This con­tent has been writ­ten col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly by the Project Part­ners of Alice Springs Future Grid, led by the Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Ener­gy. Please sub­mit your ques­tions, which will be answered in due course and shared on this plat­form if rel­e­vant and appro­pri­ate. You will be noti­fied via email when the answer is post­ed. Terms and con­di­tions are detailed on the sub­mit a ques­tion page. Fur­ther FAQs specif­i­cal­ly about the Solar Con­nect Vir­tu­al Pow­er Plant tri­al are addressed in this doc­u­ment

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What happens when the Solar Connect VPP trial ends?

After the trial ends, the Alice Springs Future Grid project will share its findings through various knowledge sharing opportunities and on its website.

If the VPP continues, Future Grid will inform participants and they can choose to remain in the VPP or decide to leave. Participants on the Supersize Solar trial will retain a static export limit at or above 5 kW (single phase) and 7 kW (three phase) post-trial.

If your home was fitted with a SwitchDin VPP droplet, you will have the option to either take ownership of it, or return it to the project team. We will contact you to discuss this closer to the end of the trials.

When and how will I receive my Solar Connect VPP sign-up bonus payment?

Bonuses are available for participants that are successfully enrolled in the VPP and that signed up as per the conditions of the relevant bonus offer. These will be paid in the form of a voucher with an assigned value and will be issued at the final sign-up stage, when your house is active in the VPP and the trial has commenced. For more details see the Solar Connect Terms and Conditions (found in website footer).

What is the Solar Connect VPP trial?

Solar Con­nect is a town-wide solar and bat­tery tri­al link­ing house­holds via a Vir­tu­al Pow­er Plant (VPP). House­holds in the VPP will share solar and bat­tery pow­er in ways that ben­e­fit the Alice Springs grid and form the next gen­er­a­tion of more sus­tain­able ener­gy solutions.

What is a VPP?

A Vir­tu­al Pow­er Plant (VPP) is typ­i­cal­ly a col­lec­tion of solar and bat­tery stor­age sys­tems that work togeth­er to allow coordinated control of their energy.

VPPs use smart technology to control the energy flow to and from the grid on demand – benefitting the household, grid and the community.

Why is a VPP part of the Future Grid project? And why should I join it, as opposed to just having my own solar panels and battery?

A VPP provides an opportunity to optimise the use of existing grid infrastructure at both a household level and at a network level. The VPP in Alice Springs, known as Solar Connect, is inviting households with rooftop solar and a battery to join. The results and data generated by Solar Connect will inform what future trials may look like. There’s no obligation to join the VPP, however it’s likely in the future that if you want to install a solar system and battery, mechanisms will be needed to determine how you contribute to the shared costs associated with running the power system. In the same way that regardless of the extent to which you use water, there is still a cost to supply water to your house.

What will happen during the Solar Connect VPP trial?

During the trial you’ll have access to an energy monitoring app, giving you greater visibility over your energy use.

You will also receive monthly updates on your household’s performance in the VPP from Jacana Energy, an Alice Springs Future Grid project partner. A quarterly update which will show the performance of the VPP itself will also be provided, so you can see how your participation fits into the bigger picture.

Future Grid’s Community Engagement team at ALEC will be in touch from time to time with surveys, updates and details of events and other opportunities.

What happens after the Solar Connect trial ends?

After the Solar Connect trial ends, the Alice Springs Future Grid project will share its findings through various knowledge sharing opportunities and on its website.

If the VPP continues, Future Grid will inform participants and they can choose to remain on the VPP or decide to leave.

Participants on the Supersize Solar element of the trial will retain a static export limit.

What is the timeline for the Solar Connect VPP trial?

The trial became operational in October 2022 and is expected to run for up to 12 months.

Why is the Solar Connect VPP trial necessary?

Alice Springs Future Grid is creating the North­ern Territory’s first res­i­den­tial Vir­tual Pow­er Plant (VPP). The tri­al will look at how a VPP can help keep the grid stable while increas­ing the amount of clean ener­gy in the Alice Springs power system.

The VPP is part of a suite of innovative trials, models and investigations that will help keep the Alice Springs network within voltage limits, reduce the reliance on gas power generation, and help us to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030.

