South Australian Virtual Power Plant Launched

Tesla’s South Australian Virtual Power Plant has begun deployment, with the first 100 Powerwalls combined with a 5kW solar array rolling out across a group of South Australian households this month. This rollout is in conjunction with the Household Storage Subsidy Scheme in South Australia.

South Australian Virtual Power Plant

South Australian Virtual Power Plant Tesla
South Australian Virtual Power Plant Tesla (source: Tesla / YouTube)

Housing SA are working with Tesla to install the distributed Powerwall tech which is going to start with a focus on public housing and will end up with arrays and Powerwalls/other batteries (read on to learn about the Household Storage Subsidy Scheme) on up to 50,000 homes. 

Another 1,000 South Australian households will have the Tesla batteries installed before July 2019, but potentially ‘in a few weeks’, according to Electrek. Lots of different figures floating around right now so we’ll update you as we hear more.

It’s actually quite similar to the 100MW / 129MWh Powerpack project in that the whole system will help stabilise the grid and provide a strong baseload of power so we don’t see the blackout issues South Australia suffered through in 2016. In this case it’s not one big project, however – many homes working together will decrease cost of electricity and ensure grid stability improves (and continues to). 

There’s also a separate scheme for other battery subsidies – underwritten by the $100 million Household Storage Subsidy Scheme. The push to help renters and low-income earners enjoy the benefits of solar has been fantastic and we’re excited to see some stats and results after the estimated 40,000 SA households receive on average $2,500 each. Please note that this particular scheme is for people who already have solar power installed and want energy storage as well and is not related to the Tesla virtual power plant.

You can watch a video Tesla released about the South Australian Virtual Power Plant – it’ll explain what the plan is and what we can expect to see next from SA and Tesla!

There’s also a video on Twitter from Nine News Adelaide where the current (Liberal) SA state government seem happy to take credit for this scheme (which was totally organised under the previous (Labor) government). Bit of an eye-roll, but then again it’s par for the course for our beloved Australian politicians.

Regardless of that, the tenant in this video had a $500+ bill for electricity every quarter, which has been reduced to $175 since having the solar system installed. So those are some fantastic numbers!

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Rodds Bay Solar Farm Receives DA

The Rodds Bay Solar Farm is one step closer, with its owner Renew Estate given planning approval for the 300MW farm around 50km south of Gladstone in Central Queensland.

Rodds Bay Solar Farm

Rodds Bay Solar Farm - Gladstone
Rodds Bay Solar Farm – Gladstone (source: Google Maps)

The Rodds Bay Solar Farm was given planning approval last week with 40 conditions

Renew Estate director Simon Currie spoke about the ramifications of the solar farm – solar jobs for Gladstone, lower prices for residential and commercial solar buyers. 

“At its peak, a solar farm of this size requires about 300 workers on site,” said Mr. Currie in a statement, reprinted in the Gladstone Observer:

“We will collaborate with local training organisations to ensure local job-seekers have the skills needed to construct and operate a solar farm, and we will prioritise the employment of locals in enduring roles once the project is operational.”

“More generation and competition mean lower power prices and Renew Estate looks forward to delivering the cheap solar energy produced by this project to consumers andbusinesses in the greater Gladstone area.”
 
Wirsol Energy, who are a major shareholder of Renew Estate, are no rookies to the game – with 200MW already operating or under construction in Queensland. The company has a goal of deploying 1GW in Australia, according to managing director Mark Hogan.

“This is an exciting time for the solar industry in Australia and Rodds Bay will help us quickly reach our target of 1GW in Australia.” he said.

The Wemen Sun Farm which is located close to the border of Victoria and New South Wales and approximately 110km south east of Mildura is also being built by Wirsol Energy.
 
Renew Estate are also trying to find an alternative site to build a second solar farm in the area. Plans for its Yarwun solar farm are currently on pause after residents complained about the project.
 

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Latrobe Valley solar: 30 public buildings to get PV.

Latrobe Valley solar energy is set to get a boost with 30 public buildings in the area to have rooftop installed at no cost, thanks to a bit of help from the state government in Victoria.

