Solar Gardens – ‘ground solar’ – ARENA funding.

Those unable to get traditional solar systems installed on their roof may wish to take a look at the upcoming solar gardens scheme we will see in Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are funding a trial of the ‘ground solar’ in (mostly) regional areas of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Solar Gardens – Alternatives to Roof Solar

Solar Gardens in Australia
Solar Gardens in Australia (source: ARENA)

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, those without a rooftop who still want to invest in solar power will be in luck if they’re based in Blacktown, Shoalhaven, Byron Bay, Townsville, or Swan Hill – ARENA and ‘other participants’ are providing around $550,000 in funding to assist the trial.

Dr Liz Develin, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s deputy secretary of energy, water and portfolio strategy (wonder if she has to buy extra long business cards?) discussed how the department are hoping to achieve with the rollout:

“We are trialling solar gardens with the aim of helping renters, low-income households and those living in apartments save on their energy bills,” she said.

“Blacktown is a hotspot for rooftop solar and we are really excited to see how this trial goes. The average Western Sydney household with a 4-kilowatt solar system on their roof could already be saving up to $900 a year.”

Specifics on the scheme are still a little thin on the ground (sorry…) but the solar gardens are ‘generally’ under 100kW so as to keep the STCs (small-scale renewable energy generation certificates). The University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures and the Community Power Agency will lead this project.

Solar gardens are growing faster than any other segment of solar power in the US (200MW of new capacity was rolled out in 2016) – so perhaps this is the start of a revolution where the word ‘solar’ doesn’t necessarily conjure up the image of panels on a roof. I have no doubt we’ll see blockchain technology integrated or, for the bigger gardens such as those at mid-large size apartment blocks, some microgrids available to help balance demand.

Are you interested in applying to join the solar garden trial? Watch this space. More info to come as we have it!

Mackay Solar Tender (Council): $2.1m from Akcome

Mackay Council have decided which company to go with after putting out a solar tender last year. The Mackay solar project will be built by a Brisbane-based company – Akcome Power – who offered a significantly lower price than their competitors. 

The Mackay Solar Tender Overview.

We wrote about the initial tender process last year – the initial pool of EOI respondents was 16 companies, which ended up being whittled down to four.

Akcome Power Pty Ltd won the tender with a price significantly lower than the other three remaining respondents. Personally I’d be a bit wary of such a major discrepancy between quotes, so let’s dig a little deeper. Akcome’s proposal involves the usage of Huawei and ABB inverters – with 10 year warranties – and ‘unspecified’ solar panels with 30-year warranties.

Nevertheless, consultancy Peak Services reviewed the proposal and Akcome as a company and came away satisfied. Have Mackay Council got a fantastic deal or will they end up paying the prices for not paying the price and end up with a system where performance doesn’t meet expectations or quality issues abound? Time will tell. There are certainly plenty of perturbed solar companies in North Queensland right now.

According to the council, the final price will be offset by a little over half a million in STCs (small-scale renewable energy certificates). This, in conjunction with other ‘council and contingency costs’, will bring the final price to around $1.97 million.

“Council, like households, has been hard hit by rising electricity prices,’’ Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said in a statement last Friday, according to One Step Off The Grid.

“This fairly modest initial outlay is an investment in the future which will provide ongoing cost savings.”

Mackay Solar Council Tender
Mackay Solar Council Tender (source: mackay.qld.gov.au)

This will be a great thing for solar jobs in Mackay – the 21 council facilities will require plenty of help getting the solar installed – and it seems like the majority of it will be going to local installers:

“Akcome has advised it will engage local Clean Energy Council of Australia-accredited electricians, as well as local non-accredited experienced electricians to work with them, plus local trades assistants,” Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said.

“They expect to use 60 to 70 per cent Mackay-area based tradespeople to complete the installation.”

You can read the minutes of the Mackay council meeting where they decided which company to use by clicking here

 

Clare solar farm in North Queensland now online.

The Clare solar farm, Queensland’s biggest solar farm at 100MW capacity, has connected to the grid and started exporting renewable energy. This is one of many solar projects due in 2018, totalling around 1400MW.

About the Clare Solar Farm

Clare Solar Farm
Clare Solar Farm (source: claresolarfarm.com.au)

The Clare solar farm project is located around 35km south-west from Ayr in North Queensland. It’s the biggest operating solar farm in the state, dwarfing the incumbent 50MW Kinston solar project. It is owned by Lighthouse Solar who also have ownership of the Hughenden solar farm which has a 20MW capacity and is about to begin production itself. 

