Ergon seeks 200MW of big solar, accelerates push into storage | RenewEconomy

Ergon seeks 200MW of big solar, accelerates push into storage

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Ergon Energy seeks 200MW of large-scale solar to meet its RET obligation and boost its regional grid. The Queensland utility is also accelerating its push into battery storage, electric vehicles and a charging network.

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Ergon Energy, the operator of Queensland’s regional electricity network, is about to tender for up to 200MW of large-scale solar capacity, and is also looking to accelerate its push into battery storage and electric vehicles as part of its plans to transform the country’s biggest grid.

The move by Ergon Energy is the biggest tender for large-scale solar seen in Australia (the country only has 200MW of large-scale capacity built or under construction). It also underlines how the technology – with the help of falling technology costs, some preferential financing support and some political jawboning – is about to take off in Australia, in large arrays and not just on rooftops.

gatton solr 3
The Gatton solar farm in Queensland

Ergon Energy CEO Ian McLeod told RenewEconomy on Thursday that a formal request for expressions of interest for 150MW of large-scale solar capacity will be issued in the next few weeks. A separate tender for up to 50MW of solar capacity – mostly in the range of 3MW to 10MW – will be conducted to reinforce its “fringe-of-grid” operations.

The tender highlights how Queensland may indeed finally deliver on its sobriquet of the “Sunshine State”. It is seen as Australia’s best prospect for utility-scale solar now – because it is the only state with rising demand, has excellent solar resources and, despite leading the country in the installation of rooftop solar, has installed little in the way of large-scale renewable energy capacity to date.

That could change quickly. The renewable energy target means that Queensland retailers will need to install a lot of capacity to meet its RET obligation, and because the state is the only one in Australia that may end up with a shortfall of generation, it is an opportunity for wind and solar to compete with fossil fuels on costs, such as the massive wind and solar project planned near Townsville that is competing with a proposed coal-fired generator.

Origin Energy is also seeking expressions of interest and pricing from solar module manufacturers for potential large-scale solar projects in Queensland, and McLeod says there are plenty of “shovel-ready” projects ready to be developed.

McLeod did not name them, but they include the 1GW Solar Choice project in south-west Queensland, the 95MW Oakey project now owned by Canadian Solar, a 150MW project in north Queensland owned by FRV, and the 600MW solar project (paired with a 600MW wind project) proposed by Windlab. There are numerous other projects.

Large-scale tenders – or auctions – are common overseas, and becoming increasingly popular in Australia. The ACT government has auctioned 40MW of solar capacity, and plans another 50MW of solar plus storage; the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will tender for up to 200MW of solar, and the Queensland government is also considering a separate tender for 30MW of capacity.

McLeod says Ergon will take the best offer, but given the number of projects and the nature of the network, it would likely spread the tender across a few sites.

This is especially the case for the fringe-of-grid tender, which will seek a number of smaller 3MW-10MW solar installations to reinforce its SWIR network – thin lines at the edge of the network. McLeod says the transmission losses to some western towns, from ferrying electricity from coal-fired power stations 900kms away, were huge.

Local generation, such as solar, made a lot of sense because it avoided losses, and strengthened the grid, particularly in conjunction with battery storage.

On that note, as reported here before, Ergon is installing a series of 100kWh battery storage arrays to boost its network security (it’s cheaper than replacing or upgrading a sub-station).

It is also trialling 10 lithium-ion battery storage devices in homes and businesses in Townsville, and is installing 30 battery storage devices from Sunverge as part of its “Project Sunshine”.

“You will see Ergon do more and more batteries,” McLeod told a workshop at the Clean Energy Summit. He said it was a good investment, cheaper than a newly built or replaced sub-station, and they were mobile. “We have to be able to move those batteries to deal with peak demand he said.

Battery storage will be critical for dealing with peak demand. Developers were looking – and were being encouraged – to install them in new subdivisions, and McLeod predicted that battery storage would be used to meet peak demand instead of expensive, and polluting, peaking gas-fired generators.

McLeod says Ergon is also pushing electric vehicles. The utility is buying a fleet of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles from Mitsubishi. He suggested that on average, daily travel these cars rarely needed to run on their petrol engine.

Ergon, he says, will look at charging networks, but also noted there were already millions of charging points in the network – in individual houses.

“Women in particularly don’t like to go to petrol stations. But you don’t need to, he said, given that average daily travel was 30kms a day, and PHEVs could cover that easily.”

McLeod said the Ergon grid, which covers 44 per cent of the area of the National Electricity Market, with just 7 per cent of its customers, was built on old technology, and weighed down by the needs and response to air conditioning, poorly framed tariffs and dominance of centralised generation.

He says it is “extremely inefficient”, but it is evolving, and that included its business model. “We don’t see ourselves as a poles and wires business. We see ourselves as an open platform for variety of applications.”

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  1. Gerberaman 5 years ago

    Despite Abbott’s best efforts Renewables are coming. Surely he won’t put a coal fired monster up north. On the other hand, with both India and China reducing their imports of coal, maybe his miner friends have donated enough to the LNP to get them over the line.

    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      Hopefully not the coal fired captain’s pick taxpayer funded monster.

    • News Views 5 years ago

      There never will be a coal fired power station up north – small demand, governments no longer build power stations and if it was viable private enterprise would have done it years ago.

      • mick 5 years ago

        good honest common sense view im cynical about foolish ideology causing artificial uptake by corrupted govt paid for by taxes

  2. nakedChimp 5 years ago

    Good on Ergon 🙂

  3. john 5 years ago

    The energy loss due to long transmission distances is a problem which Ergon recognises so it is a balance between spending on upgrading the transmission system or mitigating this by providing a source of power at the end points.
    Because of the plunging cost of making energy with RE and Storage now we have a situation where it is economical to follow the end course of providing the power in the areas where it is actually better practise to utilise RE and Storage instead of upgrading the transmission system.
    This is a simple fact of cost of energy and delivery nothing else it so happens that in this case the RE energy solution is proving to be the better way to go.
    As we move forward due to the underlying cost of providing the energy source being zero I would expect that this will become a more prevalent method of delivery from now on.

  4. Ian 5 years ago

    Ergon and origin, are these not the people that have been campaigning to hamstring domestic solar? Talk about peak oil, there is the distinct possibility that there will be peak electricity consumption. These people recognise that renewables have become so cheap that they have to climb on the band wagon and install solar before someone else does . One thing though, once battery storage becomes cost-effective, the gentailers will lose customers. They will have to drop their prices to remain competitive. When customers can afford to say ‘shove your poles and wires up your furry little coal pits’ then you will see the electricity discounts roll.

    • News Views 5 years ago

      They are not trying to hamstring solar at all – solar that is subsidized by you and me and adds about $200 a year to our power bills. Ergon is trying to better manage its network as solar increases the need for upgrades and that cost is passed onto all of us. As for dropping their prices – they can’t as they are set by the Qld Competition Authority.

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