UNSW launches SunSPoT – Solar Potential Tool

UNSW have, in conjunction with the Australian Photovoltaic Institute, Solar Analytics and Enosi, launched a solar potential tool, SunSPoT, which uses solar mapping to figure out how much electricity houses or businesses could generate if they installed solar panels on their roof.

SunSPoT – Solar Potential Tool

Solar Potential Tool Sunspot
Renate Egan, Paul Fletcher and Mark Hoffman at the launch of the SunSPoT solar Potential Tool (source: Robert Largent via newsroom.unsw.edu.au)

The SunSPoT tool was developed by the APVI and UNSW along with Solar Analytics and Enosi Pty Ltd. The software was developed as part of the Energy Data for Smart Decision Making project, which was in turn funded by the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program.

Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, Paul Fletcher launched the software on the 6th of April, according to the UNSW newsroom. Fletcher was quoted as discussing the benefits of SunSPoT:

“The Energy Data for Smart Decision Making project will combine mapping with data on solar exposure, energy generation and consumption from precincts across Australia into an open modelling platform.

“Being developed under the Australian Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program, the platform will benefit end users by allowing them to calculate their solar power potential and make informed decisions on investment in solar power generation.”

“This project is an example of how the program encourages collaboration between local governments, research organisations and the private sector to deliver a solution that can be applied locally and shared around the country.” he said.

UNSW Associate Professor and Chair of the Australian Photovoltaics Institute, Renate Egan, discussed how the tool can be used as a pre-purchase/sale analysis, saying:

“SunSPoT uses geographical information systems data to estimate the technical potential of rooftop solar, accounting for the tilt of roof surfaces and shading at the site.  As solar PV continues to be deployed at record rates on Australian rooftops, such analysis can help councils and the electricity industry plan for the solar future.”

If you’re interested in giving the  APVI Solar Potential Tool (SunSPoT) a crack then please click here to launch it. Note that this is no substitute for a proper site visit from a solar professional but will give you a decent ballpark figure, in most cases (well, according to our testing, anyway!)

If you’d like more information on the data and methodology used to power SunSPoT then please click here

Global investment in solar power in 2017

The United Nations are reporting that global investment in solar power in 2017 was substantially higher than any other energy source, with a massive 45% of the investment coming from China. Let’s investigate this a little deeper and see what some industry professionals have to say.  

Investment in Solar Power

In a record-breaking year, the 98GW of new solar capacity is higher than any other tech, including other renewables like wind or water turbines, nuclear or fossil fuels. There’s 6GW of this going to Australia – Iain MacGill from UNSW discussed the massive increase in Australian domestic solar via the ABC:

“We have the highest [per capita] rooftop residential solar market in the world, and by quite a big margin,” Dr MacGill said.

“A large proportion of Australia’s investment has gone into South Australia [and that means] we’re at the leading edge of working out how to integrate that renewable power into the electricity market.”

Professor Ulf Moslener from the Frankfurt School UNAP Centre discussed China’s huge $126 billion investment in solar power, where air pollution currently kills around a million people per year:

“The costs are still falling which makes the dominance in investment terms in China even more thrilling,” he said.

The director of ANU’s Energy Change Institute, Ken Baldwin, said there’s still plenty of room to grow and that the next ‘decade or two’ will see the closing of all Australian coal-fired plants: 

“What will be interesting to see is whether this can be maintained,” Professor Baldwin said.

“There was 6 gigawatts of solar, both residential and commercial installed in [Australia] in 2017.

World’s biggest solar farm planned for Saudis

World's biggest solar farm - Vision Fund

Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank will team up with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to provide initial equity for the world’s biggest solar farm in Saudi Arabia. Softbank and the Saudi Arabians have said that their project will have a gigantic 7.2GW capacity in 2019 and this will grow quickly.

World’s biggest solar farm

World's biggest solar farm - Saudi Arabia
World’s biggest solar farm – Saudi Arabia (source: albawaba.com)

By 2030 they are hoping to have a titantic 200GW of power – this would take up a massive amount of the desert, equivalent to a million football fields, according to Renew Economy.

