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UTS takes lead in first Australian corporate purchase of offsite solar

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The University of Technology Sydney has signed an agreement to buy the output of the 200kW Singleton solar farm in what is being described as a “first” in renewable energy purchasing in the country.

The Chau Chak Building on the Broadway campus will source 12 per cent of its annual electricity consumption from the Singleton solar farm located more than 150kms away in the Hunter Valley.

singleton

Singleton Solar Farm

Such purchases are common in the US and elsewhere, whre corporates, both big and small, source some or all of their electricity needs from an offsite location.

But it is believed to be the first in Australia for a solar farm, and could be the model for underwriting future large scale renewables projects, particularly if the big retailers are slow to the market.

“UTS strives to lead in sustainability and new business models can be just as important as new technologies in achieving this,” said UTS Deputy Vice Chancellor (Resources) Patrick Woods.

“In this case, we have proceeded with a new business model of electricity purchasing to further understand how this may work.

“This model can be further developed in time by UTS or shared with others, so it could be used to underwrite new renewable energy projects.”

UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast said that for solar and wind farms to get funded and built, they need a customer for the energy.

“Until now solar and wind farms have relied on electricity retail companies to buy their electricity,” Prendergast said. “This new customer-led renewables model means large consumers can become customers directly of renewable energy operators.

“There are a lot of large renewable energy projects ready to go, but they can’t get funded until they have a power purchase agreement (PPA).

We have a great solar resource in Australia, but we have only built a few solar farms. This approach can see more get funded and built.”

Organisations like the City of Melbourne and the World Wildlife Fund Corporate Renewables Buyers Group are also investigating how they can use their consumer power to support more renewables.

The Victoria government is also looking to contract to buy the output from some off-site solar farms to power the tram network in Melbourne.

The ACT government has also contracted to buy solar and wind energy from remote wind farms, but the corporate market had hitherto not been touched – despite numerous reports of interest.

Pendergast noted that in the US on 2014, such direct PPAs underwrote the development of more than 1 million kilowatts capacity of new renewables.”

The electricity is being bought from Singleton Solar Farm Stage 2 owner, XYZ Solar, which bought the plant from EnergyAustralia and switched it back on in 2014, via the UTS electricity retailer, ERM Business Energy.  

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  • Ian

    This is an interesting development and deserves more in-depth analysis as it fits the idea of distributed generation and the use of the network as an electron highway to transmit energy from point of generation to point of consumption. Much like the highway system is used to transfer goods from factory to consumer. Presumably Singleton solar farm and UTS set a price for their PPA between them and the network operator charges a fee for the use of the network. How do they meter this electricity to reflect both time and quantity of production and of consumption? How much does the network charge for electricity transmission in this scenario? Or does the network get assurances from generator and consumer regarding expected electricity production and consumption, negotiate prices and then act as the primary merchant buying from generator and selling to the consumer, in other words generator and consumer jointly bid into the network’s electricity market?

    As in the transportation market, one size does not fit all. Many different models of metering and tariff arrangements could co-exist on a network. As technology enables distributed generation and storage , diversity in the electrical market will need to be accommodated. No more room for Prima Donnas running the whole show.

    There has been discussion of community solar parks. We also need to consider community microgrids, perhaps on a suburb level, involving household consumption, generation and storage. The community would control access to the microgrid by the wider network providers and collectively negotiate a suitable price from them.