We wrote about the Clare solar farm last July when it was a 125MW plant potentially going up to 150MW. It’s been launched with 100MW with the space to potentially expand down the track. They’ve signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Origin Energy along with the Bungala solar farm, which will be the biggest solar farm in Australia when it completes later this year.

According to the Clean Energy Council, around $2.6 billion of solar projects will be connected to the grid in 2018, adding around 1400MW of capacity. A solar forum held in Brisbane by the CEC last week noted that the boom in solar investment (both domestic and commercial) has led to 2760 Australian solar jobs added to the economy. 

“Large-scale solar has gone from an emerging technology in Australia at the beginning of the decade to a genuinely game-changing form of power that is cheaper than new coal or gas. It has exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic predictions,”  CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said in comments to RenewEconomy.

“Along with the national Renewable Energy Target, support from the Queensland Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has helped to make this one of the lowest-cost options we have for electricity today.”

Beryl Solar Farm reaches financial close.

First Solar have reached a financial close at the 87MW Beryl solar farm in New South Wales. The farm will be one of the world’s first to use First Solar’s Series 6 modules (with 420+ watts per module) and will be constructed by Downer EDI. 

Beryl Solar Farm – Construction and Financial Close

Beryl Solar Farm
Beryl Solar Farm (site: firstsolar.com.au)

Beryl is around five km from Gulgong in central west NSW. This is one of NSW’s biggest completed solar farms but there are some upcoming projects which will dwarf it (such as the 200MW Sunraysia solar farm in Balranald or the $380m Gunning Solar Farm – with solar there are always bigger plans in place!).

According to a press release on Reuters, the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract is worth about $150m and construction will commence soon.

TransGrid’s head of business growth Richard Lowe discussed how they will be able to integrate into the project: “The project is located approximately 250 metres south of TransGrid’s Beryl Substation, so we have been able to offer a very competitive and attractive asset connection plan to First Solar,” Lowe said in a statement on the TransGrid website.

“The Beryl Solar Farm will connect directly into TransGrid’s high-voltage electricity transmission network via a 66kV connection to a new bay at Beryl Substation.

“This connection will allow the export of 87 megawatts of power into the National Electricity Market – enough to serve the needs of approximately 25,000 average NSW homes, while the associated carbon emission displacement is equivalent to taking about 45,000 cars off the road.” the statement from TransGrid continued.

TransGrid will oversee the construction and operation of a new substation at the Beryl solar farm so they’re able to then connect that to the existing Beryl substation. This will happen in the second half of the year. 

If you’d like to learn more about the Series 6 module please click here to watch a video on the manufacturing process. 

Council Solar in Bendigo gets a boost.

A partnership between the City of Greater Bendigo and local community groups has seen council solar in Bendigo continue to climb. The city’s myriad PV solar installations will save the council around $14,000 in electricity with the panels installed on a number of council owned buildings in Bendigo.

Council Solar in Bendigo

Geelong council will be installing solar at the Strathdale Community Centre, Long Gully Community Centre, California Gully Mechanics Institute and Canterbury Park Pavilion.

The Bendigo Advertiser is reporting that the $50,000 solar installations had funding from the Federal Community Solar Program and the City of Greater Bendigo managed the grant. 

Bernie O’Sullivan, Bendigo Council’s director of strategy and growth, spoke about the savings, both financial and ecological that council solar in Bendigo will bring to the city:

“These new solar panels are expected to create more than 55,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year and create savings of approximately $14,000 a year in electricity costs,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“The solar panels are also expected to reduce greenhouse gases by 72 tonnes a year. Community groups pay the utility bills associated with these four facilities, so the solar panels will mean reduced costs for those clubs.”

“We were very pleased when the club representatives approached us and we have assisted by applying for funding and getting the panels installed.”

Geelong council have already installed solar at Eaglehawk Recycling Centre, Annie Galvin and Helen Jessen Early Learning Centres and the Epsom Huntly Recreation Reserve Pavilion.

Council Solar in Bendigo - Bendigo Aquatic Centre
Council Solar in Bendigo – Bendigo Aquatic Centre (source: BAC Facebook Page)

The Bendigo Aquatic Centre will be next – another (council funded) 50 kilowatts of PV solar will be installed there later this year. This will bring Bendigo up to 281.5 kilowatt solar installations in the last 12 months. Always fantastic to hear about council working with its constituents to install renewable energy.

Council solar has been a big thing lately, like the Lismore floating solar farm, Geelong council’s decision to install solar panels above its swimming pools, and Newcastle City Council’s plans to cut electricity usage by 30% within 2 years and usage of the Newcastle solar farm.

