Solar plant opening signals shift in power thinking
THERE are about nine million homes in Australia and AGL’S 102 megawatt solar plant at Nyngan, which was officially opened this week, is capable of powering 33,000 of them.
Added to its sister 53MW plant at Broken Hill, the company is hoping to supply enough renewable energy to power 50,000 homes.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows us that 180 of these plants could supply all the electricity needed to run all Australian homes and when other factors, such as the ongoing slashing of solar construction prices, are taken into account, sun power could provide a great future for the nation’s power generation.
All the major players who attended this week’s opening are excited about the massive strides in battery storage technology – that’s been the real holdup for solar because it makes it difficult to cost effectively store solar power so electricity is available at night.
Now with Tesla’s Powerwall soon to hit Australia, that could all change, with many homes requiring much less centralised power to run day and night.
Essentially, the Powerwall will enable a range of options for consumers.
One is to use off-peak baseload power to charge the Powerwall at cheap rates, then run the battery down during expensive peak periods.
Another is to install a solar array, as so many houses in Dubbo already have, and use that power to charge the Powerwall for free, drawing on that stored charge when the sun’s not shining.
“We view the future as one where you will not be allowed to be emitting CO2 into the atmosphere.” – AGL CEO Andy Vesey
No-one at the launch seems to think solar is going to wipe out the traditional coal power stations anytime soon, but there’s no doubt in everyone’s mind that there’s a paradigm shift on the way.
Parkes MP Mark Coulton says recent advances by companies like Tesla should see an explosion in the popularity of small scale, decentralised power systems, and that trend will gradually reduce the reliance on baseline power generators.
Federal environment minister Greg Hunt was the guest of honour at the official opening. Since he’s been in the job he’s seen huge pressure from the former Abbott-led coalition to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) which funded much of the project along with the state government.
While ARENA’S future is far from certain, the change of Prime Minister has certainly reset the Canberran mindset and Hunt is keen to spruik the fact this project will slash CO2 emissions by more than 300,000 tonnes each year.
He’s pleased there’s such a huge plant now running, one which shows it can be done and that prospective players can use as a template when doing their sums.
“The Turnbull government is investing in large-scale solar to encourage innovation and pave the way for more solar plants to be built across Australia,” Hunt said.
“This project is a great example of how federal and state governments can work with industry to deliver innovative renewable energy projects.
The solar farm has certainly been a boon for Nyngan’s economy, with millions pouring into the local area and an estimated $222 million to be spent in that town and in Broken Hill during the 30 years the plants are expected to operate.
It’s also an important piece of the pie for the state government, which came to power haunted by the legacy of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) licences handed out by the previous administration.
With large-scale solar now operating, other companies will be looking at the balance sheets to see how sun power stacks up in real terms compared to CSG and coal.
NSW energy minister Anthony Roberts said what we’re seeing at Nyngan “is the beginning of something that’s incredibly exciting for regional NSW”.
“We are at the beginning of an energy revolution in the world and I’m pleased to say that NSW is leading the way with this innovation through solar farms such as this.
“You’ll see more of these solar farms – this is the equivalent of the Snowy Hydro Scheme in the 21st Century and it’s happening here.”
He says while coal still provides the bulk of the state’s electricity, there’s a clear shift to a new era of power generation and as the state minister handling innovation, is excited at the fast pace of improvement when it comes to battery storage options.
ARENA’S acting CEO Ian Kay says now the two plants are up and running, it gives his agency a great template on which to base decisions when it comes to funding new projects.
Barwon MP Kevin Humphries and Bogan Shire mayor Ray Donald were both impressed at the community engagement showed by AGL at every step along the way, with a community consultative committee set up to ensure local priorities were well in mind as the build progressed.
They praised the amount of local workers used and also the extent to which the town’s businesses were supported by the project.
AGL CEO Andy Vesey said the company sees solar as an important part of the power mix.
“We view the future as one where you will not be allowed to be emitting CO2 into the atmosphere,” he said.
“All our planning is thinking about a carbon constrained future and the transition to that – we don’t think it can be done well overnight.
“We think we have a responsibility to deliver affordable, secure and reliable energy but ultimately we see that energy being delivered mostly by renewable sources’, he said.