What will happen to my premium feed-in tariff if I sign up to the Solar Connect trial?

As per the Northern Territory Government’s advice when the feed-in tariff was updated in April 2020, anyone who upgrades their system will be transferred to the standard FiT which, at the time of writing, is 9.13c kWh (GST Inclusive).

From July 1 2022, those who have been on the Premium FiT for four years will transfer to the standard FiT.

Participants who have a battery will have already transferred to the standard tariff, and will be invited to opt for a variable (7-11) trial tariff if that is their preference.

Participation in the Solar-Only trial may or may not require system upgrades. Your FiT will therefore depend on what needs to happen to enable your participation in the VPP.

As upgrades to ageing solar systems will be required eventually, the VPP may represent a good opportunity to take advantage of the sign-up bonus and VPP credit. However, it is recommended that you seek independent advice to choose the best value solution for your household.

Do gas generators need to stay operating regardless of whether there's "too much solar" in the system?

While this statement is an oversimplification of the process, it is true that at certain times of day and during certain periods of the year, not all the solar power being generated can be used by the grid. The Alice Springs electricity system is heavily reliant upon gas generation – not only for power, but also to provide essential system services (ESS) such as voltage control, frequency, and inertia. These services can be provided by technical solutions like batteries, but at this stage this is a prohibitively expensive means of addressing the problem in its entirety. The aim of the Future Grid Solar Connect Virtual Power Plant (VPP) trial is to investigate how new smart solutions such as VPPs can help manage and use the renewable energy being delivered into the grid while also providing network services.

Does Future Grid consider materials sustainability and technology obsolescence?

It’s not a core focus of the project, however the project is aware of the issue and acknowledges its significance as part of the longer-term deployment of renewables.

The Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy was involved in a study led by Charles Darwin University which investigated the problems of solar waste. The study recognised that solar panels were generally not designed to be repaired or dismantled, and this was an area for the industry to consider. The study also found there was an unwillingness to pass on recycling costs to the consumer. The researchers recommended a collaborative approach to addressing this issue, with responsibility shared between government, industry and consumers. Amongst other recommendations, the report said solar panels should not be landfilled; and policy or guidelines around collection, transport, stockpiling and disposal should be clarified. The full report can be read on the Alice Springs Future Grid knowledge bank.

In addition, numerous studies, including reports from Yale University, have found that while there are greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of low-carbon energy technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines; the impacts pale in comparison with the emissions prevented through the displacement of fossil fuel power generation. It takes around two years to pay off the “embedded energy” in a solar panel; while the panel itself is likely to produce clean energy for up to 25 years, saving almost 250 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime.

Will the Future Grid project have an impact on low socio-economic demographics, people in town camps, or remote communities?

The Arid Lands Environment Centre is leading a study which will investigate some of these areas. It is recognised by the project team that solar has the effect of enabling those with the financial means to do so to reduce their power bills, while those who would arguably benefit more from a reduction in power bills are left behind. The study seeks to address this disparity and identify ways to reduce the gap. To take a broader view, increasing the amount of renewable energy in the grid – which is shared by the whole community – does have a positive impact on everyone in Alice Springs, regardless of demographics. This is why it’s important the project leverages existing publicly owned infrastructure, rather than deploying an expensive single technical intervention.

What proportion of solar in Alice Springs is from houses, small businesses, Uterne, and big commercial installations?

The latest Utilities Commission Power System Review details generation capacity in Alice Springs. At the time of the report (2018) Ron Goodin Power Station was able to generate 42.6MW, Owen Springs Power Station could generate 77.1MW and Uterne Solar Farm 4MW. So proportionally solar made up just over three per cent of centralised power generation.

Of the more than 2000 rooftop PV installations in Alice Springs, about 94% are household systems, with the remaining 6% belonging to commercial organisations. Household systems contribute around 7.3MW to the energy system, while the commercial operations contribute 2.9MW.

Are outstation stand-alone power systems part of the 50% by 2030 renewable energy target?

