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World-leading solar and battery storage project lures BHP

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A world leading large-scale solar and battery storage project in north Queensland has drawn interest from the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton, which says it is looking at the technology for its remote and off-grid mine sites.

The project, near Lakeland south of Cooktown, will combine 10.4MW of solar PV with 1.4MW/5.3MWh of lithium-ion battery storage, and is being pitched as a world-first for remote, edge of grid technology, and one likely to trigger a host of similar projects across Australia.

conergy lakeland solar storage copy

It was announced on Tuesday that the $42.5 million project, being developed by German-based Conergy, will get $17.5 million in funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and has also signed a power purchase agreement with Origin Energy.

That will be Origin’s fourth PPA with a solar project in the last few months, following its deals with Moree, Clare, and the Degrussa mine facility. Three of these have been co-funded by ARENA, and two of these – Lakeland and Degrussa – have been paired with battery storage.

This is where BHP Billiton’s interest has been pricked. The head of environment at BHP Billiton, Dr Graham Winkelman, says solar and storage projects may help BHP Billiton reduce its own operating emissions while helping to support energy reliability at some of the more remote operations.

BHP Billiton is tipping $350,000 into the “knowledge sharing” aspects of the project, small change for a company of its size, but it recognises the potential because of the number of its own operations that are in remote locations, far from infrastructure or on the fringe of grids. Energy security, through battery storage, is also an issue.

“The applications for mining could be enormous,” the company says. “The Lakeland Solar and Battery Storage Project will allow us to understand behaviour and performance of solar and storage systems with network and industrial loads.

“It is also an important component of Low Emissions Technology that provides balance to our portfolio. More broadly, battery storage is a key piece in the advancement of renewables and realising their potential to reduce emission on a larger industrial scale.”

There are now a growing number of solar and storage projects under construction or already running in Australia, including Degrussa and Weipa mines, along with off-grid projects such as Coober Pedy, Rottnest Island, King Island, and Flinders Island.

BHP has been operating a 1MW solar plant at the township adjacent to one of its copper mines in Chile, and it has previously canvassed solar and other renewable technologies when it put together its draft planning for the massive Olympic Dam project, although that whole project is now on hold.

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the ground breaking aspect of the project was its ability to operate in “island mode”, including in the evening peak, meaning that it could still supply power when the main transmission lines were cut due to storms or some other technical issue.

This is critically important for the likes of Ergon Energy, which runs the world’s most elongated and least populated grid, and which is looking at solar and storage options as an alternative to investing in upgrades of poles and wires and transformers in other locations in western and northern Queensland.

“Batteries are already competitive for particular situations,” Frischknecht told RenewEconomy. “They are not competitive right now with coal or gas generation, but that is not what we are trying to do.”

In a statement, he said: “The global energy transition is happening faster than many anticipated and Australia is well placed to be a key player. Our growing expertise in integrating renewables and batteries could readily translate into economic opportunities including export dollars in world markets.”

ARENA has now funded more than 200 different projects, but its future is under a cloud because of Coalition government proposals to remove its remaining legislated funds of $1.3 billion.

It has now amended that to cutting $1 billion as part of the omnibus budget repair package it intends to present to parliament, drawing on declared Labor policies announced in the recent election campaign. Labor has yet to say if it really intends to vote for the effective destruction of an agency it created during the Gillard government.

Conergy Australia managing director David McCallum said there was an immense opportunity in Australia for the widespread use of utility-scale batteries to store surplus power from excess solar generation for use during cloud cover, night-time and peak times.

“Utility-scale solar and storage, combined with effective management software, is the Holy Grail of the global renewable energy industry, and with this project we are well within reach of it,” he said in a statement, adding that this would decrease demand on both traditional generation and grid infrastructure.

The project will use the 1.4MW/5.3MWh ‘CHESS’ (Conergy Hybrid Energy Storage Solution) product designed by Conergy, with software and electronics provided by Autarsys GmbH. It will create a consistent power supply, even during times of cloud cover, and will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of over 3,000 homes day and night.

