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SA Water to install 6MW of solar PV in quest to cut power costs – to zero

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South Australian water and sewerage utility SA Water is hoping to cut its electricity bill from an eye-watering total of $55 million in 2016/17 to a net total of $0 in 2020, after announcing plans to install up to 6MW of solar PV across a number of its large metropolitan sites.

Having ramped up its renewables rollout with a tender for a solar and battery storage system in July of last year, SA Water last month revealed plans to invest another $10 million on an initial 6MW of both rooftop and ground-mounted PV across its operations, with the first installations expected to begin in the first half of this year.*

SA Water’s Crystal Brook solar installation in progress. Image supplied.

As a result of the July tender, a $500,000 pilot 100kW solar 50kWh battery storage system is currently being installed at SA Water’s Crystal Brook workshop (pictured above).

As we reported here last year, the utility – which serves 1.6 million people across South Australia and is one of the state’s largest electricity users – is one of many water companies around Australia turning to renewable energy to cut costs in what is a notoriously energy-intensive industry.

In the regional Victorian city of Portland, Wannon Water is building an 800kW wind turbine that it will use to power its water and sewerage treatment plant.

Also in regional Victoria, North East Water is in the process of installing 43kW of solar panels and 40kW of battery storage at its Yakandandah facility.

In Queensland, the City of Gold Coast is proposing to install a series of floating solar PV arrays on its network of wastewater ponds – both to help power the city’s wastewater treatment plants and to cut evaporation from the ponds.

The SA Water project, however, is the most ambitious so far, with the ultimate goal of cutting power bills to zero.

“We’ve already been reducing our electricity costs by more than $3 million a year since 2013, so we know that with a concerted push, our goal is ambitious, but within reach,” said SA Water CEO Roch Cheroux.

“By increasing our renewable energy generation and storage, driving energy efficiencies and making smart decisions around our electricity usage and procurement, we aim to reduce our net electricity costs from $55 million in 2016/17 to $0 in 2020,” he told One Step Off The Grid in emailed comments.

Cheroux said the solar and battery storage would be used alongside a range of complementary initiatives, implemented in a staged approach to help reach the company’s goal. Some of these would involve generating, storing and selling more renewable energy, others would involve cutting power usage or strategically managing the timing of peak demand.

“There will still be times when we draw electricity from the grid, but we’ll offset those costs by storing and selling energy we produce at other times, to bring our net external electricity expenses down to $0,” he said.

“A range of innovative emerging technologies will also be tested in partnership with local and international providers.”

SA Water said that further pilot projects being funded by technology partners and moving into testing phases in 2018 included floating solar – an increasingly popular option for water treatment plants and reservoirs; “silicon thermal storage” to complement existing biogas generation (pictured above); and flywheel mechanical battery storage systems.

Further capital investment is expected to be guided by the outcomes of the pilot projects, and considered on a case by case basis, the company said.

“Every step we make towards it will deliver savings for our business, and therefore our customers,” Cheroux said.

Already, the company generates power from biogas – a by-product of the sewage treatment process – and through hydroelectric systems, by harnessing the force of moving water within the network.

*This article has been amended to reflect that the solar installations will be both rooftop and ground mounted, and that construction of the project will begin in the first half of 2018, and not 2019, as originally stated.  

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  • George AD

    These are starting to add up. A few MW here and there might not sound like much, but suddenly you’re dealing with hundreds and you’ve reduced NEM demand considerably.

    Major power users have realised that they have a cost that can be reduced dramatically without major drain on their capital, and they’re starting to go for it.

    • Michael Murray

      Definitely. It’s like rooftop solar PV. Each one alone is small but they add up !

    • Chris Drongers

      6 GW of rooftop PV represents quite a lot of lost thermal generation, if substituted directly. 6,000 MW x 17% capacity factor x 24 hours x 365 days a year x .12 tonne coal/MWhr = roughly 1 M tonnes of black coal equivalent, or 250 coal trains or 10,000 truckloads of coal.

      • Kevfromspace

        Where did you hear that capacity factor for rooftop PV? I’ve heard it’s closer to 14%

        • Chris Drongers

          Fig 3 Lu, Blakers and Stocks 2017 ’90e100% renewable electricity for the South West Interconnected System of Western Australia’

          http://re100.eng.anu.edu.au/resources/assets/1703LuRESWIS.pdf

          So Kevfromspace is probaby correct and national capacity factors in more cloudy environments may well be lower although Perth does have a lot of cloud in winter.

