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SEXI solar proposal: NSW councils team up for major solar projects

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A group of NSW councils accounting for two-thirds of the state’s area have joined forces on a proposed solar initiative that would see each local government group install around half a megawatt of PV in various sites around their electorate.

The plan, called the Solar Energy eXchange Initiative – or the SEXI proposal – is a voluntary alliance of up to 32 Councils that aims to seek federal government funding of up to $200 million, over five to six years to develop six solar projects, worth about $30 million each, and demonstrate five different solar technologies.

The first of these projects would focus on solar PV, with each local council installing approximately 0.4 MW of PV panels at a number of sites, and monitoring sunshine levels, cloud formations, and electricity production of the panels.

The project would use of a range of panel types, to “proof test” and compare their performances.  The collection of real time data from up to 100 sites across inland NSW would then assist the planning of future solar energy projects, as well as projects like the CSIRO’s solar intermittency / cloud mapping enterprises.

Data would be published on the internet, and freely available to all researchers (and the general public).

Beyond the distributed PV project, the remaining five SEXI proposal projects focus on concentrating solar thermal, with plans to build five medium-scale CST plants of 3-6MW each, using a range of solar and storage technologies.Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.46.43 AM

The plants would be large enough to meet the electricity demand of a typical country town of two to five thousand people – according to the rule of thumb for baseload power of 1000 people per MW.

According to the SEXI group, while occasional excess electricity would be exported to the grid, there would be no need to significantly extend or strengthen the grid, as the plants would be sized to fit within the grid.

The CSP plants would also be located at the loads, producing power in a paddock adjacent to the town, to be consumed in the town.

For the five country towns selected, the local council would own and operate the local solar thermal power plant.

The projects would also function as demonstration plants for a future solar energy industry in western NSW, that would supply electricity to Sydney and Melbourne.

“Having a number of small demonstration plants in inland NSW, sized for and operating to supply a country town, built in a range of technologies, will give confidence to the proponents of larger plants,” a SEXI group media release notes.

“They will have ‘real world’ results to rely on, not just computer simulations. The engineers can be confident that potential problems have been identified and managed on other sites.”

To date 24 Councils have passed formal motions of support for the SEX proposal; with about 60 per cent of NSW signing on. Four Regional Organisations of Councils have given support, as has the NSW parliament.  

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  • Chris Drongers

    Wonderful move by the shires in western NSW. Complements the moves by Ergon Energy in Qld to add storage to thin bits of their inland electricity network and Western Australia with PV-diesel hybrids on small isolated grids in the Murchison and Pilbara.

    I am surprised that the majority of the proposals are for concentrated solar thermal rather than PV-with-battery back up, especially given the far more experimental status of small solar thermal compared to PV-batteries. Also, PV-with-batteries has fewer moving parts than thermal storage-with-turbine which is probably what is being proposed.

    I hope this proposal is more than just opening a wishlist with ARENA for funding (wait a long time).

    • JonathanMaddox

      There’s hope, probably valid hope, that many deployments of CST will bring down the costs.

      Thermal storage is definitely much cheaper in terms of materials (water, steel, insulation) than battery storage of electricity. Moving parts are something we manage to cope with eg. with our vehicle fleet, I’m not convinced they’re a show-stopper for CST 🙂

  • john

    ok quick envelope calculation
    a house there uses about 40 KwH a day
    to supply that you need 10 kw PV system @ $15k output 40 kwh a day
    battery system for the other 20 Kwh @ $400 a Kw for 2.5 KwH = $3.2k
    use rounding to $19k for each house
    first year 1 house times 40 times 365 = 14600 KwH
    capital cost = 19k unit cost = $1.30
    This will last for more than 20 years but lets use 15 so we have
    40kwh * 365 *15 plus $3.2k divided by unit cost $19k
    actually it is simple it is $1.3/15 which is 8.6666 cents per KwH
    now this is a total No Brainer at first glance however lets add in monitoring and ancillaries. so to the original cost of the system lets add 30% per year.
    which comes to 8.666 * 1.3 = 10.4 cents a KwH
    You can double the numbers and it is still cheaper than trying to supply power to long distance places anywhere.
    So at 20.8c a KwH who would not want this?

    Just check out the cost of flow batteries as they are falling and it is programmatic if Li batteries will be in the picture.