Those supplied through IES (Indigenous Essential Services) are counted because their electricity use is metered. IES is a subsidiary of Power and Water Corporation. It services 72 remote communities and 66 outstations across the NT. In total there are 430 homelands and outstations in the NT. 130 renewable energy systems were installed by Bushlight, with many more funded through other programs. This means there will be renewable energy generated which is not counted in the target, but the amount is fairly limited.

What happens to solar panels at the end of their life?

This is a subject of much discussion and study, and is even the focus of a current Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding opportunity. It does pose a looming waste management issue, with the design life of solar panels at 20 to 30 years, and many installed well over a decade ago. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates there could be 60 to 78 million tons of photovoltaic panel waste accumulated globally by 2050. It also estimates the recyclable materials will be worth $15bn in recoverable value.

It is envisaged that recycling solar panels will create industry and employment opportunities, keep valuable resources out of landfill, help to retain rare elements, and prevent heavy metals leaching into the environment. There are a couple of companies working in this space in Australia.

How much does dust affect the output of my PV system?

Detailed studies have been conducted on this subject, concluding that dust does not have a significant impact on PV systems. This is perhaps surprising, but washing the panels with tap water in places where there is a high concentration of calcium (such as Alice Springs) can actually have a more negative effect than dust. The arrays at the DKA Solar Centre are washed once a year by a specialised company who use a reverse osmosis filtration system to treat their water before using it to wash the solar modules.

How do I find a reputable installer for my PV system?

All reputable installers will be registered with the Clean Energy Council. You can find out more in the Consumer section of its website.

How can I tell if my PV system is actually working on my roof?

Output will vary according to the weather, and you can monitor your inverter or read your meter to get an idea of your solar array’s performance. Most solar installers also allow remote monitoring through various apps. Another source of information will be your bill, and your solar installer will be able to assist with such enquiries.

If I get an electric vehicle (EV) do I need 3-phase power at my house to charge it? How much does it cost to charge each day?

You don’t need 3-phase power to charge an EV. In fact, you can purchase charging cables that plug into a standard domestic socket. The most common way to charge an EV is via a "type 2" charger, and many EV drivers will opt to have a charging point installed in their home. A 3-phase connection will charge your car more quickly. A single phase type 2 connection will be slower than 3-phase but faster than your standard household sockets. Your local solar installer or electrician can assist with questions specific to your case. The cost of the charge will depend on the general cost of electricity, the capacity of the vehicle’s batteries, and whether you’re incorporating solar power. A fuel cost savings calculator can be found on myelectriccar.com.au, with plentiful similar resources available elsewhere online.

Are there charging stations along the Stuart Highway to Adelaide and Darwin? Are they fast chargers?

There are enough chargers along the highway to comfortably travel the length of Australia. There are a surprising number of charging points all over Australia, including in some incredibly remote locations, such as Kiwirrkurra, which is one of the most remote settlements on the planet! It is easy to view the full range of charging points on the app PlugShare. At the time of writing there were no Superchargers identified along the Stuart Highway.

What does the big BESS battery at Ron Goodin power station actually do?

The Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) in Alice Springs is designed to provide grid stability services. This is much needed, as the town has a high proportion of rooftop solar PV, which can create challenges in the grid during periods of high cloud coverage, requiring thermal generation to react as quickly as possible to pick up the slack. In these instances, the BESS can almost immediately support the grid while thermal generation ramps up or down. If it were to be used purely for storage, the battery would last about 40 minutes. Proportional to the size of the Alice Springs grid, it is the biggest battery in Australia. This perhaps illustrates why centralised battery storage alone isn’t a viable solution to support high renewable penetration in a town like Alice, just yet.

How many household solar systems are there in Alice Springs now? How many more per year are being installed? Is there a limit to how many can be installed?

According to figures from Power and Water Corporation, Alice Springs had 2,018 grid-connected rooftop PV systems at the end of financial year 18/19. The total capacity of these systems was 10.2MW. This does not include the 4MW Uterne Solar Farm. Based on the last four years of data, rooftop PV is being installed at an average rate of approximately 200 systems per year, with a capacity of 1.3MW.

What is the current status of Ron Goodin power station?