  • Kevin Brown

    Australia’s taxpayers are being poorly served by Government Departments who are not seeking cheaper power purchase arrangements. Most Government offices in Canberra operate between 8.30am – 5.00pm and should be able to source most of their power requirements from large scale solar PV at a lesser cost than buying from ACTEW-AGL.

    • Adam Dale Kilpatrick

      Agree. Its good to see SA Gov departments moving to cheap supplies.

  • juxx0r

    Hey Roch,

    I’d like the opportunity to sell you $35,000 of batteries for the low low price of only $250,000, which would be a $50,000 saving over the $300,000 that you’re paying now.

    How about it?

    Also can probably do 100kW of solar for cheaper than $2/W.

    Get back to me tiger.

    • Catprog

      Does that include all installation costs?

      • juxx0r

        For $250,000, i’d install it in a shark suit if thats what they wanted.

        But most unlikely once they work out that the payback period is Never, the IRR is negative and the NPV stands for negative present value.

        • Catprog

          https://www.infiniteenergy.com.au/commercial-solar-system-size-comparison/100kw

          $130,000 – $200,000

          I would also like you to tell me where you are getting 50Kwh battery for under $35k.

          And from the article they need 60 500k systems to get 60MW. That is 30 million. They want to save 55million a year.

          • juxx0r

            This is a retail price including delivery and GST:

            http://www.batteryenergystoragesystems.com.au/index.php/buy-now/resu-10-retail

            for under $35k.

            Also your maths is wrong, times ten.

          • Catprog

            100kw * 60 = 6MW.

          • juxx0r

            “And from the article they need 60 500k systems to get 60MW. That is 30 million. They want to save 55million a year.”

          • Catprog

            Right I see.

            100KW * 60 = 6MW
            60 * $500k = $30 million.

          • MaxG

            FYI… my 20kWh LiFePo4 battery cost me 10k$… meaning I could built a 50kWh battery for 25k$.

          • Catprog

            I had not kept up with batteries prices..

        • Ren Stimpy

          No shark suit required, just a peg for the nose.

  • Ruben

    6MW of rooftop solar?
    That’s nearly 60,000m2 or viable roof space. Is that a mistake?

    • Michael Murray

      They are going to float it on their dams. Lots of unshaded flat space and you reduce evaporation. Win / win.

      • Ruben

        They’d certainly have the dam space, but there are two indicators in this sentence that contradict this somewhat.

        “$10 million on an initial 6MW of rooftop PV”

        It says rooftop and $10M wouldn’t anywhere close to paying for floating solar.

  • Rod

    Floating solar would have additional benefits like reducing evaporation and therefore reduced pumping requirements. It’s a long way from the Murray to Adelaide.
    Also the shading from floating farms would minimise the use of chemicals to treat the still water.

  • Joe

    Honestly, why or how Australia has not developed biogas just bamboozles me. It is low hanging fruit, every sewage treatment works is a biogas energy producer just waiting to be harnessed.

    • George AD

      Yarra Water in Melbourne have such a plant.

      • Joe

        Thank you, more of this please across Australia.

    • Adam Dale Kilpatrick

      The place we need biogas the most is dairy. Pretty much all our Dairy farms are already feedlot or close to. Consolidate feedlots close to each other, have them all collect methane and generate biogas in harvesters as well. This all just goes into the atmosphere at the moment as a potent greenhouse gas.

      • Joe

        A great idea and shows more low hanging fruit just waiting to be harnessed.

  • Sylvia Else

    It’s good that they are talking about storage, rather than treating the grid as a free battery. Even so, the AEMO has from time to time had to direct renewable generators to cease output to allow more fossil fuel generation. They’ve had to do this because there’s otherwise been to little synchronous generation to keep the system stable in the event of a failure. Synchronous generation doesn’t have to be fossil fuel based, but it usually is at the moment. Unless this issue is addressed, we’re just going to end up with more and more renewable generation that cannot actually be used at times. I also wonder what’s going to happen when there so much roof top solar (which cannot be ordered to stop generating) that there are occasions when roof top solar produces more power than the entirety of SA needs. Some can be exported to Victoria, provided the interconnector doesn’t fail. Otherwise, it’s not clear what happens at that point. It would be a shame if the only way the AEMO can create a balanced power system in SA is to disconnect it all.