t have the figures of the other energy sources, but I see no reason why I would doubt it.

What I however really question is the significance of that development in the greater scheme of things.

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