Ron Goodin Power Station, located near the centre of Alice Springs, was commissioned in 1973. Some of its generators are the oldest of their type operating in the world. Territory Generation completed an expansion of its Owen Springs Power Station in February 2019, so is transitioning the main generation capability to this location, 26km south of Alice Springs and away from residential areas. Thermal power stations typically have a lifetime of 30-50 years.

Is it better for everyone to go fully off grid?

Many people in the Northern Territory rely upon off-grid power systems, especially in very remote settlements such as outstations and ranger stations. The Alice Springs grid provides interesting challenges because it is isolated, unlike the National Electricity Market which connects jurisdictions from Queensland to South Australia, including Tasmania. The more customers and generators that are connected to a grid, the fewer challenges are faced in maintaining grid stability. Therefore, removing yourself from the grid when you have the choice to be connected is not of any benefit to the community.

If I have an old PV system, can I retrofit a battery onto that or is it cheaper to replace everything with a new system?

Residential batteries can be fitted to most households with existing PV systems. Replacing the entire system will depend on the age of the infrastructure – panels and inverter primarily. Further information should be sought from accredited CEC installers, or alternatively see websites such as Solarquotes to gain a better understanding of the various technicalities.

Can I go fully off-grid in town? What will it cost me?

With solar PV and batteries it is technically possible to go off-grid, but Alice Springs residents would need a very big battery or backup diesel generator to cover occasions where there is limited sun for consecutive days. The most common option is to install PV and BESS in proportion to household needs, and let the grid come to the rescue when its needed. In the future, plentiful PV and BESS will create a very resilient system, because it’s highly unlikely that they could all fail at once. For most people it is not financially viable to go off-grid, but as centralised energy generation incorporates a growing proportion of renewables, it means everyone will eventually be provided with cleaner energy.

How can we export solar?

Plans are underway to build the world’s largest solar farm in the Northern Territory’s Barkly region, exporting the power via a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable. The $20bn project, known as SunCable, plans to send most of the power to Singapore, which relies on LNG for the majority of its electricity.

Producing green hydrogen (via renewable energy processes as opposed to fossil fuels) is another way to export solar. A National Hydrogen Strategy was developed by the COAG Energy Ministers and released in November 2019. It highlights the opportunity in the NT, given its proximity to Asia, and recommends a focus on exports and enhancing energy security in remote areas, amongst other market ideas.

What does it cost to install a battery at my house if I already have PV?

Quotes will depend on your particular specifications and should always be sought from a Clean Energy Council accredited installer.

Could Alice Springs reach 100% renewables by 2030?

It’s absolutely feasible before 2030 that we can work towards operation at 100% renewable energy at certain times of the day or year. It is an objective of the project to determine how we can transition Alice Springs to operate on 100% renewables: how frequently we do that and for how long will then become a question of economics.

Solar is currently the only viable renewable resource in Central Australia, and to reach 100% solar would require a very large (and prohibitively expensive) battery, to cover the overnight periods. Learning how to provide Essential System Services through renewable energy technologies is crucial to reaching 100% solar during the day. Future Grid's Wind Monitoring Study will help determine if wind energy is able to diversify the Alice Springs energy portfolio. Other factors that could assist - but are outside the scope of Alice Springs Future Grid - include the adoption of electric vehicles and their integration into the grid, and the development of a green hydrogen industry.

Why is the renewable energy target only 50 per cent in such a sunny place?

The 50% by 2030 renewable energy target has been established by the Northern Territory Government. Future Grid does not see itself as being limited by any particular target and is investigating how to maximise progress towards a renewable energy future and the systems to support that vision.

How will lessons learnt in the project be used in the future? And by whom?

Knowledge sharing is a key focus for (funding agency) ARENA, and the Future Grid project has a prominent knowledge sharing plan, delivery of which is led by CSIRO. Reports generated through the project are not only hosted on the ARENA Project Page for Future Grid, but also on the project’s website. This website has been built with a legacy mindset, aiming to outlive the project at least until 2030 by which time the 50% renewable energy target should have been achieved. The website also has its own knowledge bank which serves as a one-stop-shop for public information about renewable energy relating to Central Australia. It is recognised that lessons learnt in Alice Springs can be scaled-up and applied to other grids, such as the Darwin-Katherine Interconnected System (DKIS) and the National Electricity Market on Australia’s East Coast. The project’s main target audience is industry and government, so it is expected these entities will be the primary conduit through which lessons learnt in Alice Springs are applied elsewhere.

