Big solar may take off first in Western Australia

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Australia’s big solar industry is crying foul over the proposed RET compromise – except in WA, where solar could get precedence over wind.

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As many in Australia’s large-scale solar industry cry foul over the proposed compromise to the renewable energy target, solar developers in Western Australia are sounding more relaxed.

Wind energy is likely to be favoured in most parts of the country because it is further down the cost curve. That means, if the RET is cut – as seems inevitable – wind will get precedence.

But the situation is expected to be different in WA, where solar could get precedence over wind. That’s because of the unique nature of the Western Australian energy market, whose high wholesale prices and “peaky” grid mean that large-scale solar will be to go-to energy source – if and when some certainty in policy is provided.

Richard Harris, director of Perth-based renewable energy development company WestGen, says large-scale solar will take up the early projects in WA because of the state’s need for peak and shoulder energy.

WestGen itself has a 30MW solar PV project on the outskirts of Perth, as well as a 40MW biomass project at Manjimup in the south-west, ready to roll.

“In WA, the first projects likely to be built will be solar and biomass because those projects deliver energy in a way that is particularly useful to the grid,” Harris says.

Indeed, he suggests that WA would build between 400MW and 500MW of renewable energy out to 2020, under the compromise deal being proposed by Clean Energy Council, and now by Labor.

The state currently has 400MW of renewable energy, dominated by wind, including the 207MW Collgar wind farm, but Harris suggests that at least the first 150MW of new capacity could be solar and biomass.

WA is known to have the best solar resources in the world, and WestGen’s is just one of a number of solar projects being contemplated in the state.

Already, it has the 10MW Greenough River solar farm, built by Verve Energy, GE and First Solar. French group Neoen has two solar projects – one near Geraldton and the other in the Kalgoorlie area; while Spanish group Abengoa is exploring an idea to build a 20MW solar tower with storage project, and other solar thermal developers are also canvassing opportunities.4305742-3x2-940x627

There are thought to be numerous small-scale solar projects also being proposed. Including a 10MW solar farm being considered by Fremantle Council.

Miners are also coming to the party. Sandfire Resources has announced plans to build a 10.6MW solar plant at its copper mine in remote Western Australia, along with battery storage. The builder, German firm juwi Renewables, says numerous other miners are looking at solar PV to offset the soaring and volatile cost of diesel fuel.

Harris says the compromise RET proposal represents a big cut from the current target, but at least would provide certainty to developers and owners of renewable energy projects in WA and around Australia

“In WA, these large-scale projects include solar PV, solar thermal, biomass, wind and wave power – many at an advanced stage of development and ready to be financed and built once there is a bipartisan outcome on the Renewable Energy Target.

“A deal on the RET will quickly unlock huge investments and create thousands of jobs in industries of the future. This is especially important for WA following the downturn in the resource sector.

“In WA, the first projects likely to be built will be solar and biomass because those projects deliver energy in a way that is particularly useful to the grid.

“It is certainly not the end point, because other countries are now setting higher targets to 2030 and beyond and moving to at least 50 per cent of power coming from renewable energy. But let’s just get started.”

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16 Comments
  1. Thomas Wearne 4 years ago

    I’m in WA if anyone in the renewables industry is hiring engineers!

  2. disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

    Why wouldn’t a windy place like WA give preference to wind and use storage to fix peak issues, baffling.

    • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

      Wind plus storage is more expensive than solar. Western Australia has no pumped storage and no hydroelectricity that could help meet peak demand, unlike eastern Australia where hydroelectricity together with two pumped storage facilities are enough to meet roughly two hours or more of average demand a day on their own.

      However, with the cost of battery storage coming down, it may not be that long before it pays for homes and businesses with rooftop solar to have their own energy storage. We’re not there yet, but it is something to watch out for.

      Update: I wrote that Wester Australia has no hydroelectricity, but the main grid does have 2 megawatts of hydrocapity, which is next to nothing. There is another 30 megawatts on a separate grid in the Ord valley but that is so far away from Perth that in most countries it would be several countries away.

      • disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

        Thus is it, battery storage is due to take off very soon.
        The coast line of WA is hammered by wind.
        It would be cheaper to use wind than solar with facility to add storage.
        Large storage could also smooth out wind fluctuations, an inherent problem in the SA network.

        • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

          Well actually, rooftop solar is cheaper than wind in Western Australia, so they may as well make use of it. It is cheaper than wind because it is almost all point of use solar on the rooftops of homes and businesses. Because of the high cost of distribution, electricity from rooftop solar outcompetes electricty from any utility scale generation whether it is coal, natural gas, or wind. But solar and wind compliment each other fairly well, with solar reliably producing electricity during the day and periods of peak air conditioner use, and wind tending to pick up when it is cloudy or when cold winds blow in winter causing people to use more electricity for heating. Western Australia could easily get the majority of its electricty from wind and solar with existing natural gas capacity and/or new storage filling in any gaps.

          • Andrew Woodroffe 4 years ago

            No, not cheaper, it is just that the economics are different. For a start, rooftop PV gets it’s green certificates for 15 years upfront, big wind gets it as it is generated. Rooftop solar saves at retail prices, big wind only ever gets wholesale prices. Big wind pays network fees, rooftop solar uses existing connection charges. Finally WA, according to the IMO, will not need any new generation for 10 years (unless we closed down Muja!) so no PPA for any big generation. Solar will continue to go in behind the meter, regardless, say 80MW/year.

