(Update: See late breaking news of Gupta’s stunning deal to provide solar power to 5 major South Australian businesses, and slash their bills by up to 50 per cent with “firm” solar).
Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance has provided more fascinating details of how it plans to use solar and storage to establish a new manufacturing based in Australia based around cheap and clean energy, and wants to make sure other industries have access to the same.
Gupta was scheduled to speak at the Energy Networks Australia conference in Sydney on Thursday, but his place was taken by Liam Reid, the head of power business development at GFG Alliance who is heading the company’s energy push.
Gupta has already outlined plans to build up to 10GW of large-scale solar across the country, but it is the first phase of that ambition – 1GW of large scale solar and battery and pumped hydro storage – that is going to be one of the most groundbreaking and significant investments in the country.
Groundbreaking because it is a recognition that big industrial users now see renewables – and not coal or gas – as the avenue to regain Australia’s cost advantage over competitors. GFG Alliance expects savings of around 40 per cent from current costs, and it wants to share the love, and the benefits with other consumers.
Reid spoke of a new term – “gensumer”, rather than a “gentailer” or “prosumer” – to reflect GFG Alliance’s ambition to generate significant amounts of renewable energy, not just for its own operations but also for third-party plans.
“Sanjeev has asked us to go hard on solar,” Reid said. “We want to make more than what we can possibly consume, and share elsewhere.”
The basis of this program is up to 1GW of solar to be built around the Whyalla region, capitalising on South Australia’s “extraordinary” solar resource. Reid says this will begin with an 80MW solar farm “behind the meter” near the Whyalla Steelworks, and another 200MW of grid connected solar on GFG land.
Part of this generation will be used by the local steelworks, and part of it to support regional industry. As Gupta flagged last month, this will extend across all other states, and could total as much as 10GW.
The company has already contracted much of the output from the Numurkah solar farm in Victoria, to be built by Neoen, to supply power to the Laverton steelworks.
After solar, storage is the critical part of the equation, and Reid gave some further insight into the detail of the company’s plans.
He says that work on the proposed pumped hydro site in the old Iron Duchess mine in the Middleback Ranges some 50km from Whyalla suggests that the storage component could be much, much larger, even double, the mooted capacity of 90MW and 390MWh.
Reid says this pumped hydro could be replicated at other mine sites as Iron Baron or Iron Knob, and suggested also that the pumped hydro could play a critical role in supporting, balancing, and storing the output from local wind farms such as Cathedral Rocks and Mt Millar.
“A pumped hydro energy storage plant could fill the supply gaps when nearby wind farms are becalmed,” he said. And the company was exploring capability to provide network services including fast frequency response, system restart and inertia via declutching or “spinning in air”.
The other big storage project is what could be – barring other ambitious development proposals – the world’s biggest battery storage installation to date: 120MW/140MWh lithium-ion battery storage facility near Port Augusta.
Reid says this battery storage would support and enable solar farms in the Whyalla region, as well as improving network stability in South Australia with fast frequency response.
GFG Alliance is also looking at co-generation of power at the Whyalla steelworks using captured waste gas, and also captured heat from the steelworks’ operations.
The company, through its local energy venture, SIMEC ZEN Energy, is also demonstrating benefits of commercial-scale energy storage across a range of sites including State Library, the Art Gallery, Adelaide High School, and the City of Adelaide Works Depot.
Reid says that as the cost of renewable energy declines, Australia’s abundant energy resources can be used to scale up energy-intensive skilled manufacturing industries with low-cost and long-term sustainable energy supply.
“SIMEC Energy’s goal is to supply this energy to its GFG siblings with an optimised mix of large-scale and distributed technologies … then build a business serving a wider group of industrial customers with similar needs,” he said.
“This extends the Australian generator-retailer model to become a generator-consumer or “gensumer” model … it’s a portfolio approach helping revitalise Australia’s energy-intensive manufacturing faster ” and to help it grow further.