Sun brings energy solution to light
■ 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.
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.
Part of Pilbara Meta Maya’s renewable energy power station infrastructure.