Latrobe Valley Solar Scheme

Energy and environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio was in Moe last week to discuss the scheme and show the Latrobe Valley residents a list of the public buildings in line for free solar upgrades, including in some cases solar hot water and lighting. One such building is the Toongabbie Mechanics Institute – a building where existing solar has already saved $500 on last quarter’s electricity bill. Toongabbie Mechanics Institute treasurer Roger Ries summed it up very succintly:

“It’s made amazing reductions. It’s cheaper for the recreation reserve users and it will make it cheaper for the hall here,” Mr Ries said.

Minister D’Ambrosio spoke about the impact these home solar energy upgrades will have on the lives of lives of 1000 vulnerable Gippslanders.

“The energy upgrades and solar installations will not only help bring down energy prices for the Latrobe Valley, they will create local jobs in the renewable energy sector,” she said.

According to the Latrobe Valley Express, over 1000 households/low incomes earners are also eligible for solar systems as part of the $5 million Latrobe Valley Home Energy Upgrade Program.  Local businesses Gippsland Solar (who are responsible for the fantastic Camberwell Grammar School Solar System), Sunny Afternoons and Rocky’s Electrical will be used for both programs which will create 10 full-time jobs.

Latrobe Valley Solar Scheme
Latrobe Valley Solar Scheme (source: EPA Victoria)

There’s been some great solar news for the Latrobe Valley / Gippsland area with regards to both end-user solutions and large-scale renewable energy production – with a 70MW solar farm on the outskirts of Morwell announced back in April, to be build by ARP Australian Solar who said the plant will be a hybrid solar and battery farm which create “well over 100 jobs [during construction]” for the area. 

“There would also be a number of ongoing jobs … involving security, electrical testing, monitoring and what have you.”, according to ARP Australian solar director George Hughes. 

Mr Hughes elaborated on a potential timeline for the Morwell solar farm: 

“With everything going according to plan, we’re looking to start construction in January or February next year, early 2019.”

We’ll keep you updated on both the Latrobe Valley Solar Scheme and the Morwell solar farm. Exciting times for Gippsland!

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Rooftop solar subsidies – ACCC calls for axe.

Rooftop solar subsidies should be completely removed and the solar feed-in tariffs should be managed at a state rather than a federal level, according to recommendations from the competition watchdog.

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s electricity affordability report, which was released this week, highlights the cost of our National Energy Market, which include the large-scale renewable energy target, the small-scale renewable energy scheme and solar feed-in tariffs.

The ACCC said the cost of the LRET are expected to fall in the years after 2020, and were happy to leave the scheme to wind up on its 2030 end date. They said that the SRES, however, cost $130 million in 2016-17, and should be wound down and abolished by 2021, almost ten years ahead of schedule, to reduce costs for all consumers – not just those with solar installed.

The report, according to the Australian, found that households with solar panels installed earn $538 per year via feed-in tariffs, which doesn’t count the fact that they pay less for electricity as well:

“Meanwhile, non-solar households and businesses have faced the burden of the cost of premium solar feed-in tariff schemes and the SRES,” the ACCC said.

“While premium solar schemes are closed to new consumers, the costs of these schemes are ­enduring.”

With the New South Wales solar feed-in tariff to drop by 44% this financial year, the glory days of feed-in tariffs could be behind us. But at what point do we stop to count the social cost (i.e. the environmental displacement)? 

Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia - Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
Rooftop solar subsidies in Australia – Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (source: Wikipedia)

The 398 page report has ‘produced vital ammunition to reform energy’, has been ‘hijacked by zealots’ and doesn’t justify the building of new coal-fired power stations, depending on who you ask. About an hour ago Bill Shorten admitted he hasn’t read the ACCC report yet so it’ll be interesting to see what his thoughts are. Certainly just early days for this conversation, but it’s good to see Australia talking about our energy future and trying to come up with a plan. Watch this space! 

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Redflow batteries in Fiji – to power Digital TV rollout.

Redflow batteries in Fiji – Redflow Limited have shipped $1.2m of Redflow ZBM2 batteries to assist Fiji in rolling out digital TV for its population, according to a press release by the Brisbane/Thailand based company.

