UNSW’s Martin Green wins Global Energy Prize

Sydney professor Martin Green from UNSW has beaten out Tesla Musk to win the $820,000 Global Energy Prize for his work in the field of photovoltaics. Green will share the prize with Russian scientist Sergey Alekseenko, who is an expert in the field of thermal power engineering.

Martin Green and the Global Energy Prize

Martin Green of UNSW
Martin Green of UNSW (source: Wikipedia)

Professor Green is Director of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW. According to the ABC he’s a leading specialist in both mono and polycrystalline ilicone sole cells, having invented the PERC solar cell (PERC cells represent just under a quarter of the world’s silicon cell manufacturing capacity (as of end of 2017)).

We’ve written plenty of articles about UNSW solar – they’re involved in general solar power research, have launched the SunSPoT solar potential tool, and they have also recently signed a 15-year corporate PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with Maoneng Australia and Origin Energy to become 100% solar powered, thanks to Maoneng‘s Sunraysia solar plant.

In 1989, Professor Green and his team were responsible for the solar cells in the first photovoltaic system. In 2014 he was able to double 1989’s energy conversion efficiency of 20% to 40%. 

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs told the ABC that Professor Green had “delivered truly transformational outcomes in renewable energy for more than three decades”.

“Martin is a highly deserving recipient of this global prize and we warmly congratulate him,” he said.

“His fundamental and applied research has transformed the global energy sector and will continue to produce major economic and social benefits, both in Australia and worldwide.” Professor Jacobs continued. 

Professor Green said receiving the award was “a great honour”.

“The efficiency of solar modules is an area whose progress has been faster than many experts expected, and this is good news,” he said.

“We need to maintain the pace of research in Australia, not only to keep our international lead, but also to benefit society by providing a cheap, low carbon source of electricity.”

This is a fantastic reward for one of Australia’s solar stalwarts and we salute Professor Green for his ongoing work with solar power technology.

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UNSW Solar – uni to go fully solar powered

UNSW Solar has taken another huge step forward – the University of New South Wales has signed a 15-year corporate PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with Maoneng Australia and Origin Energy to become 100% solar powered, thanks to Maoneng‘s Sunraysia solar plant.

UNSW Solar 

The Sunraysia solar farm, which will be Australia’s biggest solar farm, is planned to commence construction in April or May of this year, at a cost of $275 million. It will generate at least 530,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year, of which UNSW will purchase 124,000 – almost a quarter. They signed an agreement on December 14, 2017, which will run for 15 years. A three year ‘retail firming’ contract was also signed with Origin, as the electricity retailer. This will help manage intermittency of solar production.

UNSW Solar - UNSW President Ian Jacobs (source: newsroom.unsw.edu.au)
UNSW Solar – UNSW President Ian Jacobs (source: newsroom.unsw.edu.au)

UNSW president and vice chancellor Ian Jacobs discussed the partnership with Fairfax, advising that it would comprise a key part of making UNSW’s entire operation energy carbon neutral by 2020.

“Over the past six months, UNSW has collaborated with our contract partners Maoneng and Origin, to develop a Solar PPA model that leads the way in renewable energy procurement and reflects our commitment to global impact outlined in our 2025 strategy,” he said.

Mr Jacobs wouldn’t provide specifics on pricing, but did note that it will be helpful to UNSW in a financial sense:

“It’s a highly competitive agreement financially,” he said.

“The Solar PPA arrangement will allow UNSW to secure carbon emission-free electricity supplies at a cost which is economically and environmentally attractive when compared to fossil fuel-sourced supplies.”

Energy Action, a company who assisted during the tender by with energy market analysis, noted that the PPA would help UNSW have greater clarity on their future electricity spends and not be as vulnerable to electricity price fluctuations:

“This agreement provides UNSW with a direct line of sight over the source of renewables supply, reduced emissions, and greater certainty around prices over the next 15 years,” Energy Action chief executive Ivan Slavich said.

