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It's not just Melbourne developing westward, our electricity network is too

It's big, it's complex, it has many moving parts and the debate has been raging for a long while now. Escalating energy prices, our commitment to international agreements on emissions reduction and political inaction have all played a part in an at times ugly debate on Australia's energy generation and where it's headed in future.

Regardless of where you do fit inside or outside of the debate, things are changing quite a lot.

Renewable energy technology - and the price of it - has been reducing for a while now so much so that one aspect of renewable energy, solar panels and household battery storage, is now priced sufficiently low that it is directly accessible to many households.

As the bulk of energy consumers live in cities, I find it interesting that participants on the many sides of the debate, appear to overlook the change in how we are developing our cities. That is, no longer is it the case where the overwhelming majority of new residential dwelling stock is a house.

When the debate participants talk about households having a greater ability to take control of their energy needs, they're invariably talking about houses being covered by solar panels and a battery installed.

With apartments, the building footprints (and therefore roofs) might be larger, however the number of electricity users will always be greater. A 5KW system with battery might work for a suburban/rural house, but it's not likely to power much more than common areas of apartment buildings, especially if it's a large one.

While early grid-disconnectors might crow about their new found freedom, for an increasing amount of people, grid disconnection will not be possible. And despite being excited by the transition that's occurring in the energy world, I think there has to be a limit before we run full tilt into equity issues.

There are many factors that make up escalating electricity prices - again this is a sector of our economy that has been hamstrung with political and regulatory inaction for near on a decade - however the last thing we need is a precipitous drop in grid connections once panels and batteries get cheaper (and data tells us it will) which would drive all the interested parties in our electricity networks to squeeze even more revenue out of the end-users. Especially if there are no regulatory changes in the short term.

Nevertheless, there's a lot of planning work being done to augment our existing transmission system which keeps 'the grid' together.

High voltage electrical transmission network in South Eastern Australia. Source: AEMO

Right now, the heavy lifting in moving electricity from the big generators to Melbourne and elsewhere in Victoria is done through three diverse paths from the Latrobe Valley into eastern Melbourne (Cranbourne, Rowville and South Morang, the two yellow and single bunch of blue lines in the map above).

Yallourn and Loy Yang, the remaining thermal generators in the Latrobe Valley, along with the interconnection with Tasmania via Basslink continue to use this transmission infrastructure now that Hazelwood has closed, yet with the exception of the recently announced feasibility into putting offshore wind into Bass Strait, the overwhelming majority of Victoria's new generation will come from renewable resources located to the west of Melbourne.

I encourage you to look at this page on Aussie Renewables. Like the Urban Melbourne project database, it shows where the projects for new renewable generation are. All except two of the major wind farms, operating or otherwise are located to the west of the city and all the large-scale solar projects are naturally in the North-West.

New transmission network connection requests. Source: AEMO

Further reading: the recently released Victorian Annual Planning Report published by AEMO.

Lead image credit: Wikipedia

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