Wind, sun switch on the iso­lated

A re­bate sys­tem for re­new­ables drives the pro­vi­sion of re­li­able, 24- hour elec­tric­ity, writes Derek Parker

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Clean Energy -

WHEN it comes to turn­ing on the elec­tric­ity, most Aus­tralians merely have to flick a switch, cour­tesy of the grid that ties most of the coun­try into an ef­fi­cient, cost- ef­fec­tive net­work. For those in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, how­ever, power is a less cer­tain propo­si­tion, and is al­ways more ex­pen­sive than in the cities. In the past the near- uni­ver­sal method of elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties has been diesel gen­er­a­tors, but there’s a move to­wards other so­lu­tions.

A key driver of the shift is an Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment scheme called the Re­new­able Re­mote Power Gen­er­a­tion Pro­gram ( RRPGP). The pro­gram was set up in 2000 with fund­ing of $ 205 mil­lion, to be dis­trib­uted via state gov­ern­ment agen­cies and based on the amount of diesel fuel ex­cise paid. But in Au­gust last year, the fund­ing ar­range­ments were changed to make the pro­gram uni­form across the na­tion, and an ad­di­tional $ 123.5 mil­lion was added to the fund.

The pro­gram pro­vides a 50 per cent re­bate to off­set the cap­i­tal costs of es­tab­lish­ing a re­new­able en­ergy sys­tem for re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, or even re­mote house­holds. To date, over 4000 re­bates have been paid.

‘‘ The most com­mon form of re­new­able en­ergy used by re­mote com­mu­ni­ties is so­lar power,’’ says De­nis Smed­ley, di­rec­tor of the Re­new­able En­ergy De­ploy­ment Team in the Aus­tralian Green­house Of­fice, which ad­min­is­ters the RRPGP. ‘‘ But it’s re­ally a mat­ter of what sort of gen­er­a­tion method is most suit­able for a com­mu­nity, de­pend­ing on the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment and the com­mu­nity’s needs. Wind power is more suit­able in some places, or even mi­cro hy­dro- elec­tric­ity plants which can op­er­ate in a flow­ing stream.’’

A prob­lem with wind and so­lar power is its vari­able na­ture, even though the elec­tric­ity that is gen­er­ated can be stored in bat­ter­ies. Re­new­able sources are used to displace power from diesel gen­er­a­tors, re­duc­ing the use of gen­er­a­tors and the need to trans­port diesel over long dis­tances.

‘‘ For many re­mote com­mu­ni­ties, it means hav­ing 24- hour power for the first time,’’ says Smed­ley. ‘‘ And that means a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of life, rang­ing from food re­frig­er­a­tion to the stor­age of med­i­cal sup­plies. The switchover from one source to an­other is au­to­matic, and th­ese sys­tems have proved to be very re­li­able.

‘‘ We do not pro­vide tech­ni­cal ad­vice to ap­pli­cants for RRPGP sup­port, but we have a de­vel­oped a sig­nif­i­cant amount of ex­per­tise as to what works and what doesn’t at the project level, and we are happy to share that knowl­edge if it means that the pro­gram works more ef­fec­tively.’’

Smed­ley points to a num­ber of projects that he sees as par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant. One, which in­volved a grant of $ 3.425 mil­lion, sup­ported the in­stal­la­tion of a sys­tem of so­lar en­ergy con­cen­trat­ing dishes to gen­er­ate power for the com­mu­ni­ties of Her­manns­burg, Yuen­dumu and La­ja­manu in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. Th­ese projects, man­aged by So­lar Sys­tems NT, will gen­er­ate 1560 megawatt hours of re­new­able elec­tric­ity each year, re­duc­ing diesel con­sump­tion by more than 400,000 litres per year and green­house gas emis­sions by more than 1100 tonnes per year.

The tech­nol­ogy works by fo­cus­ing sun­light onto a re­ceiver that con­tains highly ef­fi­cient pho­to­voltaic cells that gen­er­ate the elec­tric­ity. The heat gen­er­ated is re­moved by a closed loop wa­ter- cool­ing sys­tem and can be utilised for other pur­poses, such as in­creas­ing evap­o­ra­tion rates in sewage ponds.

An­other power scheme sup­ported by the RRPGP is the Bush­light project, op­er­at­ing in the Alice Springs re­gion and aimed at as­sist­ing in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. The project uses flat- plate pho­to­voltaic pan­els; so far, 93 sys­tems have been in­stalled. A key fea­ture of the project has been the cre­ation of mo­bile ser­vice teams de­signed to as­sist com­mu­ni­ties with ed­u­ca­tion, ad­vice, re­pairs and main­te­nance of re­new­able re­mote area power sup­ply sys­tems. The RRPGP has pro­vided about $ 15.5 mil­lion in funds for the project.

Is­land com­mu­ni­ties have also ben­e­fited from the fund­ing pro­gram. Rot­tnest Is­land, off the coast of Perth, re­ceived a grant of $ 1.925 mil­lion for a wind tur­bine sys­tem to sup­ply up to 40 per cent its en­ergy needs. This will save about 430,000 litres of diesel a year, with the tur­bine sys­tem also pro­vid­ing power for the is­land’s de­sali­na­tion plant.

The shift to re­new­able en­ergy has even reached Aus­tralia’s Antarc­tica ter­ri­tory, with the planned in­stal­la­tion of two large- scale wind tur­bines at Maw­son Base. The project has fund­ing of $ 750,000 to ex­pand hy­dro­gen pro­duc­tion and stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, and to in­cor­po­rate a fuel cell and other hy­dro­gen tech­nolo­gies into Maw­son’s sys­tems.

RRPGP funds are also be­ing di­rected into re­search, with $ 5.5 mil­lion go­ing to­wards the Re­search In­sti­tute for Sus­tain­able En­ergy at Mur­doch Univer­sity in West­ern Aus­tralia. Projects cur­rently un­der way in­clude re­search into biodiesel and hy­dro­gen fuel cells, as well as test­ing stan­dards for small wind tur­bines, and the pos­si­ble level of con­tri­bu­tion that re­new­able en­ergy re­sources can make to the na­tional grid.

So­lar: Reign­ing on the roof

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