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by Brian Salter, Acting CEO, TransGrid

As the NSW/SA Project EnergyConnect ramps up, TransGrid Acting CEO, Brian Salter, explains why transmission interconnection projects like this are so critical to enable a smooth transition to renewables.

Later this year, TransGrid and its South Australian partner, ElectraNet, will begin construction on one of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure projects.

EnergyConnect is a new 900km electricity transmission line linking New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, running from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales to Robertstown in South Australia, with a connection to Red Cliffs, in Victoria. The economic benefits of the project are well documented. Construction will create about 1,400 jobs.

The project will also provide new opportunities for a wide range of businesses, and deliver around $4 billion in economic benefits to New South  Wales, much of it to regional communities. In New South Wales, we estimate EnergyConnect will save customers $180 million a year – cutting the average household bill by $64 per year.  But, arguably, the project’s biggest benefit is its central role in supporting Australia’s transition to a clean energy future.

Renewables need a different type of grid

According to modelling and analysis by the CSIRO and ClimateWorks, the transition from a fossil fuel to a renewableenergy-based power system is unstoppable. The Australian energy landscape is transitioning to a greater mix of low-emission renewable energy sources.

At the same time, consumers are demanding lower power bills and a more secure and reliable service. At TransGrid, we can already see Australia’s energy transition is happening faster than anticipated, with new renewable generation coming online at significant speed and a huge amount of potential solar, wind and hydro projects in the pipeline.

But moving to a clean energy future poses significant technical challenges for the grid. Renewables are very different from traditional energy sources. Renewable plants are in different geographical areas than coal or gas-fired power stations.

Their generation is intermittent and often unpredictable. As more renewables are added to the grid, this will create congestion on the transmission network – a problem that will become widespread over the next two years.

Congestion will be further exacerbated as electricity consumers increasingly become producers, and networks of homes combine to form virtual power plants.

Equally, as consumers begin to trade their own energy, other new business models and types of market participants are expected to emerge, requiring an agile, flexible transmission system to accommodate them.

A modern transmission network for a decarbonised future

To make the transition to zero-carbon, we need a different type of transmission network. One that can deal with:

» Increased capacity – Our future transmission network will have to deal with three times the existing generation capacity.

» Increased generation sources – We need to expand transmission to the areas where wind and solar energy are being generated.

» Increased interconnection – To use renewable energy efficiently, the states need to be able to import and export energy.

For example, the time difference between New South Wales and South Australia means we can leverage the time shift in hours of sunlight as energy flows east and west. But, right now, the National Electricity Market (NEM) n the east coast is only lightly interconnected.

This is why EnergyConnect is so important. By reinforcing the connection between New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, we will dramatically improve the system and double the existing transfer capacity between those states.

As a result, for example, South Australia will be able to easily export energy when producing more than the state is using, allowing interstate consumers to benefit from solar or wind generators that might otherwise go unused.

EnergyConnect will not only help to accelerate Australia’s energy transition by connecting customers with more renewable generation, the project will also help to abate an estimated one million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, contributing to the nation’s ability to meet its climate change targets.

Connecting Renewable Energy Zones

Interconnector projects like EnergyConnect will also help to connect Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) with capital city markets. REZs combine renewable energy generation, grid-scale batteries and high-voltage poles and wires.

By connecting multiple generators and storage in the same  location, REZs capitalise on economies of scale to deliver cheap, reliable and clean electricity for homes and businesses.

Importantly, they will play a vital role in delivering affordable, reliable energy generation to help replace existing power stations as they come to their scheduled end of operational life.

Right now, TransGrid is working with the New South Wales Government to fast track Australia’s first coordinated REZ in  the State’s Central-West Orana region – one of five NSW REZs planned by the State Government.

This project is expected to be shovel-ready by the end of 2022, unlocking up to 3,000MW of new electricity capacity by the mid ‘20s – enough new capacity to power around 1.4 million homes.

The importance of the Central-West Orana REZ was recognised in the Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2020 Integrated System Plan as an ‘actionable’ transmission project. This means it is deemed a critical project to address cost, security and reliability issues across the entire NEM.

Investing in new infrastructure to support the green transition

Over the next five to ten years, TransGrid plans to invest more than $11 billion to build new transmission infrastructure so the network has the strength, capacity and stability to cope with large-scale renewable energy.

In the process, we will create around 7,000 jobs in regional New South Wales and $25 billion in economic activity. Our new transmission infrastructure will play a central role in achieving economy-wide decarbonisation, ensuring Australia can access the renewable generation needed for transport electrification and new ‘green’ industries.

As we lead the way towards a more resilient future, we’re working closely with our customers and communities to make sure no one is left behind. Wherever you are in New South Wales or the ACT, you can be confident in the reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity we transmit as we build a better power system for generations of Australians to come.

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