This con­tent has been writ­ten by the Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Ener­gy in col­lab­o­ra­tion with engi­neers and oth­er ener­gy indus­try experts with­in the Con­sor­tium Mem­ber organ­i­sa­tions of Alice Springs Future Grid, and on occa­sion, Project Asso­ciates. 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. 

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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 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.

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 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 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 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?

Solar is currently the only viable renewable resource in Central Australia, so to reach 100% solar would require a very large (and prohibitively expensive) battery, to cover the overnight periods. If we can overcome grid stability challenges, it may well be possible to reach 100% solar during the day. Further investigations are required to determine if wind energy is able to diversify the Alice Springs energy portfolio. 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.

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