Sun brings energy so­lu­tion to light

Pilbara News - - News - Ben Leahy

■ A Hed­land-based Abo­rig­i­nal cor­po­ra­tion hopes to flick the switch on a bright fu­ture for re­mote com­mu­ni­ties across the State.

Pil­bara Meta Maya Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion took it­self off the elec­tric­ity grid this month, switch­ing on a new so­lar-power sta­tion at its Wedge­field head­quar­ters it said could be repli­cated in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties.

Built by Perth-based Energy Made Clean, the sys­tem’s 100kW so­lar pan­els were de­signed to gen­er­ate enough energy to meet Meta Maya’s daily needs and charge its 74kW bat­ter­ies.

On cloudy days, a back-up diesel gen­er­a­tor lies ready to kick-in.

Meta Maya chief ex­ec­u­tive Rachael Green hopes the $400,000 hy­brid-re­new­able energy sys­tem will pay for it­self within six-to-seven years and aims to sell sim­i­lar sys­tems to the Gov­ern­ment for use in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties across the Pil­bara and the State.

“In the fu­ture, (fund­ing) is go­ing to run out, so we want our com­mu­ni­ties to be re­source­ful and not have to rely on the Gov­ern­ment,” she said.

“We want to get them away from diesel pow­ered (elec­tric­ity), which is the most ex­pen­sive com­mod­ity out on the com­mu­ni­ties.”

Her com­ments come as the State Gov­ern­ment said it in­tended to place ev­ery dol­lar spent in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties un­der the mi­cro­scope.

While back­ing away from ear­lier com­ments that some com­mu­ni­ties could be forced to close, the State Gov­ern­ment has em­barked on a cam­paign to de­liver im­proved and more ef­fi­cient ser­vices to the Pil­bara’s re­mote re­gions.

Cut­ting down on diesel costs could be one such im­prove­ment.

Most Pil­bara re­mote com­mu­ni­ties rely on the fuel.

Depart­ment of Hous­ing gen­eral man­ager Greg Cash said 73 WA re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, 14 of them in the Pil­bara, re­ceived sub­si­dies for diesel to power elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tors.

In 2015-16, the depart­ment pro­jected the to­tal spent on diesel in the com­mu­ni­ties would reach $16.29 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $3.17 mil­lion for the Pil­bara’s 14 com­mu­ni­ties.

Min­is­ter for Child Pro­tec­tion He­len Mor­ton, who has taken a lead role in the re­mote com­mu­ni­ties’ re­forms, said ideas, such as Meta Maya’s, were the way for­ward.

“It is ob­vi­ous we can’t con­tinue busi­ness as usual (in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties) be­cause that is not de­liv­er­ing the out­comes that peo­ple ex­pect,” she said.

“So in­no­va­tive new ideas — and (Meta Maya’s) is an ex­am­ple of one — is pre­cisely what we are look­ing for.”

Energy Made Clean man­ag­ing di­rec­tor John David­son said the most at­trac­tive selling point about Meta Maya’s power sta­tion — even more so than the tech­nol­ogy — was his com­pany’s part­ner­ship with the Abo­rig­i­nal group.

He said Energy Made Clean had al­ready suc­cess­fully built re­new­able energy power sta­tions across the State.

This in­cluded sta­tions on re­mote cat­tle sta­tions and re­sources projects, as well as at a fish­ing eco-re­treat on Theve­nard Is­land.

Energy Made Clean is build­ing Aus­tralia’s largest bat­tery — a 2500kW/h com­pared to Meta Maya’s 75kW/h bat­tery — as part of its re­new­able energy sta­tion at the CSIRO’s Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray pro­ject.

Lo­cated on Boolardy Sta­tion in the re­mote Murchi­son re­gion, the CSIRO pro­ject is part of an in­ter­na­tional net­work of ad­vanced ra­dio tele­scopes.

Like other re­mote cus­tomers, it presents the com­pany with a main­te­nance chal­lenge.

While the com­pany can mon­i­tor its cus­tomer’s re­new­able power sta­tions from Perth, it still faces the prospect of send­ing work­men and women up from Perth.

Mr David­son said that was where Meta Maya came in.

The Abo­rig­i­nal cor­po­ra­tion em­ploys around 24 trades­peo­ple, who pro­vide hous­ing main­te­nance work to public houses in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties from the Murchi­son up to the Pil­bara on be­half of the State Gov­ern­ment.

Mr David­son said Energy Made Clean used Meta Maya’s own power sta­tion to train its trades­peo­ple up so they could pro­vide in­stal­la­tion and ser­vic­ing and main­te­nance re­pairs to cus­tomers — and po­ten­tially fu­ture re­mote com­mu­nity power sta­tions — across the re­gion.

Ms Green said the chal­lenge now was to use the next 12 months to prove Meta Maya’s re­new­able energy sta­tion was eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

She said the group would col­lect de­tailed data about its energy ef­fi­ciency and in­sur­ance and main­te­nance costs.

“The proof will be in the pud­ding … (but) I am so ex­cited,” she said.

Pic­ture: Ben Leahy

Pil­bara Meta Maya chief ex­ec­u­tive Rachael Green and Energy Made Clean man­ag­ing di­rec­tor John David­son stand next to a row of so­lar pan­els at Meta Maya’s Wedge­field head­quar­ters.

Pic­ture: Pil­bara Meta Maya

Part of Pil­bara Meta Maya’s re­new­able energy power sta­tion in­fra­struc­ture.

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