For scale, worldwide total solar deployment is around 400GW, with the current biggest solar farm in China (the Tengger Desert Solar Park at 1.5GW). Australia’s biggest is the 220MW Bungala Solar Farm in Port Augusta.

According to Softbank and the Saudi Arabians, the Saudi Arabian solar project will be built in two stages next year (in separate projects of 3GW and 4.2GW), and they aim to have 200GW by 2030. This would be a huge change to the country which currently uses 60% oil, as they enjoy the lowest cost of oil production worldwide.

For comparison, Australia only uses 20GW per year so this is an absolutely massive undertaking.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and SoftBank chief Masayoshi Son say phase one will cost $5 billion, with $1b of this money coming from the Vision Fund and the rest will be through project-financed debt. 

The plant will be able to supply enough electricity for Saudi Arabia and ‘much of the middle East’ via exporting – with projected savings forecast to be up to $40b per year. The manufacturing of the solar farm in Saudi Arabia will also result in the creation of 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. 

Masayoshi Son says the projected will “fund its own expansion” so it’s really exciting to see how a project of this size manages to become profitable/cash flow positive so quickly – we’ll be watching it closely. This is the biggest project we’ve covered and it’ll be great to follow it along as it’s built and starts providing power to the Middle East! 

World's biggest solar farm - Vision Fund
World’s biggest solar farm – Vision Fund

 

 

Wesley Vale Solar Farm – Latrobe.

Epuron Projects Pty Ltd have a proposed solar farm, to be known as the Wesley Vale Solar Farm, which will supply energy to Latrobe and the national grid. It will be able to produce up to 25,600MWh of electricity per annum, which is the equivalent of 2900 households. 

Wesley Vale Solar Farm

Wesley Vale Solar Farm
Wesley Vale Solar Farm (source: epuron.com.au/solar/wesley-vale-solar)

The Wesley Vale Solar Farm is still in the planning stages, but it will be located at 213 Mill Road and, according to The Advocate, is going to be the biggest solar farm in the state. 

According to Epuron project manager Shane Bartel via the application the farm hasn’t decided on fixed or tracking arrays for the panels, which will be located on the 35 hectare property.  They’re currently waiting on TasNetworks who are upgrading the local network to see if they’re able to connect directly to the Wesley Vale substation. 

If the application is approved, the Wesley Vale solar farm will commence construction this year and will be built over multiple stages, which may include energy storage in the future. 

Powercom’s Application – Latrobe solar farm

Powercom, according to their general manager Rohan Windsor, are applying to build a smaller fixed array PV system for the landowner of 32 Cherry Hill Road. It’s understood that this is a farmer looking to insulate themselves from the rapidly rising cost of electricity. Windsor discussed this further and was quoted by the Advocate thusly:

“The main factor in all this is the cost of energy is more than doubling. Usually you can off-set 30 to 40 per cent of your bill.

“The larger (farms) may have costs of $500,000, so then there’s a big saving. In agriculture, if you can reduce ongoing costs by 30 per cent, that’s a big saving.

“Since the introduction of the energy price increase recently, and as peoples’ (power) contracts came up for negotiation, we’re seeing more interest in solar.”

According to their website Powercom have created the largest solar installation in Tasmania to date:  1200 solar panels and 317kw at a commercial premises.

You can watch a video about the installation here:

Solar Farms in Tasmania

We don’t get to write that much about solar farms in Tasmania so it’s great to see some news. Renewable energy in Tasmania has been a hot button issue lately, as the state announced plans to be totally self-sufficient by 2022. The vast majority of renewables are generated by hydropower and wind farms. 

Two bidders for Liddell power station.

Delta Electricity have entered the contest with Alinta Energy to buy the Liddell power station – a coal-fired, ageing plant that still pumps out 1680MW and is owned by AGL, who have advised that they’ll close it by 2022.

