Darwin Solar – What’s Going On?

As Australia’s sunniest capital (Darwin gets more sunlight year-round than any other major city – an average of nine hours every day), Darwin solar is certainly in the doldrums. As per the Australian PV Institute, the entire Northern Territory’s PV solar output as of January 2017 was a mere 4,049MWh (the lowest in Australia, less than Tasmania, and a ridiculous amount behind state leader Queensland who output 126,629MWh that month). What’s wrong with solar power in the Northern Territory, its capital Darwin, and what can be done to fix it?

Darwin Solar – the situation

According to the Australian Energy Council‘s latest report, residents of the Northern Territory are paying the second highest for electricity in the country, behind Tasmania. The ABC website quotes John Grimes of the Australian Solar Council that a third of homes (freestanding) in QLD and SA have PV solar installed on their roof, but this number is only 11% in the Northern Territory.

Darwin Solar - Australian Solar Installs 2016
Darwin Solar lagging behind in Australian Solar Installs for 2016 (source: abc.net.au)

The Northern Territory has a renewable target, which is to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030 – so it’s obvious that something needs to give if they’re going to get anywhere close to that. ABC quote an adviser to the NT Government, Alan Langworthy, who notes that the number of solar installations in the area is “artificially low” – noting that 40% of occupants in Darwin are renters, and as solar power for renters is still a tricky and mostly unexplored topic, it makes sense there will be less solar installations.

“Having a very high transient [and] rental population in the NT tends to have driven down enthusiasm in rooftop photovoltaics,” Langworthy said.

Also to note is that solar panels need to be signed off by a building certifier, which adds ~$900 to the cost of each installation. Perhaps another reason uptake has been slow is that back in 2011 when states were offering high tariffs to incentivise initial uptake, the gov’t offered 19.23c/KwH to feed back into the grid – in comparison to 44c/kWh in WA and QLD, or 60c/kWh like Victoria.

Perhaps the answer is for the government to consider some sort of subsidisation scheme or generous tariff for residential solar – maybe something targeted specifically to landlords could be a step in the right direction.

We will see what the NT have in store when they release their policy on how they plan to reach the 50% renewable energy target.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the area, however – Alice Springs solar has been boosted by the $8.3m BESS (Battery Energy Storage System) which Vector Energy will be installing by late 2017 to help improve the reliability of base-load power for Territorians. We’ll wait and see what impact this has on Northern Territory solar and which steps they take in order to try and reach their Renewable Energy Target.

Remote NT Solar hits 10 site target.

The Northern Territory government has reached its goal of offering remote NT solar to ten remote Aboriginal communities – saving the usage of over one million litres of diesel fuel and representing a $27 million dollar investment in renewable energy.

Remote NT Solar Overview

‘Tranche one’ of the program has been completed – according to EcoGeneration, it will generate 3.325MW at the ten remote Aboriginal communities – via the installation of 10,000 solar panels. It’s being jointly funded by ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) and the Northern Territory government; with its estimated cost over the full timeline of the program at $55m – in order to save the usage of 94 million litres of diesel fuel. The project has been managed by Power and Water and is called Solar Energy Transformation Program (SETuP).

Power and Water CEO Michael Thomson was quoted as saying “The completion of tranche one is on the trajectory to transform the way energy is supplied with hybrid solar and diesel power generation – …the state of the art installation of integrated electricity supply will reduce emissions and local pollution with fewer fuel trucks and barges visiting the communities.”

The current remote NT solar farms will provide approximately of 5000 kWh/day to power more than 570 households, with another 12 communities in line to receive panels, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner has advised. Ivor Frischknecht, the ARENA CEO, said “We’ve seen the benefits of renewable energy off the grid with mining and we know Solar SETuP can deliver the same results for Aboriginal communities”.

Remote NT Solar
Remote NT Solar (source: skynews.com.au)

As the installation of solar energy in the Northern Territory grows (despite receiving an average of nine hours of sunshine every day, year round, they have been lagging behind on solar PV installations), expect to see a lot more stories like this. It’s great to see the government and ARENA helping minimise the usage of expensive and polluting diesel fuel in favour of renewable energy. Have a read about the Dubbo Solar Project if you want to read more about solar power for Aboriginal communities.

Alice Springs Solar to end blackouts

Some big news coming out for residents suffering the solar drought in the Northern Territory – the new Battery Energy Storage System will transform Alice Springs solar and is slated to be one of the largest grid-connected storage solutions in all of Australia.

BESS and Alice Springs solar

Solar Energy in the Northern Territory has lagged far behind the other Australian states in terms of residential and commercial solar uptake (January 2017 PV output was 4,049MWh vs Queensland’s 126,629MWh) – so it’s great to see new government owned company Territory Generation announce the Battery Energy Storage System (BESS).

Territory Generation Logo - Alice Springs Solar
Territory Generation Logo (source: territorygeneration.com.au)

The cutting-edge BESS will be installed by Vector Energy and will be a 5mW storage system, capable of supplying energy to the grid for up to 40 minutes if required.

It will cost approximately $8.3 million to develop and modelling done by Territory Generation, or ‘T-Gen’, shows that this will  be recouped within four to five years. Chief Executive Officer of Territory Generation Tim Duignan, was quoted as saying “We’re replacing aged electricity generators with the latest equipment, to provide efficient and reliable power supply, drive down the cost of producing electricity and to support a transition to renewable energy.”

Duignan also noted that this is an important project as it improves the reliability of base-load power – imperative as we transition to renewables (there are overcast days even in the Northern Territory). Just having solar panels or wind generators isn’t enough – as we saw in South Australia last year if base-load power isn’t sufficient it will lead to widespread blackouts. On that note, in the same week as the ABC are reporting that South Australian power prices will be the highest in the world as of Saturday, it’s good to see projects with clear modelling and positive financials – there is quite a lot of short-medium term pain coming up for energy bills nationwide.

The BESS is set to be completed by late 2017.