Grids dominated by solar and pumped hydro in wind-constrained sunbelt countries

Picture of Timothy Weber

Written by: Timothy Weber
18 Apr 2024

Grids dominated by solar and pumped hydro in wind-constrained sunbelt countries
Grids dominated by solar and pumped hydro in wind-constrained sunbelt countries

This research paper, lead by Timothy Weber, was published in Energy Conversion and Management.

Certain sunbelt countries close to the equator have negligible wind resources. Due to supply chain issues impacting the deployment of wind power stations recently, other sunbelt countries may still see a faster uptake of solar PV as they decarbonise their energy systems. There is far more than enough space to achieve 100% renewables in the sunbelt using predominantly solar PV balanced by pumped hydro. Policymakers should be highly sceptical of low solar technical potential estimates for their countries. Through a case study of solar-dominant 100% renewable grids in Malaysia, it was found that:

  • Malaysia has the potential to develop roughly 8500 GW terrestrial solar PV, 25,000 GW of marine floating PV on calm equatorial ocean, and 450,000 GWh of off-river pumped hydro. Converting land currently used for palm oil energy crops could unlock a further 5900 GW of PV potential.
  • An affluent, fully electrified Malaysia requires about 660 GW solar PV and 2200 GWh pumped hydro to achieve 100% renewable energy with an all-in cost of between 95 and 103 USD/MWh
  • Interconnection between Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia could reduce Malaysia’s energy storage needs by over 33% but would have a negligible impact on all-in costs. Due to the ongoing delays associated with this project, it may be more beneficial to focus on energy storage instead.
  • An average annual energy mix that is just 0.4% peaking hydrogen or synthetic methane could reduce the energy storage needs of Malaysia by 1100 – 6900 GWh, depending on the electricity demand and degree of transmission interconnection.

Sunbelt countries need not rely upon technologies with a negligible market share to decarbonise (e.g., nuclear, carbon capture and storage, bioenergy). Even when wind generation is unavailable, sunbelt countries can achieve low-cost, 100% renewable electricity grids, with fully electrified transport, heating/cooling, and industry using predominantly solar PV supported by pumped hydro and transmission interconnection.

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