Other larger solar and storage projects are also on the cards, including the Kingfisher project in South Australia, which is looking at a 20MW solar plus 2MW battery storage facility as a precursor to a 100MW solar PV plus 40MW battery storage project near Roxby Downs, on the main transmission line leading to BHP’s Olympic Dam project.

Construction at Lakeland will begin in September and is due to be completed in April next year. Germany’s Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale (Nord/LB) provided a 15-year non-recourse financing facility for the project, and Norton Rose Fulbright provided legal counsel to Conergy.

  

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  • GlennM

    I would not want to be in a Pub with the BHP CEO. Cheap B******* it is a 42.5 Million project, the Taxpayers are kicking in $17.5. BHP says it could be have “enormous applications for” BHP and they are contributing 0.35 Million (0.82%) !!! Sounds like just enough to rip off the IP.

    Well at least they are not spending the $350 k on a “think tank” to stop renewables so I suppose they have moved a little.

    • john

      Yes it is rather strange that BHPB is kicking in that money perhaps you have a point about the IP.
      At Roxy Downs they do have a need to develop a solar project as they are at the end of the line and using Diesel Generation is not exactly very cheap.
      We do live in interesting times indeed.

  • Tim Buckley

    Meanwhile Chile is now doing utility scale solar at a record low US$29/MWh and India is doing utility scale solar with storage for select ongrid applications. The world is moving rapidly. Great to see Frydenberg last week at last shift his stance to accept the inevitability of transition – now we just need the Federal Government accept that this transformation is accelerating and hence the critical need for them to shift their actions rather than just provide lip service to this concept. Maintaining ARENA’s funding would be a great first step.

    • MaxG

      And you wonder why people vote for the “leaders” of this country… every man and his dog should boot these clowns out for good.

  • Miles Harding

    Where’s the wind??

    Integrated wind and solar is being installed in other projects in the region, so why not here?

    • wazsah

      Miles Harding you say – Where’s the wind??
      What a great question now we are in the fourth day of wind drought. Check NemWatch.

    • nakedChimp

      Up there might even be possible with a lot of big blocks and maybe some rent for the land owners..
      The New windpark at Walkamin.. couple 100km south from there on the Tablelands is going to start this DEC – gonna be there and watch when I can 🙂

  • Daniel

    So public money goes into ARENA (including money from lots of poor people and people who cannot afford investments) and ARENA puts the money into big private business. Where is the social justice???

    • Lightfoot

      ARENA has been using grants and low interest loans to a large number and large variety of renewable energy projects. They have dramatically accelerated the fall in installation costs for utility scale solar in Australia. Without Arena funding, the mountain would be simply to big to climb, for many local companies. The social justice occurs through job creation, through investments that will benefit everyone in the long term. Advancement of innovation, demonstration of prototypes and research and development. ARENA is the propellant for Australian Renewable Energy development and research. Their grants are carefully selected and have been shown to have dramatic effects, meaning they have a very high ROI. Have a look at what ARENA invests in, here. http://arena.gov.au/projects/

      • Daniel

        Looking at ARENA’s projects their investment around new technology and large scale projects appears solid. There doesn’t appear to be a primarily community based or social justice approach. If this group can’t apply a triple bottom line in their decision making – economic, environmental and social justice, I personally wish for them to be removed from a decision making role. Projects need benefit Australian citizens directly, especially in these times of greatest inequality – the poorest and most marginalised in society – Not big business.

      • Daniel

        We’ve had an election and I haven’t seen Australian’s jump in to defend ARENA, so perhaps they could have focused more on projects people on the street can relate to as helping. I haven’t heard of either of the major political parties wishing to retain ARENA, so perhaps there’s little imperative or recognition from the general public. We may hence see ARENA learn a hard lesson in the need to focus explicitly on social justice as well as environmental goals.

  • Daniel

    Promoting ARENA giving taxpayer money to big business