Coober Pedy on track for renewable energy hybrid project

The outback mining town of Coober Pedy will be run on 70 per cent renewable energy, thanks to a project grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The $18.5 million grant will assist electricity provider Energy Developments Limited to set up a diesel hybrid project that will integrate up to 2 MW of solar power and 3 MW of wind generation into the existing 3.9 MW diesel power station.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the project was ambitious, and would demonstrate a combine renewables/diesel approach for powering remote locations that depend on expensive, trucked-in diesel.

The project will also involve short-term energy storage, fast-start diesel engines and an advanced control system.

“These enabling technologies have been successfully tried and tested by Hydro Tasmania at the ARENA-supported King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project and this represents an opportunity to see them evolve for use on the mainland and in an outback community that has few alternative energy options,” Frischknecht said.

“Further demonstration of these technologies is expected to reduce costs over time and improve opportunities for future deployment without subsidies.

“EDL has identified a long-term pathway to commercialisation by demonstrating the potential to progressively deploy renewable solutions at off-grid locations as technology costs reduce and fossil fuel costs increase.

“EDL intends to restructure its existing power purchasing agreement with the District Council of Coober Pedy with a new 20-year agreement, providing a long-term customer base to support the renewable energy project.”

The project is expected to be completed in mid-2017.

Frischknecht said that diesel hybrid power generation is suitable for various resource industry applications, especially in remote areas, as it delivers lower operating costs than conventional power generation.

“From our perspective, this is a very important initiative as energy demands in the resource sector are growing pretty strongly,” he said.

“So this off-grid market, particularly in the resources sector, is exactly where you want to be focussing investment, on the opportunity for making long-term cost reductions through renewable energy.”

“ARENA sees mining as a huge potential off-grid user of renewable energy in Australia and has made it a priority to work with major mining companies to find solutions and overcome roadblocks associated with integrating renewable energy into off-grid locations.”

“EDL supplies power to numerous mine sites in regional Australia and this project aims to demonstrate the capacity for power producers to provide renewable energy to off-grid mines and communities.”

ARENA is currently under threat of being dissolved by the Abbott Government, which has attempted to cut funding for the agency, as drafted in the May Budget.

Hybrid power generators are a combination of two or more energy sources coupled with a large battery bank connected to a DC power system.

When available, a hybrid system can run on solar or wind, run a site, and charge the batteries, however when renewable energy sources aren’t available, the generator can run off diesel fuel.

Such systems reduce operating expenses by charging the batteries with any excess power harvested from renewable sources.

Over the past year ARENA has taken more than 30 applications from mining companies for assistance with renewable energy development projects, through the Regional Australian Renewables program.

ARENA has said that 181 projects that currently have a funding agreement in place will not be affected by the government’s removal of future funding, however another 190 project proposals worth $7.7 billion are in doubt, despite industry investment of more than $5.3 billion.

In April Laing O'Rourke announced it was involved in a study that would undertake a study in conjunction with ARENA to examine the feasibility of portable hybrid solar-diesel power plants.

Laing O’Rourke clean technology leader Dr Will Rayward-Smith said their Select Plant Hire subsidiary manages hundreds of diesel generators across Australia, which could be augmented by new solar generation technology.

“As specialists in major remote and regional projects, we have an opportunity to harness vast amounts of solar energy at these sites,” he said.

Image: SunnySMA

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