Redflow batteries in Fiji

Auckland-based telecommunications infrastructure company Hitech Solutions will install the Redflow batteries in Fiji and have ordered US $1.2m of Redflow’s ZBM2 zinc-bromine flow batteries to store and supply renewable energy which will then power the island’s digital TV.

Redflow Batteries in Fiji - Hitech CEO Derek Gaeth
Redflow Batteries in Fiji – Hitech CEO Derek Gaeth (source: Redflow Press Release)

Hitech will install 5-60 ZBM2 batteries at more than 10 sites in Fiji. Many of these locations are on hills and don’t have access to the country’s electricity grid, so they require energy storage instead.

Redflow CEO Simon Hackett said in a press release that this repeat large sale (Hitech bought the batteries in two separate orders) shows how ZBM2 batteries can displace conventional lead-acid batteries for network power applications in demanding and/or remote environments. “

We are delighted that Hitech has again chosen Redflow batteries,” he said. “This second major sale confirms the unique advantages of our zinc-bromine flow batteries for this high-workload deployment in the tropics. The ZBM2 excels in hot environments and for applications that require high cycle depth and cycle frequency, such as the deployment Hitech is undertaking. This sort of environment and use case wears out lead-acid batteries in relatively short order, requiring their frequent replacement, whereas ZBM2s thrive on heat and hard work.

“We look forward to working with Hitech to ensure its imminent deployments of remote energy systems are successful in a variety of site sizes.”

Redflow’s 10 kilowatt-hour (kWh) ZBM2 is, according to the manufacturer, the world’s smallest zinc-bromine flow battery. The ZBM2 runs at a native 48 volts DC, which means it’s simple to install and deployable in scalable parallel clusters which means high availability, high scale deployments at the largest sites.

The ZBM2 battery comes with a 10-year or 36,500 kWh warranty – a much longer operating life than lead-acid batteries, which are typically replaced every 18-36 months when used in warm climates.

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Solar PV installations in Australia Triple From 2017

Solar PV installations in Australia have tripled in the first half of 2018 in comparison to solar uptake in 2017. How will this affect our renewable economy and can we expect this to continue for the rest of the year? Where are all the installs coming from? Let’s take a look. 

Solar PV installations in Australia

Solar PV installations in Australia Triple From 2017 (source: Canberra Times via Green Energy Markets)
Solar PV installations in Australia Triple From 2017 (source: Canberra Times via Green Energy Markets)

The Canberra Times is reporting that household systems are now, on average, around 5 kilowatts. As the technology improves we’ll see this figure rise and (potentially) prices fall. They’ll certainly fall in terms of per watt pricing but the system uptake has resulted in 44% lower feed-in tariffs in New South Wales already – we’ll have to wait and see how this affects the rest of the country. It certainly doesn’t seem to have curbed the ACT’s appetite for solar systems – with the state leading Australia by a huge margin with a 130.8% uptake in installs over Q1+2 in 2018 vs. the same period. 

Green Energy Markets are also predicting that by 2020 renewable energy will represent around 33% (1/3) of Australia’s energy mix – almost double the 17.3% measured in 2015. Ric Brazzale of Green Energy Markets told the Canberra Times they are expecting to see around 30% higher figures by the end of the year:

“If we continue on at the same rate of installations we will end the year at between 1450 MW to 1500 MW – this will be more than 30 per cent higher than the 1100 MW installed last year,” he said.

It’s important to note that the amazing growth commercial solar (i.e. systems which are more than 15kW) has also seen over the last 12 months is heavily reflected in these figures. Over a quarter of June’s solar system demand is due to companies wanting to insure themselves from rapidly rising electricity prices and take control of their bills back by installing a commercial solar system on their premises. 

If you’re interested in reading all the specifics of their report, please click here to download Green Markets’ Renewable Energy Index for May 2018.

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Logan solar trial to go ahead for low-income households.

Logan solar power has received a boost as Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s state government offer a solar trial for low-income families, following the success of similar schemes in Cairns and Rockhampton. 

