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 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.

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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