What will the Alice Springs Future Grid team consider “success” to look like at the end of the project?

Ultimately success will mean increased generation and consumption of renewable energy in Alice Springs, and decreased reliance upon fossil fuel sources, possibly leading to the operation of the town on 100% renewable energy from time to time.

Success will also be evident through an informed community, able to hold future leaders to account on the continued journey towards 50% renewable energy and beyond.

However, it is important to recognise that the barriers the project is identifying and overcoming illustrate significant progress, even if success isn’t particularly tangible from a public perspective. A good example of this is the creation of the Northern Territory’s first residential Virtual Power Plant. Aligning the key participants, designing technical solutions, and finding the correct contractors to implement them; then educating the community and encouraging residents’ participation are all major undertakings that need to be addressed somewhat concurrently by a reasonably limited delivery team. The project team is regularly reminded that if these goals were easy, they would already have been achieved.

Therefore, success in the Future Grid project can look like identifying and addressing barriers to enable future expansion of renewable energy generation and consumption opportunities. These barriers are currently evident in the regular curtailment of Uterne Solar Power Station.

Success can be seen indirectly through changes in government policy, which may have been influenced by the Future Grid project. The relationship between the activities of Future Grid and changes in Government policy is symbiotic. One may or may not have led to the other, but Future Grid is always required to respond to changes. A good example was the grandfathering of the 1:1 solar feed-in tariff in April 2020, and its replacement with grants to support the installation of household batteries (the NTG HBBS program). The community’s reluctance to invest in batteries owing to the lucrative nature of the feed-in tariff was a significant barrier to the development of DER in Alice Springs. Following the partial removal of that barrier, the Future Grid team had to reconfigure the way the VPP had been designed. Rather than installing batteries as part of the project – which was the original idea - the team were now able to leverage existing batteries in Alice Springs and expand the reach of the VPP.

When does the Alice Springs Future Grid project finish and what will happen after that?

The project was designed to run over two years. It was officially launched on August 14, 2020, through coordinated press releases from Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor and ARENA. Initial activities were heavily concerned with the negotiation of various contracts and agreement upon scopes of work. Project activities got underway towards the latter part of 2020, beginning with a whole-of-community survey which provided a baseline view of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours amongst the residents of Alice Springs regarding renewable energy. Future Grid is currently on track to wrap up in late-2022. The survey process will be repeated towards the end of the project, to assess the extent to which the renewable energy landscape has changed in Alice Springs.

One of the project’s major outputs will be the Roadmap to 2030 report, which its expected will be considered by the Northern Territory Government for development of policy and implementation of recommendations to reach the 50 per cent by 2030 renewable energy target. Future Grid will have many other legacies; notably relationships between industry players and other experts which otherwise wouldn’t have existed. It is also intended that the website will remain in place as a one-stop-shop through which to access broad renewable energy knowledge relating to Central Australia.

At a national and global level, how important is the Alice Springs Future Grid project and what outcomes might be applicable to other grids?

The Future Grid project has significant value nationally because some of its work will help set out the ways different parts of the power system will need to work together in the future. A key characteristic of Alice Springs is that it is small enough that the opportunity exists to test and validate interventions, but big enough that the results have direct applicability across a range of different systems and grids in Australia. To this end, Alice Springs is sometimes said to be “small enough to manage but big enough to matter”.

How does this project differ from what is happening in South Australia or anywhere else in the world?

There are other projects around Australia carrying out investigations in many similar areas to Future Grid. The difference is that Future Grid looks at a series of interventions in aggregate and how they integrate as a system on a technical, economic, and regulatory basis. This is what makes Future Grid fundamentally different – bringing public utilities together with leading industry experts, and local organisations. We collaborate in a way that is simply not possible in other locations. For comparison, if we look to WA; Horizon Power has demonstrated many of the technical interventions we are working towards, but they are doing it in the context of being a vertically integrated energy supply company, so its activities don’t require complex engagement with other entities. In other areas, such as South Australia, there are fundamental differences in the market structure, which provide economic signals that are not available in the NT. What Future Grid does, which is different to other projects, is to work out how to bring parties and interventions together to collaborate.