Logan Solar Systems for low-income households

Logan Solar Systems for low-income househoulds
Logan Solar Systems for low-income househoulds (source: AFR.com)

According to Yahoo, the solar panels will be installed on selected state-owned homes in the Waterford, Coomera, Woodridge, Logan, Algester and Springwood electorates. It appears that a discounted per kilowatt-hour price will be offered to those who join the scheme. 

Click here to view the statement on the Queensland government’s website about expressions of interest to find an energy partner for the Logan solar trial. 

Energy Minister Dr Anthony Lynham spoke about the savings that can be had for families undertaking this scheme:

“The Queensland Government is committed to increasing the uptake of renewable energy to drive jobs and investment and reduce emissions.

“In Cairns and Rockhampton we are expecting to see savings of up to $250 per year on electricity bills and we want to bring savings to tenants in Logan as well,” Dr Lynham said.

According to the press release, more than 800 solar panel systems have been installed in Cairns and Rockhampton as part of the scheme; and now it’s greater Brisbane’s turn. 

The possibility of solar job creation through this scheme is something the government is also carefully considering: 

“One aspect we will look at is whether the successful tenderer will employ local tradies, including electricians and suppliers,” State Development Minister Cameron Dick said on Monday.

“Logan households will then be invited to participate in the program.”

“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to helping Queenslanders with their cost of living pressures and this will help some of our most vulnerable people,” Mr Dick continued.

Click here to view the statement on the Queensland government’s website about expressions of interest to find an energy partner for the Logan solar trial.  It’s also on the QTenders website from 9 July 2018 – https://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/qtenders/

Great news for those following Annastacia Palaszczuk’s environmental policies after also announcing no-interest solar loans in QLD earlier this year under their ‘Powering Queensland’s Future’ plan.

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Buy black solar panels in Australia – cost, review & more.

Today we’ll take a look at black solar panels. How do they perform compared to conventional panels? What are the best brands? And where can you buy them in Australia if you’re so inclined?

Where to buy black solar panels in Australia

Canadian Solar’s robust All-Black panels (CS6K-MS modules – click for datasheet) with 60 solar cells are specifically targeted for consumers in the residential market. 

Sunpower’s residential solar panel X-Series are, according to their website, offered in SunPower® Signature™ Black, “designed to blend harmoniously into your roof.” Built using all-black solar cells and anti-reflective glass to reduce glare, the premium aesthetics can accommodate a variety of architectural styles. Note that they didn’t mention performance at all – but if ‘premium aesthetics’ are important to you then these could be worth checking out (the black panels have 10W less output).

LG Solar’s NeON 2 solar panel comes in conventional colouring and also black. According to the datasheets the black panel is 4.4% larger in order to reach the 315/320 watt output of its less flamboyant solar sibling.

Black solar panels are more expensive and perform slightly worse than blue solar panels. With that said, if looks are important to you some quality manufacturers have some options – you certainly can’t go wrong with LG or Sunpower – and if you have a surfeit of space on your roof the extra 4.4% isn’t going to be a big deal.

Have you got any experience with black solar panels or would like to ask us any questions on them? Please sound off in the comments and we’d be happy to help.

Sunpower X21 Series Black Solar Panels in Australia
Sunpower X21 Series Black Solar Panels in Australia (source: sunpower.com)

Are black solar panels less efficient?

Solar cells can have polycrystalline cells, which have multiple crystals and appear blue, or monocrystalline cells, which are cut from one large crystal and appear much darker than the poly cells. The monocrystalline cells are more expensive and are the ones black solar panels are made out of. These solar panels are made when you use a black backing sheet instead of the conventional white and place the darker monocrystalline cells on it – the panel then appears black (or close enough).

This is, however, only to do with aesthetics – you won’t get any better performance from a black solar panel. In fact, ironically enough solar panel performance degrades the hotter the module gets, and the black backing sheet absorbs more heat – so you’d want to make sure black is super important to you! 

 

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New South Wales solar feed-in tariff to drop by 44%

The New South Wales solar feed-in tariff is set to drop by 44% after IPART, the state pricing regulator, confirmed previously drafted cuts to the state’s feed-in tariff benchmark for 2018/19.

