Remote NT looks to the sun

Remote NT looks to the sun
Solar array at Kalkaringi

Through the Solar Energy Transformation Program – the world’s largest rollout of solar energy technology to isolated grids in a regulated environment – greener, cleaner electricity will be delivered to more than 30 remote Indigenous communities.

The Northern Territory will soon be home to a forward-thinking development that will fundamentally change the way electricity is generated in remote communities.

The Solar Energy Transformation Program (Solar SETuP) will deliver solar energy systems to more than 30 remote indigenous communities across the Top End.

Managed by Power and Water Corporation (PWC) – the NT-owned provider of electricity, water and sewerage services – and funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the NT Government, the project adds to the territory’s increasingly diverse energy mix, which includes an expanding LNG industry aimed at easing the region’s costly reliance on diesel power.

The $55 million program will be delivered across the next four years in collaboration with project partners Charles Darwin University, Centre for Appropriate Technology, University of Alaska and University of New South Wales.

The program is currently in its initial stages, with community engagement just beginning and recruitment for the project team underway. Nonetheless, its stakeholders are excited about Solar SETuP’s potential to deliver long-term benefit to remote Indigenous Australians in a environmentally sensible and economically responsible way.

The project will see the installation of 9MW of medium penetration solar in remote communities to achieve approximately a 15 per cent diesel fuel energy saving – maximising diesel fuel savings for a minimal cost. The systems will be a simple, efficient, low-cost design, utilising tried and tested technology.

All solar systems will be integrated into the PWC diesel power station at each community, to ensure supply reliability is maintained through the power station control system. It will achieve substantial cost savings for the NT and will reduce the environmental impact of electricity generation into the future.

In addition, a 1MW high penetration solar system will also be built at Nauiyu, also known as Daly River. This system will use advanced technologies such as energy storage, flexible diesel technology, advanced control systems, cloud forecasting and load control to achieve approximately 50 per cent diesel fuel energy saving.

The project will integrate a total of 10MW of solar systems into existing diesel power stations across four years, delivering an expected 94 million litres of diesel savings in the 25-year life of the project. This equates to $4 million annually in the cost of supplying diesel fuel across vast distances in often-difficult conditions.

Specifically, the majority of installations will achieve 15 per cent diesel fuel displacement from an aggregate 9MW solar PV system.

SETuP is designed to create a platform for greater use of solar in the communities in the future. The outcomes at Nauiyu will guide deployment of enabling technologies in other remote communities as these technologies become cost-effective and deliver even greater diesel savings over time.

The NT Government and ARENA will each provide $27.5 million to roll out cost-cutting solar PV systems to off-grid communities, where energy demand and costs are increasing.

Importantly, this landmark project will open the door to a more diverse, secure energy mix for off-grid communities, and will also create local jobs and boost skills during construction and operation.

“Australia, particularly remote Australia, relies on a diverse energy mix. It will mean a more secure energy supply for these off-grid communities and will create jobs and boost skills during construction and operation,” Federal Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane said at the announcement of the project last October.

“Remote communities are disadvantaged by a reliance on diesel as the generators are costly, the fuel is subject to volatile prices, and the transport distances are long.

“This project – a great example of what can be achieved when governments work together – will further advance cost-effective energy solutions for off-grid locations right across Australia.”

The hybrid systems will also reduce the need for expensive and complicated road and air deliveries of diesel, which are often interrupted in the region’s wet season – leading to a more reliable supply of power year round.

ARENA chief executive officer Ivor Frischknecht said remote communities had, for too long, no option but to rely on diesel generators that were expensive to run and subject to volatile fuel prices.

“One of our goals with this project is to show it makes good economic sense to utilise existing infrastructure in off-grid communities and to roll out robust solar PV that is suited to the environment and conditions in remote Australia.

“Not only does this project have the potential to catalyse further renewable energy investment in other isolated communities, it also sets up each of the participating communities to plug in more renewables as costs continue to decline.”

Mr Macfarlane added the NT’s energy resource endowment positions Australia well to meet increasing Asian demand while also meeting its own domestic needs.

“The government is consulting on the recently released Energy Green Paper, which sets out a framework for the development of a comprehensive blueprint to ensure we take full advantage of our natural strengths in the energy sector,” he said.

SETuP will work with remote communities to increase understanding of the benefits of solar/diesel hybrid systems, energy efficiency and measures to manage energy consumption. It will also generate and share knowledge that will assist other remote community energy providers to deploy renewable energy solutions.

Construction of the solar systems is anticipated to commence in 2016 following appropriate community engagement and the completion of the procurement process.

Details around procurement are not yet finalised and further information about Solar SETuP will be shared in Energy Source and Distribution in the coming issues.