What is the project’s position on vehicle-to-grid technology and electric vehicles in general?

The Future Grid car is an electric vehicle (a Nissan Leaf) and there are individuals in the team and community who are highly enthused about this technology. However, operating within a constrained budget and timeline, electric vehicles or related trials have not been considered as part of the project. The team has designed a series of interdependent activities that serve to consider immediate issues in the system and support further renewable energy penetration into the Alice Springs grid in a cost-effective and realistic way. These interventions make use of and optimise existing grid infrastructure, which is a valuable public asset. The Future Grid team welcomes any future or parallel projects that support the increased use of electric vehicles in Alice Springs or focus on the integration of this technology as another means of supporting the grid.

Why can’t we build a pumped hydro plant, using the Heavitree Range?

Alice Springs has a strong history of solar energy innovation and many smart minds have considered this idea. It is accepted that the volume of water required to build a large enough hydro plant is beyond what is feasible. A smaller plant could be built, but it would have no material value.

Any technology that relies upon water in Central Australia is naturally problematic because the region is arid and relies upon a finite source of groundwater. This is why hydrogen isn’t an ideal solution in this area of Australia.

Other considerations relating to ideas of this nature are native title and the Sacred Sites Act, governing the protection of the West MacDonnell ranges and other areas around Alice Springs. However, these cannot be considered as barriers given the absence of technical feasibility for this idea.

Why can’t we just put in a big battery?

Alice Springs is already home to a large-scale Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) owned by Territory Generation and installed at the Ron Goodin Power Station. The BESS was commissioned in 2018 and at the time was the largest battery, proportional to the grid it served, in Australia. The BESS is 5MW and cost about $8m. It is optimised for grid support services (such as inertia, as outlined elsewhere) and is not sufficient to support the grid in terms of energy storage. If optimised to provide energy storage rather than grid support the battery could service the energy needs of Alice Springs for no longer than 20 minutes. When you look at the cost of this large-scale battery and its capacity to support the grid, you can see it is not the silver bullet to supporting further renewable energy. However, it remains a vital piece of the puzzle. Future Grid envisions addressing the system issues with a systems solution, as opposed to deploying a single technical intervention.

What factors make it more complicated to increase the amount of renewable energy in Alice Springs?

There are a number of major challenges. Firstly, voltage: in creating the power system it was always assumed that power would start at the generator and flow towards the consumer. Now we have ‘generators’ through rooftop solar PV installed at houses and businesses, which push power in the opposite direction when feeding into the grid. This has the effect of increasing the voltage in the system, causing unintended outcomes which can result in reduced quality of supply for consumers. The more energy we put in at a consumer level, the more significant voltage management becomes.

Another condition of a reliable energy systems is that enough inertia is maintained to cope with unplanned events, such as a cloud coming over and rapidly reducing solar generation, or perhaps someone driving into a power pole. Inertia is the capacity for an object to remain in motion. In traditional power systems spinning generators have provided inertia and thus an ability to resist disturbances, giving the system time to respond to changing conditions. One of the reasons Future Grid has placed emphasis on the integration of household batteries into the network is their potential for providing virtual inertia in certain circumstances. The level to which we can increase the amount of solar in the system is limited by our ability to provide a mechanism to offset the required inertia.

Inertia and operational reserve (generation capacity that is online, controllable and ready to respond to meet demand) act like a shock absorber. The more renewables you add into the system, the bigger that shock absorber needs to be, which starts to become very expensive. So, the question is: are there other ways to provide that shock absorption into the system, such as batteries or other support mechanisms? This is part of what Future Grid is investigating.