Kelly Davies, Senior Consultant at Norton Rose Fulbright, was quoted on the university press release as saying: “UNSW is a true leader of innovation. The PPA market has been extremely dynamic in the last 12 months and deals like UNSW’s have been critical in driving real change in the way universities and other users procure energy.”

UNSW have also been the recipient of a few solar grants from ARENA over the past years so the idea of them using renewable energy to research and upgrade renewable energy is certainly a palatable one and it’s amazing to see so much energy from the Sunraysia Solar Plant already accounted for! 

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ACT’s Next Generation Energy Storage Program

The ACT’s Next Generation Energy Storage Program will provide solar batteries to over 5,000 homes and businesses by 2020, offering $25m of funding so ACT residents are able to take advantage of rapidly evolving solar battery technology at a subsidised price. 

Next Generation Energy Storage Program

Next Generation Energy Storage Program in the ACT (source: actsmart.act.gov.au)
Subsidised Solar Batteries – Next Generation Energy Storage Program in the ACT (source: actsmart.act.gov.au)

According to ACT Climate Change Minister Shane Rattenbury there are plans to increase the current amount of storage by up to 36x by 2020: 

“We’ve already had around 400 batteries installed across the city. It’s providing over a megawatt of storage which is both helping households cut their energy bills, manage their own energy usage, but also provide backup for the grid here in the Territory,” he said.

“The battery storage roll-out program is building on Canberra’s reputation as a globally-recognised hub for the renewable energy industry,” Mr Rattenbury was quoted as saying – noting that the program will offer support of up to $825 for each kilowatt of sustained peak output for homes and businesses who install a battery (it can be connected to a new or existing PV solar system). The government estimates that this will represent a subsidy of approximately $4,000 for an average household solar system. 

Six partners have been awarded $3m in grants to help fund the project: ActewAGL Retail, Energy Matters, EPC Solar, Evergen, ITP Renewables, Origin Energy, Power Saving Centre, and Solar Hub. EPC Solar and Evergen were already in the project, the rest are new additions. 

Mr Rattenbury also noted that this project will also help expand the virtual power plant Reposit Power and EvoEnergy are currently trialling: 

“The batteries are also contributing to the world’s largest residential virtual power plant being trialled by Reposit Power and EvoEnergy (formerly ActewAGL Distribution), which allows battery owners to sell their energy to the grid to help support the electricity network.”

For more information and how to apply, click here to download the actsmart battery storage fact sheet

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NAB Solar & Origin – Credit Card Rewards

The National Australia Bank and Origin Energy have partnered up so homeowners will be able to save up to $2,250 on the cost of a new solar system. The NAB Solar credit card rewards scheme will include the option to purchase and install solar panels through Origin via purchasing vouchers with rewards points. 

Origin and NAB Solar Rewards

According to domain.com.au and NAB Consumer Lending executive general manager Angus Gilfillan, the scheme will be launched on November 28 and will max out at $2,250, for new NAB Home Loan and Banking Bundle customers who redeem 350,000 rewards points. 

NAB Solar Rewards Platinum Card
NAB Solar agreement with Origin – Buy a system with points accrued via their Rewards Platinum Card (site: nab.com.au)

According to Mr. Gilfillan, the high cost of entry of solar installations is something NAB are trying to mitigate with their new scheme, saying : 

“We know that cost is a significant factor for consumers when making a purchase, so we hope this initiative makes it easier and more affordable for Australians to make the switch to solar.”

Ryan Willemsen-Bell, the Origin Solar and Energy Solutions General Manager of Business, said that you don’t need to be an Origin customer to take advantage of their offer and they could save almost 60% on a new install in certain circumstances: 

“Using suppliers Fronius and Zeversolar for inverters and China-made panels from China Sunergy and Trina, the outlay for a 3.2-kilowatt solar system would be about $1500 under the new offer compared with a retail price of $3593,” he said.