Solar panels on new homes mandatory in Cali

Solar panels on new homes will be mandatory for most new homes built in California from 2020 as per new building standards ratified by the California Energy Commission on Wednesday.

Solar panels on new homes

Solar panels on new homes - sunpower
Solar panels on new homes in California to benefit Sunpower (source: sunpower.com.au)

This move is the first in the United States which will provide a welcome boost to solar panel manufacturers and installers. According to the Australian Financial Review, California adds about 80,000 new houses per year. Currently, the California Solar & Storage Association estimates that 15,000, or almost one in five homes come with solar. The new standards are expected to increase demand for solar systems by 10-15%. 

The new mandatory solar scheme will raise the cost of a new home by nearly $10,000, according to estimates. This will mean around $40 USD per month in extra mortgage repayments which will be more than offset by a projected $80 USD saving on energy bills. 

“We cannot let Californians be in homes that are essentially the residential equivalent of gas guzzlers,” Commissioner David Hochschild said before the vote.

 
Tom Werner of SunPower, a San Jose solar company, was naturally rather excited about the prospect, telling people in an interview about his thoughts of the future of solar in the golden state: 
 
“We think it’s another example of California policy preceding what will happen in other markets,” he said.
 
According to a 2017 US Department of Energy report cited by the Energy Commission, just 9% of single family standalone homes in the state (which has 40m residents) currently have solar panels installed. This should increase that nicely, with shaded buildings or buildings with tiny roofs exempt from the new mandatory solar systems.
 
Is it only a matter of time before we see these new guidelines working in new communities alongside companies like Power Ledger, whose microgrid and blockchain technology allows for largely self-contained community solar options?
 
 

NSW solar feed-in tariff halved for 18/19.

The NSW solar feed-in tariff is set to halve in 2018/19 as the New South Wales regulator (IPART) has flagged changes to its price guide, citing lower wholesale prices as the main catalyst.

NSW solar feed-in tariff

NSW Solar feed-in tariff 2018
NSW Solar feed-in tariff 2018 (source: ipart.nsw.gov.au)

IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal for NSW) released a draft publication entitled ‘Solar feed-in tariffs: the value of electricity from small-scale solar panels in 2018-19‘ on Tuesday. It sets the benchmark for exported solar back into the grid for 7.5c/kW rather than the 11.9-15c/kWh range we saw in 2016/17.

It’s important to note that this is merely a benchmark and supply/demand will continue to define how much solar export it worth. With the wholesale prices currently falling and tipped to continue in 2018/19, it makes sense to see the FiTs adjusted accordingly.

IPART justified their decisions by explaining retail prices would rise if they didn’t slow down the FiT given the rapidly sinking wholesale prices (the most recent forward contract wholesale price from the ASX is 7.4c/kWh):

“We set the draft benchmark for the all-day solar feed-in tariffs based on our forecast of the average price that retailers would pay for solar exports across the day (weighted by solar output) if they were buying them on the wholesale market,” the report advises.

“For 2018-19, our draft all-day benchmark is 7.5c/kWh. We consider this benchmark is reasonable, and that setting a higher benchmark would lead to unacceptable outcomes.

“In particular, if retailers were required to pay more for these solar exports than they would pay for wholesale electricity on the NEM, retail prices for all customers would need to be higher to recover the difference,” the IPART report continues.

We’ve written previously about the NSW solar tariffs with regards to retail purchase or electricity – there’s a large disparity between offers and we expect that to continue. Whether you are feeding back into the grid or not, it’s important to be across the solar deals so you’re getting maximum return from your investment / paying as little as possible for your electricity.

Any questions? Please ask below!

Blockchain – Power Ledger in Puerto Rico?

Blockchain tech provider Power Ledger in Puerto Rico – the Australian company are looking to help the struggling Caribbean island with its ongoing energy woes by implementing their technology into microgrid resources.

Power Ledger in Puerto Rico

Power Ledger in Puerto Rico
Power Ledger in Puerto Rico (source: wikipedia.org)

We posted about Tesla’s input last October when they had a look at a microgrid in Puerto Rico – apart from the initial six, we haven’t seen many more of the Tesla Powerpacks installed – although hundreds of Powerwalls were also sent to help. Since PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) has a $9 billion USD in debt to Wall Street it’s a difficult situation for PR.

According to Bloomberg, Power Ledger have hired Dante Disparte, a Puerto Rican grid resiliency and security expert who is also CEO of advisory firm Risk Cooperative. Disparte spoke of the need to shore up the grid before any further problems – noting that it won’t be long until Puerto Rico sees more wild weather: 

“The next hurricane season is but three weeks away and the grid is not reliable — that is part of the urgency,” said Disparte.

