A national plan for energy could save Australian energy customers $100 billion and improve energy security, according to the final report of the Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap released by Energy Networks Australia and CSIRO.

The transition to net zero emissions for the electricity sector in 2050 will be driven by continued strong uptake of solar by residential and commercial users, the report says.

“The full value of millions of customer owned distributed energy resources can only be realised in a connected future that enables multidirectional exchanges of energy, information and value,” the report says, hinting at the possibilities of mainstream acceptance of energy management systems.

By 2027, it estimates about 40% of customers will use onsite resources equivalent to 29GW of solar and 34GWh of batteries.

By 2030, the authors estimate about 40% of both Victoria’s and Western Australia’s energy could be generated by intermittent renewables, as is the case in South Australia today.

NSW and Queensland are expected to follow suit in the 2030s as coal-fired power generators shut down.

The Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap is an evidence-based plan detailing what needs to be done during the next decade to provide Australians with secure and affordable energy and to decarbonise electricity by 2050.

Energy Networks Australia CEO John Bradley said that while integrating large-scale variable renewable energy will be vital, customers will drive the transformation of Australia’s electricity system as world-leading adopters of distributed energy resources.

The roadmap forecasts up to 10 million households and small customers will have distributed energy resources like solar, storage, smart homes and electric vehicles by 2050.

“Networks could buy grid support from customers instead of building their own infrastructure – in fact, annual payments to customers could be worth $1.1 billion within 10 years,” Bradley said.

“The orchestration of these new energy assets in the ‘right place at the right time’ could save customers a total of $16 billion in network costs by 2050.”

Some key estimates from the report include…

By 2027…

  • More than $1.4 billion in network investment will have been avoided and network bills will be 10% lower than last year.
  • Networks will pay more than $1.1 billion a year for distributed energy resource services.
  • More than $1.4 billion in cross subsidies will be avoided, so that the average family without distributed energy resources will save $350 a year.

By 2050…

  • Customers will supply 30-45% of Australia’s electricity needs.
  • Total system spending will have been cut by $101 billion.
  • The average household will be spending $414 less a year on energy compared with today.
  • Network charges will be 30% lower than last year.
  • More than $18 billion in cross subsidies will have been avoided…
  • …leading to households without distributed energy resources seeing savings of $600 a year.
  • Networks meanwhile will pay $2.5 billion for distributed energy resources services.

Better get building

CSIRO chief economist energy Paul Graham said the eastern states may need to build as many as five intermittent renewable generation projects each year for five years in the 2030s and 2040s.

“The big question is what will replace the existing fleet of coal-fired generation as they retire at different rates across each state jurisdiction,” Graham said.

“To achieve deep decarbonisation while keeping the lights on, it’s likely the eastern states will depend on the equivalent of 25 new large-scale solar or wind farms being built in just a five-year window with new building activity focussing on Victoria in the 2020s, NSW and Queensland in the 2030s and Victoria and Queensland in the 2040s.”

Policy settings are key

Energy Networks Australia CEO John Bradley said that without clear signals to the market, building the required amount of new generation will be more expensive or less secure.

“The findings highlight the critical need for state and federal governments to agree on a long-term energy transition plan and national policy frameworks,” Bradley said.

“The intense level of project development will only be possible with a national transition plan like the roadmap and stable and enduring carbon policy to support investment.”

“Work will start in the coming months on the Roadmap’s highest priority projects but real action is needed by government as well as industry,” he said.

“A national approach to carbon and energy policy will support commercial investment to keep the lights on and bills affordable now and in the future.”