According to Mr. Willemsen-Bell, the average solar+battery system costs around $13,000 and Origin are trying to find ways to make it more affordable for their customers – offering incentives for solar power users such as a two year interest free payment plan and a Solar Flex power purchase agreement for power from solar panels installed and owned by Origin (an offer which has been taken up by a lot of commercial solar customers, he said). 

We’re not sure how long it’d take to accrue 350,000 rewards points, but this seems like a great way to bring down the initial cost of installing a solar system – please let us know in the comments how you go if you take them up on this offer! 

 

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No-interest solar loans being considered by QLD

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palasczuk and the Queensland Government are considering adding no-interest solar loans to their arsenal of weapons against the rising cost of living in the Sunshine State. Despite the rapid advent of solar energy in Queensland prices are still high and consumer sentiment is at an all-time low.

No-Interest Solar Loans

QLD Treasurer Curtis Pitt advised that the government will offer no-interest solar loans for Queenslanders unable to raise the relatively high cost of investing in solar and battery tech.

“Solar panels and batteries are a great way for households and small businesses to cut their electricity bills, but for some the upfront cost can be a challenge,” Mr Pitt said.

Electricity saving scheme in QLD

Annastacia Palaszczuk - No-interest solar loans in QLD
Annastacia Palaszczuk – No-interest solar loans in QLD (source: queenslandlabor.org)

Earlier this week Ms Palaszczuk threatened to re-enter the retail energy market in Queensland if the Government’s saving scheme isn’t passed on to customers. She vowed to cut $50 from Queenslanders’ energy bills for the next two years and has also introduced a rebate of up to $300 for residents that want to purchase approved energy-efficient appliances.

“The time for action in Queensland is now,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“I’m the only Premier across Australia that can take this action and the reason I can do that is because Queenslanders own their assets.
“They’re our assets, they’re our dividends and now we’re going to use those dividends to help ease the pressures facing families across Queensland.

“Over this term we have used that money to pay down debt and restore frontlines services and now we’re moving to the next phase.”

The Government are giving over a dozen retailers until the end of the week to sign an “energy pledge”, which commits them to a public pledge to reduce bills (in lockstep with the Government’s attempts to reduce the wholesale costs of electricity).

According to the ABC, Origin and Alinta have “immediately said yes” and the rest of the companies have been asked to reply by close of business today. 

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Tempus Energy partner with Origin in SA

UK based clean-tech startup Tempus Energy is expanding into Australia, according to a press release that notes they will be partnering with Origin Energy to pilot ‘flexible energy demand’ in South Australia over the next few months. Their software uses machine learning to maximise savings for customers – analysing data from modern BMS (Building Management Systems), battery storage devices (e.g. the Tesla Powerwall 2), and more – in order to minimise the amount of money spent on electricity. 

South Australia will now have an opportunity to try this software platform out – no word yet on how it will be rolled out in conjunction with Origin but it appears it’ll be a new business model for Tempus. They previously ran a UK supply business which was closed down last year in favour of focusing on countries with “transparent and open wholesale markets”. Will be interesting to see how the offer ends up for the end-user. 

Tempus Energy
Sara Bell of Tempus Energy at “Free Electrons” Startup Accelerator (source: tempusenergy.com)

Tempus Energy in Australia

Tempus, founded by current CEO Sara Bell in 2012, has 11 employees (according to their LinkedIn company profile) and is active in the UK, Australia, and Sweden. According to their pitch from the ‘Free Electrons Pitch Off’, Tempus’ offering is a ‘machine learning software that forecasts the closing electricity market price before market closure. The software processes data in real time and combines market forecasting with the ability to predict electricity usage and understand how flexible assets perform in different conditions in order to minimise electricity cost and maximise use of renewable generation’.

Sara Bell was quoted as saying: “Tempus Energy is delighted to be partnering with a forward-thinking energy company like Origin. We are looking forward to helping them explore the benefits and challenges of new flexible energy demand solutions and how this can contribute towards the transition to a lower carbon, stable energy system that can deliver tangible benefits to customers.

