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Alice Springs solar tracking plant to quadruple in size to 4.1MW

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The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has announced it will put $13 million towards a major expansion of the 1MW Uterne solar PV plant in the Northern Territory’s Alice Springs.

Uterne – a product of the former federal government’s $94 million Solar Cities program – is a solar PV tracking plant that supplies electricity to the local grid, which, in Alice Springs is mainly supplied by relatively expensive gas and diesel-fired generation.

The solar plant was developed by SunPower and then sold to privately-owned Australian renewables company, Epuron – one of Australia’s most successful wind farm developers. It was named Uterne from the local Arrernte language meaning “bright sunny day.” And though small compared to European examples, it remains one of the largest tracking solar power plants in the Southern Hemisphere.

The CEFC loan will allow the construction of Uterne 2, a 3.1 MW expansion to the existing 1MW plant – an quadrupling of the original facility that, presumably, will be welcomed by local utility, Power and Water Corporation (with which Uterne has a power purchase agreement), the utility having already expressed interest in doubling its off-take from Uterne back in 2012.Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.05.05 AM

The CEFC says work on Uterne 2 is ready to start and will use the same solar-tracking technology as Uterne 1, which increases daily energy production by up to 30 per cent compared with conventional fixed-tilt installations.

Epuron executive director and co-founder Andrew Durran said expanding the existing Uterne facility made good business sense, but was too small a project to appeal to the commercial project finance market, and so relied on finance from the CEFC.

“The CEFC’s project financing model helps drive down transaction costs for smaller projects, helping to make them attractive to commercial project financing institutions. The potential for the future is in building pooled portfolios of smaller transactions which will be able to attract private sector interest,” CEFC CEO Oliver Yates said.Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.05.12 AM

Yates said regional and remote Australia held huge “untapped potential” for large-scale solar, which could make a big difference in keeping energy costs down and boosting competitiveness.

The CEFC – which remains on the Abbott government’s clean energy chopping block – is currently finalising a number of solar investments which, along with Uterne, will take its total commitments to solar investments to nearly $250 million in utility, residential and commercial solar in Australia. It has a further $1.6 billion in potential projects seeking solar finance in its pipeline.

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  • Zvyozdochka

    Sophie, I wonder if the performance data for the plant is published anywhere?

    • sophvorrath

      Hi Zvyozdochka. Couldn’t find it published anywhere, but will enquire

  • Matthew Wright

    it’s surprising that they haven’t used oversizing rather than tracking. oversizing is a lot cheaper than tracking to achieve the same amount of kWh produced and has the added advantage of better low light / cloud cover performance which tracking does not give you.

  • Russell Harris

    Matthew, the site is constrained by the existing lease. Using high efficiency (>20%) PV panels in conjunction with tracking generates significantly more yield per hectare at similar LCOE to standard panels on fixed mounts.

  • michael

    “made good business sense”… can’t get “commercial project finance”…. it’s one or the other no?

    • Motorshack

      Not necessarily.

      Big investors would rather put their money into larger projects, because it is less trouble for them. Finding an equivalent dollar amount in the form of lots of small projects is a pain in the butt, because in many ways the effort of doing due diligence is much the same, independent of the size of the investment.

      That is one of the reasons that crowd-funding websites are popular. Very small projects can be matched up with investors interested in that scale of things. For commercial investors such projects are a waste of time, even if they happen to make brilliant business sense.

      • michael

        why wouldn’t one of the big four banks write the loan? I’m sure they’re funding small business all the time and wouldn’t be expecting a corner shop to be paying off their entire loan in 3 years (I could be wrong!). Take on board the problem with large investment funds not being able to do say <$5M or <$20M investments due to their overheads. This project with $13M being put forward for only some of the funding I would think makes it a reasonable sized project all up.

        • Motorshack

          You may well have a point about bigger banking institutions being amenable to modestly-sized projects, although here in the U.S. the large chains often seem to have surprisingly little interest in small business. The (very old) joke here is that you can only get a loan if you can prove that you don’t really need it.

          My only point was that really large investors, like state pension funds, are usually looking to place money in very large blocks. Aside from the overhead, they also cannot buy into markets where the size of their purchase or sale will move the market significantly. They need massive amounts of liquidity. Hence, their taste for the stocks and bonds of giant, blue chip companies.

          Of course, that is how they got suckered by the mortgage backed securities being sold by the big New York investment banks. It made “business sense” to buy junk securities, simply because some rating agency was paid cold cash to put their seal of approval on seriously crappy products.

          And there you have the real problem. After working on Wall Street for a couple of years, designing software for securities trading systems, it was utterly clear to me that bankers are not “business people” in the usual sense of the word. They are just timid people who shuffle papers, with no real connection to the real world.

          So, I would never expect a banker to recognize “good business sense.” Doing that is simply not in their job description.

          And if any bankers out there are offended, tough. If you want respect then get a job that merits respect. I’ve seen how banks work on the inside, and that experience provokes nothing but profound contempt.