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.”

Large scale solar in NSW to explode in 2018.

Large scale solar in NSW under the Berejiklian government is about to kick up a notch, as 11 large-scale solar energy plants have been approved in the last 12 months. 2018 is also off to a great start with the 500,000 PV solar panel, 170MW Finley Solar Project in the Riverina being approved. 

Large scale solar in NSW

Large Scale Solar in NSW
Large Scale Solar in NSW (source: smh.com.au via NSW Government)

NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin contends that NSW is helping lead the charge (for our money South Australia and Queensland are well ahead right not, but in any case) for solar power in Australia: 

“These projects will ensure our energy security and with many more in the pipeline, NSW is in a stronger position than other states,” he said.

Although NSW only has half the amount of rooftop solar PV as Queensland and South Australia (15% as opposed to 30%) – these figures are definitely a step in the right direction.

 According to Planning Minister Anthony Roberts quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1800 jobs have been created and the ten solar plant approvals in 2017 were double the 2016 number: 
 
The solar plants “collectively reduce carbon emissions by over 2.5 million tonnes, which is equivalent to taking around 800,000 cars off the road”, Roberts said. 
 
Estimates from the Smart Energy Council (an amalgam of the Australian Solar Council and the Energy Storage Council which occured late last year) project that 1.4GW of rooftop solar and 2.5-3.5GW of solar farms will be added to Australia’s solar arsenal in 2018, a massive increase from the record 1.3GW for both rooftop and solar farms that we saw in 2017. 

“With some of the best sunshine anywhere in the world and lots of good locations available, it is not surprising that NSW is up there with Queensland as one of the national frontrunners for new large-scale solar power projects,” Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said.

Solar Powered Trams in Melbourne / VRETs

Victoria has been working on a plan for solar powered trams over the past year and it looks like the Andrews government has moved one step closer with the project – announcing plans to build two new Victorian solar farms to power Melbourne’s tram networks. If that phrase conjured up the image of a bunch of trams with solar panels on top, unfortunately not yet – but using renewable energy to power public transport is a great step forwards. We already have projects like the Valdora solar farm run by the Sunshine Coast Council to power all their energy needs so it’s very encouraging to see the public sector moving in (some semblance of) lockstep with private innovation and investment. 

Melbourne’s Solar Powered Trams

Premier Daniel Andrews Solar Powered Trams
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announces Solar Powered Trams.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced that Bannerton Solar Park and the Numurkah Solar farm have won tenders to provide renewable energy to power Melbourne’s trams, offering 100MW and 38MW respectively for the network. The $100m Bannerton project will consist of 95,000 solar panels and is expected to reach full completion by July 2018. The Numurkah Solar Farm will output 100MW via 300,000 solar panels on 500 hectares, but only 38MW of this will be going to the government. French solar plant developer Neoen (who will partner with Tesla to create the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in South Australia) will commence construction in early 2018.

In January Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio advised that they would use one solar plant with 75MW of power – and that half of this would go to the tram network as 35MW was sufficient to cover the energy needs of 410 Melbourne trams. Despite opposition energy minister David Southwick decrying it at the time as a ‘media stunt’ and said Andrews’ government should be ‘fighting for the most affordable power deal for Victorians’, the government has forged ahead and have doubled down on their renewable energy plans – announcing Victoria’s Renewable Energy Targets for 2020 and 2025. 

Victorian Renewable Energy Target

Legislation introduced to Parliament (the first time RETs have been enshrined in state legislation in Australia) last week has set Victoria’s RETs (Renewable Energy Targets) to 25% at 2020 and 40% by 2025. According to the Herald Sun, they haven’t released any modelling showing what the figures are based on, but the RET will mean a cut to energy prices of $30 p.a. for an average family. 

According to Andrews, “The VRET will cut the average cost of power for Victorians by around $30 a year for households, $2,500 a year for medium businesses and $140,000 a year for large companies, while driving a 16 per cent reduction in Victoria’s electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions by 2034-35.”