New South Wales solar feed-in tariff

New South Wales solar feed-in tariff IPART
Click to view New South Wales solar feed-in tariff changes via IPART (source: IPART.NSW.GOV.AU)

The regulator, IPART (Independent Pricing and Regulator Tribunal for NSW) advised in May that they will be recommending heavy drops in the tariff with the release of a draft publication entitled ‘Solar feed-in tariffs: the value of electricity from small-scale solar panels in 2018-19. 

It looks like the solar feed-in tariff drops will be going ahead – so let’s take a look at what this means for people with solar, and people without:

As per Renew Economy, IPART justified their slashing of the prices in advising that all customers would be affected if they didn’t act.

“We set the benchmark range 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 this electricity on the wholesale spot market,” the report, released yesterday, said.

“We consider that this is reasonable, and that a higher benchmark would lead to unacceptable outcomes.

“Specifically, if retailers were required to pay more than this for solar exports, they would be paying more than they pay for wholesale electricity on the NEM.

“As a result, retail prices for all customers would need to be higher to recover the difference,” the report continued.

Those who have already invested in solar are a little less magnanimous about the changes – with Shani Tager from Solar Citizens conveying her opinon via email to RenewEconomy: 

“The decision to cut the feed-in tariff punishes solar owners, it’s like getting a pay cut for working overtime,”

That particular analogy might be a bit of a stretch but it’s interesting IPART aaren’t considering the ‘social price’ of carbon like Victoria are currently doing. This has raised the ire of the Greens as well:

“If the NSW government are serious about supporting renewable energy then they should be change the criteria to assess solar feed-in tariffs to recognise the multitude of benefits solar energy brings,” Greens MP Tamara Smith said.

To sign off, IPART gave us a hint of things to come and how they plan to deal with the situation in the future:

“We consider that solar customers should be treated like any other generator in the competitive electricity market, which means that they take or pay the market price – and are not otherwise compensated or penalised for their impact on these prices,” the report said.

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Portable solar panels camping – fridges, reviews

Portable solar panels camping – if you’re thinking about a portable solar panel purchase for your campsite – to power laptops, charge phones, or even run a small fridge – you’re on the right article! Let’s take a look at the three main styles of portable solar panel and which you should choose.

Portable Solar Panels Camping

You have three main choices with regards to portable solar panels – and your choice depends on your unique circumstances.

Portable Folding Panels – the best option if you only camp a few times a year or you’re on a budget. These panels are quite heavy and inflexible, but they’re very simple to move to find a spot in the sun. Unless you’re a pro, we generally recommend starting here. 

Solar Blankets – the mid-range choice. More expensive than portable folding panels but worth the extra investment if you’re a frequent traveller – especially if you’re concerned about space and weight. It’s extremely simple to hang a solar blanket over the hood of your car, over your tent, on a nice sunny rock…

If you are going to have a look at the solar blanket option make sure you pay a little extra for a quality brand as these solar blankets aren’t the cheapest to begin with. If you’re going to invest in them it’s worth your while to get something that will last!

We can recommend the 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS from Redarc. 

Solar panels camping - 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS Redarc
Solar panels camping – 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS (source: REDARC.com.au)

Fixed Panels – for the grey nomad or the frequent traveller, fixed panels have very low setup and are very easy to get working. You do need to park your trailer (or however/wherever you have fixed them) in the right spot to get as much sun as possible – which can be a little annoying. But in terms of performance vs. ease of use, these are the Cadillac of portable solar.

Alternatives for Portable Solar Panels

Although Portable folding panels, solar blankets and fixed panels comprise the bulk of what we’ll recommend for solar camping, there are a couple of caveats we should mention befor eyou go and buy anything.

If you’re not sure how much power you’ll require we can recommend the REDARC Solar calculator selection tool which is a fantastic tool for those planning a getaway!

If you want something simple just to charge a phone or a power bank we recommend giving Solar Paper by YOLK a look.

Any questions or feedback on any of these products? Do you have an issue with your solar powered camp? Please let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to help!

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