Liddell Power Station

Liddell Power Station
Liddell Power Station (source: wikipedia.org)

Following the shutdown of the 1600MW Hazelwood coal-fired power plant last year, customers saw power shortages and a spike in power bills. The government is concerned that the same thing will happen if the Liddell power station is shut by 2022 – with PM Malcolm Turnbull directly telephoning AGL chairman Graeme Hunt this week to talk about the sale.

AGL haven’t allowed Alinta Energy or Delta Electricity to do any due diligence on the plant – with Delta MD Greg Everett telling the Sydney Morning Herald is was a major hindrance for the company who have been shut out from performing any in the past, as AGL advised they weren’t willing to sell:

“Would we be interested? If it was for sale we would definitely be interested in doing due diligence on it,” Mr Everett said.

“So we’d be in the same position as Alinta.”

Everett and Delta already operate the Vales Point coal-fired generator in NSW and the company was previously owned by the NSW government. Everett has been quoted as saying there is a ‘reasonable’ chance of extending the life of the program past 2022.

Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery made a statement this morning confirming that their company are interested in Liddell, and if they sign a deal they aren’t going to apply for any government subsidies. Dimery advised that Alinta are willing to invest ~$1 billion AUD to buy the plant and extend its life by five to seven years. This would see the plant shutting down around 2027-2029 instead of 2022. 

AGL are keeping fairly taciturn about the situation:

“AGL is relying on Liddell to generate power for our customers until 2022 and we will require its infrastructure for our replacement plans into the future,” an AGL spokesman told Fairfax Media.

“AGL received an approach from Alinta last night expressing an interest in entering negotiations to acquire the Liddell Power Station. No formal offer has been received.

“Should a formal offer for Liddell be received, it would be given consideration in order to meet our obligations to customers and shareholders.”

There’s no doubt that Australia are moving towards renewable, clean energy and this is a good thing. The transition, however, needs to be done in an intelligent way – it’s be great to be totally renewably powered as soon as possible but it’s going to be a patience game as the technology increases and we work on reliable baseload power while we invest as much in renewable energy generation as we can. Where will we be in 2022, RET wise? It’s hard to say. We’ll keep you updated with any news about the plant’s potential sale. 

The first solar powered house in Australia.

The ABC recently ran an article about the first solar powered house in Australia, the ‘Bos house’ – which was constructed in Victoria 40 years ago. A TV documentary ‘Breakthroughts’ called the house “the first totally energy-independent modern home in the world”.

The first solar powered house in Australia

The first solar powered house in Australia
Solar gate at the Bos’ – the first solar powered house in Australia (source: ABC)

Judy and Michael Bos have a house on a four hectare block at Pearcedale, in south-east Melbourne. They wanted a house which had as much natural insulation as possible so that it would be naturally cool in summer and warm in winter. It was build in 1978 after ‘lengthy consultation’ with architects and investigating other houses:

“We went into other houses, we found that their heating was blasting away and we didn’t need the heat, because the house stays the same temperature all the time,” Judy Bos told the ABC in an interview.

The north-facing side of the Bos’ home is 98% glass, which means it absorbs as much warmth from the sun as possible. If it’s a hot day they have louvres throughout the house to control sunlight. Wind turbines power a dam pump and a 37,000 litre rainwater tank. 

“It was the first house that we knew of that was running exclusively on solar power,” said Michael Harris, who ran tours of the eco-friendly property in the 1980s.

“Back in the 1980s people were very interested in being self-sufficient and being off the grid, and it was very difficult to do.

“The only option you had was to have a clunky, noisy generator in the back shed.”

The Bos’ property was different – where it has a string of polycrystalline celled solar panels to charge a cupboard full of lead acid solar batteries. According to the ABC, solar panels are now 15x more powerful than when the Bos’ place was constructed, and they’re also much, much cheaper. 

The (now sold) house was a labor of love and quite far ahead of its time and the Bos’ say that anyone wanting to follow in their footsteps will find it easy in 2018:

“This is a very old-fashioned solar house,” Ms Bos said.

