Purpose of this note: To explain that Australia, being an island, is seriously disadvantaged in attempting to achieve ambitious renewable energy targets because we cannot run transmission lines to other countries to obtain power when our solar and wind systems fail.

Background. A previous briefing note described four obstacles in the path of ambitious RE targets (The Four Icebergs Note 20.2).

Frequent wind droughts.

The need for 100% of demand to be met 100% of the time.

The island effect.

No grid-scale storage available from batteries or pumped hydro.

The Critical Feature of the Island Effect:  We cannot run extension cords to other countries to obtain power when we are short.

All the other places that have major RE installations either have access to power from neighbours with conventional power to spare or they have ideal topography for hydroelectric power (New Zealand, Norway)

What if California were an island? They import 30% of their electricity!

No state imports more.

A third of the Californian power mix is natural gas (10% imported). A third is renewables with 20% of solar power is imported and a large amount of windpower is imported.

Imagine their situation if they did not have extension cords.

During the recent blackouts the states that export power to California were themselves experiencing the same weather conditions that slashed California’s domestic production of wind and solar power. Consequently they could not make up the shortfall of the power supply in California.

If those states run down their conventional power assets under the incentives of the Green New Deal then they will have even less capacity to support the Golden State. Household generators will become very popular!

Consider some of the other “wind-leading” nations.

Denmark can produce up to 80% of their electricity from the wind on a good day but over 12 months they import 45% of their power.

Germany has made a massive investment in the green energy transition and wen the wind is blowing strongly she exports power, often at negative prices.

Germany was a net exporter for many years but when the wind is not blowing she turns to nuclear power from France. In June 2019 she became a net importer for the first time since 2014.

The Netherlands has carpeted the countryside with wind farms and solar panels, but these provide just 2.7% of final total energy consumption.

For electric power, wind provides 10% and solar 5%.  When the wind is off duty, power is imported from Germany and France.

Britain exports power when the conditions are favourable, (hence the French threat to undermine the trade by cutting the interconnector, but she also imports during the periods when there is little or no wind.

There is a power crisis across the whole of Western Europe at present thanks to a long spell with less wind than usual and France started to fire up some old coal power stations.


Small islands do not have smelters, heavy industry or electric trains.

Thursday island invested heavily in RE but still depends on diesel backup during the low-wind months of the year.

King Island. The Clean Energy Authority announced that some 20 million dollars were spent on King Island (population 1,600) for a “fully functioning RE microgrid”  with integrated wind, solar, biodiesel and battery storage. That is over $10,000 per head.Diesel generators still provide a third of the power on the island.

Flinders Island installed RE facilities but the 40% shortfall is covered by diesel. The Mayor is optimistic that the tidal power might be used to make the power supply 100% RE.

Rottnest Island is another showpiece for the Clean Energy Authority and as usual diesel backup is necessary.


  • That the island effect be explicitly acknowledged as a major obstacle to progress towards RE targets.
  • That planning agencies explain how the balance between supply and demand for RE in Australia can be achieved without the capacity to exchange with neighbours.


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