Finally, a characteristic of the Alice Springs grid that differentiates it from many other grids is its isolation. Alice Springs doesn’t have anywhere else to which it can push surplus energy or draw upon additional energy when our network is under stress. There are plenty of isolated grids and stand-alone power systems servicing remote communities in Australia, but Alice Springs is an unusual size and regulated. This is unlike most other large grids, which link a variety of types of generation (such as coal, wind, hydro, solar) which can be adjusted to help maintain balance. A larger number of consumers is also helpful to maintain a stable system as traditional modes of generation struggle to operate at minimum loads. Alice Springs faces isolation, low loads, and fluctuating solar generation which makes it a challenging system to manage.

How much renewable energy is currently generated in Alice Springs?

As a proportion of the total annual generation in Alice Springs, roughly 15% comes from renewables. This includes household solar PV, large installations such as the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre, Alice Springs Airport and Town Council-operated buildings, as well as the Uterne Solar Power Station.

At certain times of the year Alice Springs can operate on well over 50% renewable energy. Those times typically occur in April and September when no heating or cooling is required, and demand for energy is low. This is particularly true of weekend days or holidays when schools and businesses are not running. If there is clear blue sky and mild weather, generation from solar PV is high and demand on the grid is low; these factors together lead to the proportion of energy coming from renewable sources being greater than usual.

It is outlined in the Utilities Commission Energy Outlook Report that Uterne Solar Power Station currently provides around 3% of total annual energy consumed in Alice Springs. Maximum demand in Alice Springs sits at around 50-60MW. Minimum demand has been decreasing as more people consume power from their solar PV systems.

How does Alice Springs Future Grid compare with or draw upon Alice Solar City?

A key strength of the Alice Solar City project was the consortium model through which the activities were conducted. Future Grid builds upon the consortium concept that was successful in the rollout of Solar City. Critically however, the Solar City project started with a context of introducing consumers to new range of opportunities to generate energy, reduce their consumption, and be more active participants in the power system. It was highly successful in building community engagement in that space. We’re now in a position where our power system is no longer able to accommodate the level of engagement by residents, businesses and investors. The Future Grid project is informed and driven by technology, but it’s not fundamentally a technology project. It is seeking to work out how you change the fundamental structures within which we operate, to accommodate the expectations of consumers.

Why is the Future Grid project needed?

The story starts more than a decade ago when the question being asked was whether or not there would be interest and uptake of renewables. The underlying assumption was that the uptake would happen at levels which meant the core operation of the grid would remain largely the same. However, uptake of renewable energy technology in Alice Springs has been particularly strong, and today the system within which the generation and delivery of energy operates in Alice Springs - the government system, the technical system, the regulatory system – has been tailored to a set of responsibilities and outcomes which are no longer consistent with the likely direction of the future energy system. It doesn’t mean the system we have is wrong, it’s just not necessarily optimised for the future. As a consequence, the requirement for a systems-level project that considers how all these factors can best work together has emerged.

Alice Solar City (2008-2013) served to drive uptake of rooftop solar. Such is the community’s ongoing enthusiasm, we now need to enable the grid infrastructure to support the continued ability for the community to install solar. There have been locations in Australia, particularly WA, where solar installations have been brought to a halt (e.g. Broome) and a move to Distributed Energy Resources (DER) is underway to enable further rooftop solar installations (e.g. Carnarvon and Onslow). In mid-2021 it was revealed Onslow had become the largest town ever to be operated (for a total of 80 minutes) on 100% renewable energy, as part of the DER project run by Horizon Power. Horizon is a Project Partner of Alice Springs Future Grid, and the Future Grid team has travelled to Perth to learn directly about Horizon’s technical trials.

Another aspect to consider is that many people talk about “the market” and how it can be used to drive change. However, the energy market is a subset of the power system; it’s not the whole system. The power system includes everything that sits around that market including technical standards that determine how things are done and the regulatory framework that sets out rights and responsibilities. That system is changing because technology is driving change in the roles and responsibilities of different entities. Future Grid is a systems project seeking to determine what is the right system for the future in Alice Springs.

What does the Future Grid project aim to do?

