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Flow Systems looks to demonstrate the future of communities

Hydro Aluminium Kurri Kurri
Hydro Aluminium Kurri Kurri

Terry Leckie’s Flow Systems has entered into a partnership with Norsk Hydro and a number of other developers to redevelop 2000 hectares of land at a former aluminium smelter at Kurri Kurri in NSW’s Hunter Valley. The plans, which Leckie will discuss at The Fifth Estate’s Tomorrowland 2018 event on 6 September, are to develop a residential, commercial, business park and rural project that will act a display of next-generation energy, water and telecommunications provision.

The aluminium smelter at Kurri Kurri stopped production in 2012, with owner Norsk Hydro Aluminium creating a masterplan for the site that includes industrial, business and residential development, as well as significant environmental protection land.

Flow recently entered into an agreement to buy the site, the terms of which are still under wraps.

For Leckie, getting the site early means that Flow will be able to demonstrate the potential of next-generation utility provision without any of the typical roadblocks.

“We’re now able to staple our services to the land and showcase how you really deliver this stuff – how you super-charge it,” he told The Fifth Estate.

Typically, councils and developers embed business-as-usual solutions for things like energy, telco and stormwater and wastewater treatment, for example.

“[Developers are] so entrenched in the way that they develop,” Leckie says. “So they go to council and they get approval for roads and stormwater, and they hand those over to council.”

Council then dictates what happens. So innovative solutions like bio-retention cells, swales and even lakes are shied away from, due to perceived risk and costs.

Buying the land means Flow is able to “develop the utility concept” before the developer comes along, and inject some of its forward thinking.

“It’s about: ‘If we had a blank canvas what would we do?’” Leckie says.

“We will be able to showcase what Tomorrowland looks like in Kurri Kurri.”

Flow Systems

Terry Leckie, Flow Systems

Embedded networks

The project will include an embedded network, which allows communities to gain access to cheaper wholesale electricity rates while also allowing the generation and distribution of cheap renewable energy.

“What that means is we’re able to offer discounts to the community within, because we have a private network,” Leckie says. “It also means that when we add in generation, it’s a lot more valuable to that community.”

For example, if you were to put renewable energy back into the main grid, you’d only get paid about three-and-a-half cents a kilowatt-hour, though you have to pay 29 cent a kWh to buy mains electricity.

“So if you use it before it goes out through the meter, then you’re way ahead,” Leckie says. “Just that configuration: you’ve captured not only the resources that are available within the community, but you’ve captured the revenue that would have been sucked out of the community.”

Embedded networks, however – at least for NSW – have not been typical for masterplanned house and land developments, usually only put into high-rise communities.

Regulation has been one roadblock.

Another Flow project at Huntlee in the Hunter Valley is a good case study. A grid-connected embedded network was put forward for the development, however this was knocked back by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), which said the regulations weren’t intended to be applied to land and housing subdivisions.

Leckie says that decision, two-and-a-half years ago, made the project consider going entirely off-grid.

“What about if we don’t connect to the grid?” Flow put forward to the AER. “We’re going to have solar panels on the roof of every home. We’re going to have centralised batteries. We’re going to have these thumping great gas engines.”

This, however, he says, wasn’t the best solution.

“We said [to AER], ‘You realise what you’re doing is forcing us to go off-grid. It’s not necessarily that good for the community as they might want to feed back into the grid. Isn’t is good for the grid [to not go off-grid]? Isn’t it good for the community?”

He says a whole design was then done on the off-grid concept. In the end, for various reasons, a year-and-a-half later, this was not proceeded with. There were so many other issues to contend with to then start thinking about pioneering an off-grid system, Leckie says.

In the meantime, the AER had, informally, softened its stance on connected microgrids on house and land developments.

Flow applied for an authorisation for a subdivision of 20 lots in Kitchener, NSW, and was approved four days later.

“[It was] the first one in NSW. That happened in October last year,” Leckie says.

“So that has now opened up the marketplace, and it means we’re now designing embedded networks throughout all of our communities.”

Leckie says embedded networks are now a wave that’s starting to gain momentum.

“That will happen in land and housing as well.”

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