Power Ledger are working with factories and regulators to help companies on the island buy solar panels and battery storage. They’ll then use the blockchain technology to allow companies to trade energy with each other, and to sell supplies to employees or the community. This exchange will be able to take the forms of non-traditional (or, depending on which way you look at it, very traditional) exchange – for example you’ll be able to buy power via cash, cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin or Ethereum) or even labour. 

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority CEO Walter Higgins said in an interview last week that it will be another couple of months until they finish restoring electricity to the remaining 25,678 customers still in the dark following the storms ~8 months ago. So obviously they need to start looking at measures that will help them next time there’s a problem.

Disparte said this isn’t going to be about “just building back the old grid waiting for the next crisis and the next wave of financial constraints.” They’re trying to completely change the way Puerto Rico can address issues like this in the future and this is an inspiring real-world usage of this technology.

Power Ledger’s investors will be able to make investments in Puerto Rico energy assets later this year using their POWR tokens. If you want to learn more about it please click here to view our article on Power Ledger.

 

Solar in Bundaberg leads Australia’s top suburbs.

Solar in Bundaberg leads Australian suburbs for PV solar update as aerial imagery company Nearmap are reporting that last year 1078MW of rooftop solar systems were installed across Australia. Seven of the top ten suburbs are in Queensland and the other three are in Western Australia – with a huge bump in the number of rural and coastal towns installing more solar power systems than ever before. 

Solar in Bundaberg

Solar in Bundaberg
Solar in Bundaberg 2017 (source: RealEstate.com.au via Nearmap)

We’ve seen quite a lot of work done in Bundaberg so it’s no surprise to see they are the biggest suburb in Australia with the highest solar power uptake. Walking around you can see systems on many roofs and Stockland are installing a solar system on top of their Bundaberg shopping centre.

Nearmap executive Shane Preston discussed how they were able to use their software to have a visual on how much the landscape has changed, and how we will see even more as the technology/price continues to move in the right direction. Mr. Preston noted that using technology like Nearmap allow you to have a clearer look on how much solar is actually being installed in households Australia wide:

“But when you look at it from the air, you can observe in incredible detail the renewable energy uptake occurring across our country,’’ he said.

“As the benefits of renewable energies like solar continue to surface, we can expect to see more demand for installations,’’ he continued, in comments made to news.com.au.

Nearmap (visit their website here) worked with the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) to come up with the statistics (in a sense – as per Your Mortgage, Nearmap flew over 88% of the population in urbanised areas six times in the last year to help document Australia’s solar revolution) – so even though the statistics come from the CER they’ve been helped along by Nearmap’s great service. 

Australia’s Biggest Solar Suburbs

Bundaberg North – 11,756
Erskine – 11,409
Nikenbah – 10,517
Caloundra – 9308
Toowoomba – 8580
Hocking – 8416
Pacific Pines – 7724
Mackay – 7263
Raceview – 7295
Canning Vale – 7116

 

Ross River Solar Farm (Kelso, Townsville)

The $202 million, 148MW Ross River Solar Farm in Kelso, near Townsville in North Queensland is currently under construction. It’s the largest operating single stage solar farm in Australia and will comprise of 413,000 solar panels on single axis tracking systems.

Ross River solar farm

Ross River Solar Farm
Ross River solar farm (source: rossriversolarfarm.com.au)

The solar farm reached a financial close last May under Palisade Investment Partners and ESCO Pacific. Built on a disused mango farm over 202 hectares in a rural residential area near Ross Dam, it received DA (Development Approval) from the Townsville City Council in June 2016 (you can see the Town Planning Report they submitted by clicking here). They’ve signed a 13-year power purchase agreement with EnergyAustralia – with a new buried cable 132kV transmission line to connect the project to the Ross River Bulk Supply Substation being run to help facilitate the PPA. 

The project is funded via equity from the Palisade Renewable Energy Fund and three of Palisade’s clients, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), VicSuper and HESTA.

Palisade Managing Director and CEO, Roger Lloyd, said: “We are excited about this investment which further diversifies Palisade’s renewables portfolio. Palisade’s hands-on approach to taking greenfield projects through the development phase to financial close allows us to shape our investments in a way that minimises risk and maximises returns.”

According to an article from the Toowomba Chronicle, up to 250 North Queensland solar jobs are being created through this project. Downer Utilities, part of the listed Downer Group, is the lead construction contractor and you can click here to see their current solar job listings if you’re interested in joining the project.

The Ross River solar farm is set for completion later this year and is expected to operate for up to 40 years. We’ll keep you updated with any interesting developments we hear about it.