            Interestingly, unlike the east coast, our peak this summer (I get 3,804MW at 3:30pm – 4:00pm, 5th January, – I think it was 45 degrees that Monday) was greater than last summer, which was 3,702MW (5:30pm-6:00pm, 20th of January, also a Monday).

            Because of the Reserve Capacity Market/Mechanism (not available on the east coast), we actually have a very good handle on peak capacity over here.

            Despite what some say on this website, ALL WA generation data on the SWIS is publicly available from the IMO website.

            I agree that existing gas turbines can be used to supplement a far higher proportion of re on the SWIS that the 10% by MW and 15% by MWh that we have at the moment. The big, fat obstacle in the way is old coal, Muja A, B, C and D.

            These % are so low that even in WA, we are still far from needing storage to allow more re.

          • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

            Let’s see – my electricity bill says I pay 32 cents per kilowatt-hour for a combination of gas, wind, and coal generation.

            For rooftop solar, if I demand a real return of 5% on my money that would make my discount rate 5%. Let’s pretend there’s not such thing as a feed-in tariff just to keep weird people from butting in about how I’m destroying the holy sanctity of the grid or something. Say 2% of the initial cost of the system in average yearly repairs and maintenance. And 50% self consumption because I want coal to suffer. And panel cleaning costs? Bugger that for a game of soldiers. I’m not having my security compromised by panel cleaners listening in to my secret plans or planting bugs for the Kremlin! Figure a 30 year lifespan before the house underneath the panels falls apart and a performance of 80% of optimal panel output for my location. The average Australian cost of a median sized system is $1.55 a watt, but let’s pretend there’s no subsidy. The subsidy here is supposed to be about 70 cents a watt, but because of the way GST is applied it’s actually a bit less than that making the unsubsidised cost about $2.18 a watt. So the cost of electricity from rooftop solar comes to 13 cents a kilowatt-hour or 26 cents with 50% consumption and no feed-in tariff.

            Since 26 cents is clearly less than 32 cents, rooftop solar at its average price, with 50% self consumption, without subsidy and no feed-in tariff, is cheaper than grid electricity and that includes wind power. And since the average cost of wholesale electricity here is only about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour even if coal, gas, or wind cost zero cents a kilowatt-hour, rooftop solar would still be cheaper.

          • disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

            Cheeky unqualified armchair commentator, owns a system so is qualified to control commentary on this site.
            I’m for centralized or decentralised energy supplies, if you’d not be so ignorant as to guess.
            I’ve been involved in both large scale wind and domestic and commercial solar design/install and worked for a network.
            I could show you numerous photos of issues with domestic/ commercial solar installs and thermal images of numerous cracked cells.

          • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

            Would you like me to show you numerous photos of car defects? Oddly enough though, people still keep driving, the mad, impetuous fools!

          • disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

            Typical clueless amateur commenting on technical issues.
            No wonder Australia’s gone to the dogs

          • Mike Dill 4 years ago

            If I can get a battery to store some of those electrons that i would be giving away with no FIT, then the economics might be even better.

          • disqus_3PLIicDhUu 4 years ago

            Rooftop solar, on mass, is amongst the worst case projects ever undertaken.The error of right of centre policy.
            A mismash of un-optimised, poorly maintained, systems giving a few GW, money that would be better spent on the scale of economies given from wind and optimized solar farms.

            Presently rarely solar is all point of use, because pv generation never matches the load profile, there’s alternate point of use, feed in and grid supply, occurring.
            The main reason rooftop solar out competes is incentives and feed in tariffs.

            Solar is not always optimal when it’s hot, it’s output is reduced with temperature and domestic air conditioning, is often turned on right through till bedtime for many, so solar generation does not correlate that well to air conditioning use.

            I think that inevitably the Bight will be crossed with a super high voltage transmission line, between SA and WA and to add support for this, wind farms at locations across the Bight feeding into it.
            The effects of this is bidirectional flow with reasonable losses and a shifting of demand peaks, due to east west time difference and guaranteed wind generation occurring on the network giving better system stability.

          • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

            Before I direct you to the reply I gave Andrew, I’ll point out that air conditioner use is highly correlated with temperature, which tends to be higher during the day than at night. And it is highly correlated with people being awake, which is also higher during the day than at night.

            Also, if I turn on my air conditioner now when it’s not hot, the fan blows, but the compressor doesn’t activate. It is the compressor that uses the big bikkie power and makes the air it blows cold. The cooler it gets the less the compressor will run. So as temperatures come down, air conditioners use less electricity, even if they are still turned on.

            I direct you to the reply I gave Andrew.

  3. Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

    I would suggest in addition to this, an incentive for rooftop solar in the right locations and orientations to help meet peak demand. Or the 400 megawatts or more could be built point of use on roofs. That would also be an option.

  4. Alastair Leith 4 years ago

    What mechanism will ensure the RE that is built will be most “useful to the grid”?

    The RET doesn’t do that on it’s own. Individual FiTs is how Germany did it. USA has the Sun Shot program. Saudi Arabia, ACT and S Africa used reverse auctions (with LCOE strike prices) for Contracts for Difference. Something additional is required to serve that purpose.

  5. Eclectic Eel 4 years ago

    Giles we love you to death. You’re the best clean energy journo this side of the black stump – what Richie Benaud was to cricket, you are the guru of the alternatives to fossil fuels. After that build up comes the slight downer – PLEASE proof read your articles. They frequently contain simple, but frustrating errors – like today:
    “Indeed, he suggests that WA would build between 400MW and 400MW of renewable energy out to 2020, under the compromise deal being proposed by Clean Energy Council, and now by Labor.”
    Keep up the good work – much appreciated in the dark situation of current politics.

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