So­lar plant open­ing sig­nals shift in power think­ing

Dubbo Photo News - - News. - BY JOHN RYAN JOUR­NAL­IST

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.

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