You can view Sara Bell’s elevator pitch for Tempus Energy below – we’ll follow their partnership with Origin closely and be sure to update you as soon as there’s news on how you can take advantage of their service! 

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Bungala Solar Farm receives final approval.

The 275MW Bungala Solar Farm, which is already under construction, has received final approval. Bought by Italian energy company Enel, the $400m solar farm built in conjunction with the Dutch Infrastructure Fund is expected to be ready in early 2019.

Bungala Solar Farm

Bungala Solar Farm
Bungala Solar Farm (site: commbank.com.au)

The farm will see 860,000 solar panels built on 585 hectares of Bungala Aboriginal Corporation land and, according to Enel, will create around 200 jobs during the construction period. We previously reported on the Bungala project back in April where it was to be built by Reach Solar and the agreement to sell it to Enel Green Energy and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund had been inked – they were just waiting on a financial close when has been reached this week. 

Head of Enel Green Power, Antonio Cammisecra, spoke about the Bungala Solar Project to news.com.au and said that it would be Enel’s initial foray into the Australian renewable energy market – with the goal to become a “key player” in the industry. “The project marks the first step of our growth strategy in a country which boasts such an abundant resource base and whose renewable capacity is expected to surge in the next years,” Cammisecra said.

The farm is to be ‘battery storage ready’, and, according to RenewEconomy, will most likely be the first major Australian solar farm to enter Australia’s FCAS (Frequency Control and Ancillary Services) market – as they’ll be utilising SMA inverters to provide voltage control for the grid. 

The Bungala solar farm has signed a PPA with Origin Energy – earlier this year Frank Calabria, the chief of Origin, discussed how important ‘big solar’ is for our future and how we need to work on the transition to renewables: “Energy markets around the world are in transition and Australia is no different,” Calabria said. “We must make sure our energy supply is secure, as Australian homes and businesses rely on it. At the same time, we must make sure energy continues to be affordable as we move Australia towards a cleaner supply.”  

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Beelbee Solar Farm approved by WDRC

The Western Downs Regional Council has approved the Beelbee Solar Farm, which is owned by the APA Group (who are also responsible for the Darling Downs Solar Farm which they purchased from Origin Energy in May with an option over the Beelbee project). This is the ninth solar farm approved for the Western Downs region. 

Beelbee Solar Farm
Beelbee Solar Farm Location (source: Google Maps)

About the Beelbee Solar Farm

The Chronicle has reported that the Beelbee solar farm will feed between 150MW and 240MW into the national electricity grid. It will also include up to 100MW of battery storage. The Deputy Mayor of Western Downs, Andrew Smith, was quoted in the paper and was very excited about the opportunities APA Group are providing to the local area with their solar investments. 

“What a month it’s been and I’m told there’s even more development applications in the pipeline,” Cr Smith said.

“Complementing their Darling Downs Solar Farm, their commitment to bring another renewable energy project to our region highlights the Western Downs’ economic strength and impressive portfolio on the solar energy scene.

Smith also noted that the planning and development assessment team at Western Downs have been working hard to minimise the turnaround time for development applications, telling the Chronicle that the Beelbee Solar Farm was approved in “less than six weeks”. It’ll be interesting to see how this helps the Western Downs compete against Toowoomba solar farms – let’s hope we see a lot more in the future as their close proximity to Brisbane means that it could be a great opportunity to feed energy back into the grid for Australia’s third largest city. 

No word yet on PPA’s, but Origin Energy will buy all the renewable energy generated by the Darling Downs solar farm (which will generate 110MW) from 2018-2030, so perhaps the APA Group will piggyback onto that for a PPA with the Beelbee solar farm. 

 

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2017 NSW Tariff-Tracking Report released.

The St Vincent de Paul society has released its fifth NSW Tariff-Tracking report and it shows the huge disparity between deals the retailers are offering – with the best offers saving almost $840 p.a. compared to those on the worst plans. In regional NSW this range is even worse, with the difference reported by the SMH as up to $1230. Australian solar power plans are in need of a shake-up and this week the government have taken the retailers to task by asking them to change the way they deal with discounts and rolling over plans.

