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South Australia’s renewable star continues to rise with solar and storage blitz

South Australian premier Jay Weatherill (left) and energy minister Tom Koutsantonis are betting the house on renewables.
South Australian premier Jay Weatherill (left) and energy minister Tom Koutsantonis are betting the house on renewables.

It’s been difficult to keep up with South Australia’s renewable energy plans this week, with ambitious renewable and storage targets announced, renewable energy microgrids, hydro power plans, a new initiative to green the gas networks with hydrogen, and now a massive interest-free solar and battery program.

The South Australia Labor Party has continued its renewable election blitz with a plan to offer interest-free loans of up to $10,000 for solar and battery installations, and early reactions estimate it could see the battery market in the state soar by 300 per cent.

The $100 million scheme announced on Thursday morning will see all South Australian households eligible for up to $10,000 for solar and/or battery systems, with no interest charged on the loan for the first seven years. Locally made products will be given preference, which could be a boon for Adelaide-based Tindo Solar, Australia’s only solar manufacturer.

Energy minister Tom Koutsantonis said the scheme would help to meet the 75 per cent renewable and 25 per cent storage target set for 2025, while lowering household bills.

“This scheme will help to significantly lower energy bills for those who access the no-interest loans to purchase a battery and solar PV system,” he said.

Already there’s predictions the announcement will lead to a massive boom in clean energy investment.

Natural Solar chief executive Chris William said he expected solar/battery market growth of between 200-300 per cent within 12 months.

“Customers are already driven by the attractive pricing model, independence from the grid and stability that a solar and battery solution can provide,” he said.

“This rebate will mean that South Australian residents, who crave this reliability the most, will no longer need to pay any money upfront to have their solar and battery solution installed and will reap the benefits of savings from day one.”

Sonnen enters the market

The news also came as German battery manufacturer sonnen – the world’s largest producer of residential batteries – announced plans to set up a local battery manufacturing centre in metropolitan Adelaide, which is set too create 430 manufacturing and installation jobs.

Under an agreement struck with the government (signed last week), sonnen will produce 50,000 energy storage systems and itself become a retailer in order to create a virtual power plant, along the lines of the one the government has planned with Tesla.

sonnen Australia/New Zealand managing director Chris Parratt said the partnership underscored South Australia’s reputation “as the centre for energy policy in Australia”.

“We are very excited by the prospect of manufacturing in South Australia for the Australian and export markets, and realising our expectation that Australia will become the world’s number one market for energy storage systems,” he said.

Renewable energy microgrid for Holden site

The solar and battery scheme joins numerous clean energy announcements made for South Australia this week.

For example, on Wednesday Carnegie Clean Energy announced it was creating renewable energy microgrid at the General Motors Holden site in Elizabeth, South Australia, supported by a $3 million state government grant.

The grant is to design, construct, operate and maintain a a 2MW/500kWh battery energy storage system, which will also combine with a 3MW solar installation, set to become one of Australia’s largest rooftop systems.

Carnegie, however, has already flagged the solar system could be expanded to a massive 10-15MW if all available rooftop was used.

The system will provide grid support services at peak demand times, and also operate alongside existing diesel back-up generators.

Carnegie managing director Dr Michael Ottaviano said battery back-up offered a number of benefits over diesel back-up.

“We are fielding an increasing number of opportunities that historically were performed by diesel or gas turbines, for which battery systems are now increasingly competitive,” Dr Ottaviano said.

“The [Carnegie] battery solution offers faster response time, lower operating cost, no greenhouse gas pollution, and silent operation.”

The system is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

Cleaner gas with hydrogen

Wednesday also saw the announcement of a project to generate hydrogen from renewable energy that would be used to power the Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide, following a $4.9 million grant from the South Australian Renewable Technology Fund.

The Australian Gas Infrastructure Group said it would construct and operate a $11.4 million hydrogen production and distribution facility – known as Hydrogen Park SA – utilising a 1.25MW electrolyser that will produce hydrogen from grid electricity and potentially on-site solar.

“The aim of the demonstration plant is to reflect how energy will be provided to businesses and homes in the future,” AGIG chief customer officer Andrew Staniford said.

He said it was expected to be the first project in Australia where renewable energy was stored and distributed as hydrogen through the existing gas network.

The hydrogen will be injected into AGIG’s local gas network to power the Tonsley precinct, with potential to be expanded to supply a proposed residential development in the area.

The first hydrogen is expected to be delivered in mid-2020.

The news was welcomed by Energy Networks Australia.

“Using hydrogen to store excess renewable energy in the gas network is breakthrough technology. The stored energy could then be used for heating or cooking in the home, or alternatively used for power generation when required,” ENA chief executive Andrew Dillon said.

“Our gas networks are potentially a huge battery storage solution for Australia, with the infrastructure already in place.”

This is the second hydrogen project for South Australia to be announced this month, with company H2U developing a 15MW facility at Port Lincoln, including a 10MW hydrogen-fired gas turbine and a 5MW hydrogen fuel cell.

Hydro power plans

While the federal government likes to disparage South Australia’s efforts, funding through its Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has contributed to the state’s ambitions this week.

A number of pumped hydro storage projects were announced, including one that’s set to transform an old mine into a generator of renewable energy.

The defunct Iron Duchess Mine near Whyalla has received $500,000 from ARENA for a feasibility study to assess the potential for the wine to be turned into a 90MW/360MWh pumped hydro energy storage plant.

GFG Alliance will conduct the $1.7 million project, expected to be completed by late 2018.

“We are excited to explore the potential of old mining assets being turned into renewable energy storage which can provide dispatchable and reliable power,” ARENA chief executive Ian Frischknecht said.

Another $500,000 is being given by ARENA to Energy Australia for the second stage of the potential 225MW/1770MWh Cultana seawater pumped hydro plant.

The funding will help Energy Australia’s $8 million feasibility study get to a final investment decision.

“This pioneering project aims to build Australia’s first ever pumped hydro using seawater and could open up the potential for future seawater pumped hydro around Australia,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Pumped Hydro is the most common and mature form of energy storage which has been traditionally used in rivers, but seawater has the benefit of having no impact on rivers and no need to construct lower reservoirs.”

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