“We had to deal with what was available at the time … but now there are all sorts of materials that can be used.

“It doesn’t cost any more to put the windows in the right places and to use the right materials, and in the long run you win.”

We’re expecting solar battery installation to increase quite substantially over the coming few years as the technology continues to improve and the cost decreases.  

Metz Solar Farm sold to Clenergy

New South Wales based 120MW PV solar farm Metz Solar Farm, previously owned by a consortium of buyers, has been sold by Pinsent Masons to Clenergy, a major renewable company from China.

Metz Solar Farm

Metz Solar Farm
Metz Solar Farm (source: metzsolarfarm.com.au)

The consortium, which included Infinergey and other unnamed investors (we wrote about the Metz farm in August last year), used Pinsent Masons to advise all aspects of the sale, which was the group’s first major project in Australia. Financial specifics are confidential – we reported last year the farm was bought for around $130m so it’d be interesting to see what it was worth to a buyer right now – unfortunately we’ll probably never know. Keep in mind it hasn’t even started construction yet – that will be around Spring of this year – the solar farm is expected to reach completion early 2019. 

The Armidale-based farm was 100MW when we looked at it last year, but with the application of Clenergy’s push-pull centralized single-axis tracking architecture, it’s now able to generate 120MW. 

Infinergy, who are more known for wind power according to PV Magazine, have put themselves “on the map” with this project – they are now looking to get development and grid connection approvals for 300MW by the end of the year, with a focus on utility scale solar in NSW and Victoria. 

Pinsent Masons partner Ewan Robertson, who, along with associate Lucy Carter, advised on the sale of the project, was bullish about the state of large-scale renewables in Australia: 

“The sale of the Metz solar farm is significant as it not only marks the sellers’ first project sale in the Australian market, it also represents the buyers’ first acquisition in Australia. Further, the speed at which the sale was initiated and completed is a ringing endorsement of the current appetite for renewable energy in Australia,” Robertson said.

“We are delighted to have achieved the successful development and the subsequent sale of Metz Solar Farm, all within a timeframe of 18 months,” said Infinergy CEO Esbjorn Wilmar in a statement.

Self-forecasting trial for solar/wind farms.

A $10m trial funded by ARENA (the Australian Renewable Energy Agency) will allow operators of solar and wind farms to start self-forecasting in order to improve information for the Australian Energy Market Operator and potentially decrease prices.

Self-forecasting – How will it help?

Self-forecasting trial for wind and solar farms
Self-forecasting trial for wind and solar farms (source: aemo.com.au)

The AEMO currently predicts outputs in five minute intervals – but they’re sometimes not completely accurate and as such can require companies to spend extra money so the grid remains stable. These extra costs are then passed onto the consumers by the retailers (by raising power prices). If we were able to have more accurate forecasting of output by solar/wind farms this would decrease prices for everyone.

The new trial will be undertaken by ARENA and the AEMO, and, according to Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, local factors (i.e. weather, geography, operational conditions) will be factored in and result in a complete overhaul of the way renewable production prediction is made across Australia’s National Energy Market.

“If successful, this trial could see wind and solar farms providing their own ‘self-forecasts’ that take into account exactly what’s happened when and where they are located. For example, if a cloud passes over a solar farm or if the wind changes,” Mr Frydenberg said.

 “Self-forecasting at the source will allow wind and solar farms to not only maximise the amount of renewable energy dispatched into the grid but also avoid the need to pay for frequency controls services.”
 
Problems are currently arising when AEMO are over or under-forecasting the amount of energy a farm generates – as it can decrease the stability of the grid which then uses frequency control services to manage the supply and demand. The costs of these services, as always, end up being paid by the end-user. 
 
ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht​ said the trial should help cut down on the costs of grid stabilisation which come from inaccurate forecasting:

“If the forecasts are too high, the wind or solar farm may be obliged to pay for the costs of stabilising, which increases the price of electricity and is ultimately passed on. We are hoping this initiative will change how forecasts for variable renewable energy are used in the electricity market.”