2017 NSW Tariff-Tracking Project Report Vinnies
2017 NSW Tariff-Tracking Project Report (source:vinnies.org.au)

NSW Tariff-Tracking

Despite ballooning wholesale energy costs, retailer AGL reported a net profit of $539m for the 2016/17 financial year. The profits of energy retailers have been in the crosshairs of the government over the past few months as their dubious tactics of offering short term discounts and then rolling customers onto more expensive plans without the discounts have been examined.

On Wednesday the government met with eight power companies (Energy Australia, Momentum Energy, Simply Energy, Alinta Energy, Origin Energy, AGL, Australian Energy Council and Snowy Hydro) to discuss the rapidly increasing prices and come up with a solution to the murky short-term ‘discount’ based business model they are employing. After the meeting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discussed the issue and the government’s fix, saying  “They are on … discounted plans that have run out, and they are now on a standard offer and paying too much for their electricity. The retailers have agreed that they will write to their customers who have reached the end of a discounted plan and outline, in plain English, alternative offers that are available,”

Given that the Energy Market Commission found 50% of households haven’t changed retailer or plan in the last 5 years, there’s a lot of money being left on the table. According to Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) have told the government households could save over $1,000 per year by changing retailer/plan.

In terms of the power companies, they were mostly happy to agree to Turnbull’s plan, but there was ongoing discussion about Canberra’s dilly dallying with regards to the Clean Energy Target. Origin Energy’s chief exec, Frank Calabria, was quoted by the SMH as saying that “to deliver a genuine reduction in prices for Australians, we must also find a way through on energy policy, including a Clean Energy Target. This is necessary to unlock investment in much-needed new supply to replace our ageing coal-fired power stations, and transition us to a cleaner, more modern energy system”.

Click here to view the full report directly from the Vinnies website.

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Musk slams SA energy security target.

Despite the Tesla South Australia battery partnership currently being undertaken, Elon Musk’s Tesla has rubbished the South Australian government’s planned SA energy security target, saying it will “hold back technology innovation whilst incentivising incumbent technology … imposing barriers on innovation by excluding rapidly evolving fast response technologies”.

Tesla’s Mark Twidell wrote a submission to the government where Tesla expressed their dissatisfaction with the target, saying “We do not feel that the draft regulations and supporting consultation paper are representative of the current South Australian position as leaders and innovators in the renewable energy space”.

SA Energy Security Target Musk Weatherill
Happier times: Jay Weatherill and Elon Musk before the SA Energy Security Target was announced.(source:theadvertiser.com.au)

SA Energy Security Target

Multiple major organisations have harshly lambasted the SA energy security target, which is planned to commence on January 1 and will require retailers to buy 36% of their power from South Australian sources. This number will rise to 50% by 2025 and, according to Nyrstar, who made a submission to the government about the target, “given the generation market structure and in particular the high concentration of generation in South Australia and the high underlying cost of the predominant fuel (gas), it is debatable whether the scheme will be effective at reducing pricing due to these factors”.

As per an article from the ABC, other submissions range from urging caution because it may not lower wholesale prices, to killing off plans for a new interconnector which was slated to feed power into the state. Momentum Energy said implementation of this energy security target is “unlikely to have any downward pressure on prices, and will instead become a pure pass-through to customers”. Origin Energy called the legislation “unclear”, and Alinta Energy posited that such a scheme could add $100 to an average bill.

For their part, the government stood by the legislation, with the Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis advising in parliament on Tuesday that it will lead to “lower wholesale electricity prices”, and will in turn “incentivise more generation”. No word on how exactly that will happen but we’ll undoubtedly hear more from all sides in the coming months. Opposition energy spokesman Dan van Holst Pellekaan noted that “even” the Greens were critical of the plan, labelled the government’s energy policy as “chaotic” and called for independent economic modelling before “inflicting further pain on long suffering South Australian businesses”.

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