The VRET legislation allows for a competitive reverse auction (i.e. the lowest bidder wins) for up to 650MW of power (enough to power Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley combined) , which Clean Energy Council chief exec Kane Thornton says will ‘turbocharge’ the renewable energy industry in Victoria, calling it a ‘major step forward for communities, businesses and the state’s renewable energy industry’. 

Political grandstanding or a massive step forward for renewable energy in Victoria? Is it necessarily a zero-sum game? We’ll know very soon – watch this space and we’ll keep you updated on how things are going! With the first legally binding state RETs Victoria are certainly putting their money where their mouth is and doing their bit to reduce emissions and move towards a renewable energy future. 

Redback Smart Hybrid System / EnergyAustralia

Queensland based solar company Redback Technologies have teamed up with EnergyAustralia to offer a “next generation” smart solar plus storage system, named the Redback Smart Hybrid – which is slated to pay for itself within seven years.

Redback Smart Hybrid System

Redback Smart Hybrid Battery Enclosure
Redback Smart Hybrid Battery Enclosure (source: redbacktech.com)

According to the Australian Financial Review, the system will utilise smart technology to optimise use of solar panels and batteries depending on usage and weather patterns. It’ll also have an app which allows users to remotely control and monitor operation of the Redback Smart Hybrid system.

Estimates from EnergyAustralia say that a normal household with usage of 8000kWh / year will save around $1,500 a year with the Redback Smart Hybrid system (4.9kW solar array and 3.3kWh battery). That system would cost around $9,000, or $7,000 to retrofit to existing panels with some modifications to the inverter. One of the main bonuses of the system is that it’s modular – so customers are able to scale up if they’re interested in expanding. It makes use of the Redback Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter which is designed in Brisbane, and different batteries / solar panels depending on your circumstances.

Kane Thornton, CEO of the Clean Energy Council called the system an example of the “game-changing” tech currently coming out to help combat rapidly rising electricity bills.

Andrew Perry of Energy Australia was circumspect to the AFR about specific sales goals for the system, but did advise that they have “strong ambitions for growth”. It certainly seems like we are heading very quickly to the point where solar + storage is a no-brainer for certain types of consumer – especially with the ‘smart technology’ removing the need for spreadsheets and PhDs for those wanting to get a strong result from their solar investment. To get a system like this for under $10,000 is a great deal – we’ll be very interested to see how sales go over the coming months.

Redback Smart Hybrid vs Tesla Powerwall

Technically the Redback Smart Hybrid is just an inverter + smart energy management system, but the Smart Hybrid system being offered by EnergyAustralia is an ‘all in one’ system. In comparison to the Powerwall which is just an inverter + storage,  it’s a bit difficult to compare them fairly. It is important to note that given the modular design of the Smart Hybrid, you’re able to ‘start off small’ with a 3.3kWh battery (as opposed to the Powerwall 2, which you can also add to, but only in increments of 13.4kWh) and grow from there.

The PowerWall is significantly more expensive than the Redback, and doesn’t include solar panels. However, if money is less of an issue and you’re prepared to wait, the Tesla Solar Roof Australian release date is currently “early 2018” and will undoubtedly be a premium solution for those who are interested in aesthetics along with quality.

It seems that both systems have their own niche depending on how much one wants to pay – but you certainly couldn’t be faulted for taking a look at the Redback Smart Hybrid price point and being impressed. If the smart tech works like they say it does, it’ll be a very powerful contender against all comers. Not having to worry about compatibility is definitely a big plus – although the battery / panels used may differ depending on your circumstances, EnergyAustralia will ensure the system fits together nicely.

The Redback / EnergyAustralia Partnership

EnergyAustralia invested $9.3m into Redback Technologies last October – their first major investment. The two companies have been working together on various projects including back in April where they inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to bring Redback’s solar tech to Dubai South for a pilot project.

Have a look at the video below which introduces Redback Technologies, their founder and MD Philip Livingston, and explains more about their partnership with EnergyAustralia.

Battery Storage Laws under fire

The solar battery storage industry is currently locked in a fierce battle with Standards Australia to halt new battery storage laws which would severely impact the uptake of residential battery storage in Australia. The draft regulations have been released and are now being discussed throughout the industry.