 

Shepparton solar: council to install

Shepparton Solar Farm Proposals / Council Solar

Shepparton solar – the regional Victoria town is going to follow the trend of councils going renewable and install solar power at some of their local facilities, the Greater Shepparton City Council voted this week. The jury’s still out on a number proposed solar farms in Shepparton which are being opposed by some.

Shepparton solar – council investment.

Council solar has been a hot topic over the past 12 months and it’s fantastic to see the Greater Shepparton City Council following suit – Renew Economy are reporting that at a council meeting last week a $225,500 contract to install solar panels on multiple council buildings had been awarded to True Value Solar from Melbourne. 

Cr Bruce Giovanetti made a statement about how important councils doing their part in utilising renewable energy is:

‘‘It’s great to see council is taking a proactive approach to ensuring we can reduce energy consumption costs as much as we can,’’ he said.

Shepparton Solar Farms

Shepparton Solar Farm Proposals / Council Solar
Shepparton Solar Farm (source: greatershepparton.com.au)

The Shepparton News are reporting that five solar farms in Shepparton have been proposed:

  • Tatura East solar farm (45MW)
  • Tallygaroopna solar farm (30MW)
  • Lemnos solar farm (100MW)
  • Congupna solar farm (68MW)
  • Mooroopna solar farm (12MW)

These five farms total more than $300m of investment and will produce over 250MW of power for the area – but not everybody is happy about it. 

According to Greater Shepparton Councillor Chris Hazelman:

‘We’ve heard the relevant objections from people nearby, which indicates concerns about the science, about amenity, about the alienation of agricultural land,”

Hazelman elaborated on how he thinks the dispute will end up in the courts: 

‘‘And in the absence of (state government) guidelines, it would appear that regardless of what decision council makes, either for or against … it will inevitably end up in VCAT. It’s going to make it difficult.’’

We’ve heard the NIMBY argument about ‘prime agricultural land’ from ‘concerned residents’ before (remember Photon Energy’s Brewongle solar farm?) – so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in court. 

A spokesperson for Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had prepared advice for the minister to consider, and he would make his ruling in due course.

You can read more detailed information about the solar farm planning permit applications by clicking here

Boom in Solar Power for Farmers

There’s an ongoing boom in solar power for farmers – ABC are reporting on some irrigators and cane farmers who are looking to insulate themselves from the rapidly rising costs of technology and increase the value of their properties by installing solar systems on their properties.

Solar Power for Farmers

Solar Power for Farmers
Solar Power on Farms (source: cals.ncsu.edu)

National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan told the ABC that the huge increases in electricity has had a twofold effect: 

a) Farm lobby groups are campaigning to reduce electricity costs for producers who aren’t able to remain competitive with prices so high;

b) Some producers are taking the issue into their own hands and installing PV solar panels and/or storage to mitigate these issues as best as possible.

John Russo, an irrigator in Queensland who has a 200 hectare can farm near Childers, developed a solar powered pump with electrician Michael Betts – it’s expected to halve his current power bills:

“I think the net back to me is something like $20,000 per annum so on investment it’s about 13.5 per cent on investment return [for] maybe six or seven years,” he said.

“Beyond that my energy is very cost efficient.”

Russo uses a combination of solar panels, a variable speed driven pump, and a centre pivot irrigator and according to his statistics he has now tripled the size of his peanut plantings. 

Electrician Betts explained the design a little further (which is a network of pipes and pumps to deliver water at an efficient rate while using as little power as possible):

“We are running an electric pump via a variable speed drive and using the solar to compensate the supply of electricity to that,” Mr Betts said.

As we start seeing more forays into private solar investment in Australia it’s interesting to note them coming from myriad sources – be it rural solar, a warehouse in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, or on top of Aldi’s distribution centre – it just goes to show that the renewable revolution will reach all corners of industry as well as the residential sector.