Alice Springs faces complex challenges to increasing the amount of renewable energy in its power system. The barriers are mainly technical, regulatory and economic. Solutions can be found in these areas, as well as through community engagement. The ultimate aim of Future Grid is to outline a pathway to show how Alice Springs can achieve the Northern Territory Government target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and possibly beyond. However, there are financial limitations, so the project is investigating the best use of existing infrastructure, complemented by new technologies. Future Grid is delivered through a series of innovative trials, models and investigations. Examples include establishing the first residential Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in the NT alongside a tariff trial, a wind study, a commercial microgrid trial, and creation of dynamic models to model future scenarios.

Future Grid brings together a broad range of Project Partners to develop and deliver a systems-wide project that will assist in identifying and addressing the various barriers to more renewables. Part of its legacy will be continued collaboration between Project Partners, as well as an informed community which can advocate for meeting the NT’s renewable energy target and continuing the journey beyond that goal. A key deliverable of the project will be a Roadmap to 2030 report, which will inform government policy and guide the implementation of recommended interventions in pursuit of the 2030 target.

Who is involved in Alice Springs Future Grid?

Future Grid is delivered under a consortium model. The consortium members are DKA and DKRI, Ekistica, Power and Water Corporation, and Territory Generation. The project is governed by a Steering Committee (SteCo) comprising individuals from each of the Consortium Member organisations. The SteCo is observed by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), CSIRO, and the Northern Territory Government, and takes advice from Charles Darwin University and Horizon Power.

Some Consortium Member organisations also act as sub-project leads. Ekistica is leading sub-projects 1 and 2, while Power and Water is leading sub-project 5. Future Grid’s other sub-project leads are the Arid Lands Environment Centre, which is leading sub-project 3; and Jacana Energy which leads sub-project 4. CSIRO is the project’s knowledge sharing partner.

There are further organisations involved in Future Grid, as constultants and technology partners. These include the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) at the University of Technology Sydney, RMIT and Proa Analytics.

How is Future Grid funded and how is the $12.5m being spent?

Alice Springs Future Grid is led by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy, which is contributing around $3m to the project, from its original NTG funding. The project received approximately $2m in funding from ARENA as part of ARENA's Advancing Renewables Program. In addition, Alice Springs Future Grid is also funded by a $3m grant from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources through the Regional and Remote Communities Reliability Fund – Microgrids Program.

The $12.5m stated as the project’s value does not entirely represent cash. In addition to the approximately $8m described above, the remaining project value comprises cash and in-kind contributions from Project Partners. The team is proud to have brought more than $5m of federal funding to Alice Springs.

How did the Alice Springs Future Grid project start?

The Roadmap to Renewables Report (2017) underpinned the Northern Territory’s 50 per cent by 2030 renewable energy target and highlighted some practical steps to start the NT on the least-cost path to this outcome. The report also suggested Alice Springs should be supported as a hub for solar energy research and development – an opportunity which had already been identified, owing to the strong history of renewable energy innovation in Alice Springs. The NT Government awarded $5m seed funding for the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy. Intyalheme - now an established flagship, project of Desert Knowledge Australia - was tasked with identifying and overcoming the barriers to further renewable energy in the Alice Springs energy system. Intyalheme’s strategy was focused in three areas: to build a collaborative stakeholder network, to be a conduit between stakeholders and the public, and to share knowledge. The strategic areas served to recognise that no single energy industry participant could get the Northern Territory to its renewable energy target.

Intyalheme’s efforts included securing the first regional Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) A-Lab, which culminated in the design of the Alice Springs Future Grid project. A subsequent funding application was submitted to ARENA, which was successful.

What is the Alice Springs Future Grid project?

Alice Springs Future Grid is a $12.5m collaborative project involving multiple organisations from across the Northern Territory and Australia. Its purpose is to identify and overcome barriers to further renewable energy penetration in the Alice Springs electricity system. Future Grid is delivered through a series of innovative trials, models and investigations. These activities are informing what may need to change in the Alice Springs electricity system to accommodate increasing amounts of renewable energy, while also improving use of the current system. Future Grid will design a pathway to achieving the Northern Territory’s 50 per cent by 2030 renewable energy target in Alice Springs, with lessons learnt transferable to other grids. The delivery of Future Grid is led by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy, on behalf of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA).

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