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Energy in the NT: frequently asked questions

Energy is a complex issue not well understood by anyone outside of the industry. That creates an environment where myths and misunderstandings abound. So let's clear them up!

This is a live doc that will be updated throughout 2020. Have questions that need answering? Email admin@ecnt.org.

Solar energy was not to blame for the Alice Springs blackouts that occurred in October of last year. Cloud cover is a normal event and a well-designed energy system, using existing technology, has the capacity to handle changing weather. 

Rather, an independent investigation into the blackouts uncovered woefully inadequate reporting functions in the NT energy agencies. The report recommended a range of technical adjustments, checks, and improvements to address the problems that led to the blackouts. However, some industry insiders also point to a deeper, more systemic problem of internal resistance to adapting to renewable energy within the NT's energy agencies that could prove more difficult to resolve.

Holding onto a clunky, highly-centralised, gas-powered grid, is a bit like refusing to upgrade to a smartphone just because your uncle scored a good deal on some old dial telephones a few years ago. We are witnessing every other Australian state upgrade to efficient, networked, fast and agile technology; the NT only shoots itself in the foot if it tries to cling to outdated tech.

Putting aside the moral imperative to upgrade to clean energy, there is a strong economic case to be had with NT’s abundance of solar resources representing an opportunity to revitalise our economy. If we don’t seize it, other states will make better progress and grab market share.

Learn more.

Digital technology has allowed for two-way communication between electricity utilities and its customers. You can think of a "smart grid" as the equivalent of your smartphone compared to an old dial telephone.

Here's a taste of what our "smart" system will do:  

  • Not only will Territorians generate energy from their own panels, but they’ll also be able to trade clean energy locally with neighbours, the nearby solar garden, or the solar project at the edge of town  
  • When the sun is shining smart software will send a signal to energy users to turn on their pumps and fill up their batteries. Future electricity use will be much more dynamic – demand follows generation, as much as generation follows demand 
  • If there’s a big storm and a power line goes down, network control can decide to ‘island’ a town or a suburb, disconnecting it for a few hours or days from the main grid and running it on electricity from solar, batteries and other local renewables, which turns that area into a micro-grid and helps the Territory weather the storm’s aftermath  

Yes. In 2017, an independent expert panel found that "with careful planning, appropriate governance, effective regulation, and policies to encourage investment" a target of 50% renewables by 2030 was achievable. The panel's report Roadmap to Renewables has 11 recommendations and 50 enabling actions for the government to achieve the target whilst maintaining the affordability of energy supply and without compromising network reliability and security.

Learn more about the NT renewable energy target.

Both nuclear power and gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology are vastly more expensive than solar PV on capital costs alone. The very long construction timelines for nuclear power also rule it out of a scenario that involves rapid decarbonisation of the stationary power sector.

Because variable renewables are already cheaper to build than fossil fuels and getting cheaper every year, most plausible scenarios for Australia’s future assume they will make up a much higher proportion of the generation mix. Baseload generators like nuclear power are very slow to ramp up and down and lose their owners’ money when they’re not running, making them a poor match for an electricity system with a high proportion of variable renewables. What’s needed is electricity that can be dispatched on short notice to meet peaks in demand or drops in supply and that provides the right kind of grid-stabilising services, such as batteries.

(Source: A Plan to Repower Australia)