Utilities adapt to COVID risks to keep major solar project moving

SA Water, Electranet
SA Water general manager Mark Gobbie with senior manager Zero Cost Energy Future Nicola Murphy at the Morgan-Whyalla third pump station, where 19,000 solar panels are currently being installed

Two of South Australia’s largest essential service businesses in water and electricity, SA Water and ElectraNet, have worked together in the face of COVID-19 to keep SA Water’s industry-leading renewable energy project on schedule.

As part of the water utility’s green energy project installing more than 500,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels at 35 metropolitan and regional sites, ElectraNet has been contracted to complete six large-scale substation upgrades to allow surplus energy generated by SA Water to be supplied into the National Electricity Market.

SA Water’s zero-cost energy future initiative will see 242 GWh of new solar generation integrated within its network to run energy-intensive infrastructure, and has already resulted in 147,000 solar panels located at sites like the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant, Adelaide Desalination Plant and Christies Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant.

SA Water’s senior manager Zero-Cost Energy future Nicola Murphy said both businesses readily adapted to the everchanging situation to help reduce potential risks to the project’s construction target.

“During these challenging times, it’s important that we carry-on where possible with projects to improve our operations while also supporting the state’s economy by keeping our partners and the supply chain working,” Nicola said.

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“While this is not without its challenges, together with ElectraNet we applied new ways of working to uphold strict social distancing and hygiene standards, including the adoption of virtual meetings and reducing personnel numbers on site when completing and confirming isolations.”

One of the project’s larger solar arrays is at the 358 kilometre Morgan to Whyalla Pipeline’s third pump station, where around 19,000 panels will produce more than 14 gigawatt hours (GWh) and will connect to ElectraNet’s existing substation on the 132 kilovolt network.

“With both SA Water and ElectraNet using locally-based company Enerven to undertake the works with the same project management and delivery team, we have gained efficiencies and streamlined health and safety processes by reducing the rotation of different people through work sites,” Nicola said.

“We also acquired many solar PV panels and critical plant, including circuit breakers, current transformers and protection relays, to complete the installation and substation upgrade more than forty weeks ago, meaning most of the essential equipment was either on-site or in transit before COVID-19 measures came into place.

“This has helped avoid potential time, cost and skilled resource availability impacts of mobilising, de-mobilising and re-mobilising to sites, while still delivering positive flow-on effects to both our businesses and the wider South Australian economy.

“This initiative is a clear demonstration of both SA Water and ElectraNet leading the way with the smarts and skills to strategically deliver a green energy project of this size, while adapting flexibly in the ever-changing and difficult situation we continue to face.”

ElectraNet’s group executive corporate development Ashley Manna said a strong and collaborative commitment by all towards health and safety, and resolving project challenges, has ensured works continue.

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“COVID-19 has presented a number of challenges to the project’s delivery, but when you have a strong commitment to safety and problem solving from all parties involved, these challenges can be overcome,” Ashley said.

“The project is quite complex with connection activities across multiple sites. Each site has presented its own unique challenges, which has meant effective and proactive communication between ElectraNet, SA Water and its contractors has been essential.

“Given the tight project timeframes, an accelerated delivery model was applied that involved working closely with SA Water to identify and manage the project’s risks and opportunities.

“We value our working relationship with SA Water and helping them deliver their green project is enhancing our relationship and ensuring the electricity network plays its important role in supporting the delivery of water supplies to South Australians.”

Ms Murphy said the project was now in a strong position as COVID-19 related restrictions begin to ease.

“Maintaining progress during the peak of the restrictions has held us in good stead and was so important – avoiding potential scrambles to recover lost time and regroup the highly skilled construction and delivery workforce that could have dispersed if they weren’t kept in work.”

Two of South Australia’s largest utilities, ElectraNet owns and manages South Australia’s 5600 kilometre high voltage transmission network, with SA Water providing clean, safe drinking water and wastewater services to 1.7 million customers.