Battery Storage Laws

The main problem is that there aren’t currently any Standards Australia regulations for domestic battery installations – something that obviously needs to be identified and managed. The Clean Energy Council (CEC) already released a set of industry rules in 2016 which limit home batteries to ‘a dedicated equipment room or battery room’ – advising that installers need to be wary of ventilation, extreme temperatures, and ensure they don’t install in ‘habitable rooms’ e.g. bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens. The CEC’s rules, however, did include an exemption for ‘all in one’ battery and inverter control systems.

Battery Storage Laws - Standards Australia
Draft Battery Storage Laws – Standards Australia (source: standards.org.au)

Standards Australia have released a draft of their regulations for in-house energy storage – and they are far more draconian:

  • Lithium ion batteries will be classed as ‘fire hazard class 1’ and must not be installed inside a domestic dwelling, within a metre of any access or egress area or under any part of a domestic dwelling.
  • Lithium ion batteries will need to be housed in a 3x2m fire shelter with eaves.
  • Consumer groups and the solar battery storage industry have until August 15 to challenge these recommendations.

Dr. Bronwyn Evans,  the CEO of Standards Australia, was quoted in the Australian as saying the draft report is a “comprehensive document” created as “the result of many hours of work from experts representing industry, government and community interests”. They’ve been labelled as ‘over-zealous’ by the CEC.

CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said: “Consumer safety is our first priority, and there is nothing to suggest that this requirement would do anything other than throw up unnecessary barriers and red tape around an industry which is poised to make a big contribution to energy security across the country.”

It seems that these very strict draft recommendations have been put in place in an attempt to mitigate a repeat of the Rudd Government’s Energy Efficient Homes Package program (more specifically, the Home Insulation Program ‘stream’ of this package) in 2010, which was a failure on myriad fronts and also resulted in the deaths of four workers in four separate incidents.

There’s no doubt that we need to be careful and ensure the safety of households with storage and also make sure they’re safe for installers/repairers – but this needs to be managed responsibly, not with knee-jerk and unnecessarily over regulated reactions.

Access Standards Australia’s public comment portal to leave your comment on the new rules by clicking here.

Solar Power in Australia reaches 3.2% in 2016

The Clean Energy Council released figures on Tuesday that show Australians’ energy needs were powered by renewables to the tune of 17.3% in 2016 – the highest since Snowy Hydro was completed 50 years ago. 3.16% of this 17.3% renewable energy was from solar power in Australia – a massive jump of 29% from 2015. According to RenewEconomy, it’s expected to grow considerably in both small and large scale solar PV production – putting us well on track to reach our Renewable Energy Targets (RET) for 2020.

Solar Power in Australia

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton advised that 10 major wind and solar farm projects were completed in 2016 and there are 20 more in the pipeline; he’s confident that we’ll reach our RETs with time to spare.

“Every month brings new project announcements. While total investment in large-scale renewable energy was $2.56 billion last year, $5.20 billion worth of projects have secured finance in just the first five months of 2017 and have either started construction or will begin this year,” Thornton said.

“Innovation continues right across the renewable energy supply chain and new technologies such as energy storage are beginning to get their time in the sun,” he was also quoted as saying. We assume the pun was intended.

Solar Power in Australia 2017
Solar Power in Australia 2017

The Australian Renewable Energy Target 2020

Some more takeaway statistics from the report:

  • Renewable energy provided 17.3% of all Australia’s energy in 2016 – up from 14.6% in 2015.
  • 6,750 battery systems were installed in 2016, 13 times the number installed in 2015.
  • Hydro is still far and away the biggest contributor to Australia’s renewable energy, comprising 42.3% of the total amount.
  • In 2017, building a renewable energy plant is now cheaper than coal and gas-fired power plants.
  • About half of the projects already underway or set to commence in 2017 are for large-scale solar, due to price per kWh nearly halving in the last two years.
  • Approximately 17,500 GWh of renewable energy was created in 2016 – as the Renewable Energy Target is 33,000GWh we still have a way to go but progress is looking positive.
  • Large scale solar is almost 50% of its cost two years ago and is slated to play a huge part in reaching our RET in 2020.

Click here to read the Clean Energy Australia Report 2016 in full at the CEC website.