Alinta Energy is looking to add a wind farm and more battery storage to the Pilbara network that supplies some of the country’s biggest iron ore mines, as it also announces a $95 million upgrade of its gas generator at the Newman power station.
Alinta is adding 14 high efficiency gas reciprocating generation units, adding a further 60MW of fast-start capacity at Newman, and allowing it to replace older industrial gas turbine units – some of which have been sidelined by the recent addition of the ground breaking 30MW/11MWh big battery.
The technology upgrade will cut emissions by around 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum, but the real gains will be the added flexibility of the grid to support more renewable energy, and Alinta’s head of merchant energy Ken Woolley has no doubts that the region is transitioning towards a renewables-heavy generation mix.
An extension of the transmission line will enable Alinta to add a 60MW solar farm at Chichester, and connect to other Fortescue Metals mines, where another 150MW of solar and another big battery will be added.
Woolley says that won’t be all. It’s looking at the possible addition of a 60MW-80MW wind farm in the area, an expansion of the Newman battery, and additional battery storage around the local grid.
“I can see in five years time there will be more battery installations, more solar PV, and wind will help fill in the gaps, and solar and wind combined with batteries and the high voltage network will definitely be the future, reducing emissions, reducing costs, and ensuring improved reliability,” Woolley told RenewEconomy.
“As the local grid is being built out we have the opportunity to get it right and not experience the curtailment you are seeing on the east coast, and the Pilbara is a nice place to get it right.”
The addition of the Newman big battery two years ago has already proved a success – demonstrating the ability of a battery to be “grid forming” – meaning it can operate by itself for certain periods, reducing costs by removing the need for gas back up generators, and delivering a significant lift in reliability, as well as a quick return on investment for Alinta.
“We started by installing Western Australia’s biggest battery at the site in 2018, and then announced the ground-breaking Chichester Solar Gas Hybrid Project with Fortescue Metals Group in 2019,” Woolley said in a statement.
“Now we’re expanding the Newman Power Station with the latest technology to generate more flexibly, efficiently and affordably, while securing our expanding high voltage network.
“Each of these projects is moving us in the right direction for the Pilbara region to become more interconnected and able to reliably and efficiently welcome more renewables into the mix.
“What’s happening in the Pilbara is exciting because it’s rare globally, let alone in Australia, to have the opportunity to engineer a network from the ground up for a renewable future. That’s also been made possible by our customers and commercial partners working towards the same vision.”
Indeed, Fortescue, Rio Tinto, BHP and even Gina Rinehart’s iron ore operations are all looking to add renewables to their generation mix, as are smaller miners looking to save on the high costs of gas and diesel.
Woolley noted that BHP had agreed to shift the generation mix at its Chile copper mines to 100 per cent renewables, and its Queensland coal mines to 50 per cent renewables by 2025, and told RenewEconomy there was no reason why that could not be done in Australia.
“You can you get to 100% renewables, absolutely you can,” Woolley said. “What it (the Pilbara) will look like in 10 years time, we’ll see. But we can get to 50% for sure.”
The Newman battery would likely to expanded to deal with the greater influx of renewables, but other batteries, over and above the one planned by Fortescue Metals, will also need to be added along the network.