Fear and loathing about renewable grid in Coober Pedy | RenewEconomy

Fear and loathing about renewable grid in Coober Pedy

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The town of Coober Pedy is in uproar. What should have been a positive plan to shift to a renewable-focused mini-grid based around wind and solar and storage is causing outrage in the community, and embarrassment to the developer, and the federal agency that backed it.

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coober pedy

There is uproar in Coober Pedy, the iconic mining town deep in the South Australian desert that is known as the Opal Capital of the world.

What should have been a positive story about a project to shift the town from diesel to a renewable-focused mini-grid based around wind and solar and storage is causing outrage among consumers and councillors, and embarrassment to the developer and the federal agency that backed it.

Last year, as we reported at the time, the final plan for the Coober Pedy Renewable Diesel Hybrid project was unveiled, featuring 4MW of wind, 1MW of solar and a 1MW/250kWh battery to provide up to 70 per cent of the power needs of Coober Pedy.

The idea was that it would dramatically reduce the amount of diesel consumed from the existing 3.9MW diesel power station, reduce costs, and provide a possible blueprint for the rest of Australia to follow.

But what should have been a flagship project for the country – as ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht touted it at the time – looks like turning into a disaster for the town and an embarrassment for the renewable energy industry; and a legal dispute between the council and the developers.

It has now emerged that the cost that will be charged to the council, which owns the local grid, and which will subsidised by the government, will be more than double other alternatives.

Graham Davies, from Adelaide-based Resonant Solutions, who completed an assessment on behalf of council last year, says that the average cost of generating electricity, not including distribution but including rebates, will be 48c/kWh.

The deal signed by council will translate to total cost of $192 million over 20 years, a saving of a dismal $5 million over the diesel only grid staying as is for 20 years – which would simply not happen.

The company’s own presentation on the project, made last May, appears to confirm that there is little difference between the ongoing cost of diesel and the solar, wind and storage grid. (see graph below). Renewable energy experts say that is absurd.

EDL diesel

Davies says the PPA is more than twice the average price (23c/kWh) suggested by three rival quotes that he sought from other developers. In 20 years, the price to council will be more than $1/kWh. Solar and wind costs by that stage are expected to be just a few cents per kilowatt-hour.

And he wonders why a tender was not sought. “We agree with  …. that hybrid renewable energy is the most affordable and reliable way to produce electricity in Coober Pedy over the long term, however the issue is that with a tender we believe prices could have been roughly half,” Davies said.

It has led to the extraordinary situation where some homes and some the big business in a population of 3,500 are threatening to go “off grid” – in a town that is already off the grid – because they reason, quite rightly, that they can use their own solar and storage to provide electricity at a fraction of the cost.

Indeed, the independent assessment from Resonant Solutions suggests that 40 to 80 per cent of the town’s customers would quit the local grid if the contract continues as is – leading to a death spiral because the council is lumbered with a fixed cost, no matter how much is used.

Resonant Solutions questions the technology choices made by EDL, the costings, and some of the contract details, such as a limit on rooftop solar in the town, effectively removing competition from the “centralised” generation.

There are certainly big questions to be asked about how EDL – in its first significant push into wind and solar technologies – got its numbers and its technology calculations so wrong. It has been the supplier of the diesel generators to the Coober Pedy grid since 2004.

And there are also questions about why the Australian Renewable Energy Agency agreed to fund it – to the tune of $18.4 million – and why the South Australian government agreed on the power purchase agreement with EDL.

But it also highlights what can go wrong when decisions are made on the basis of questionable modelling.

In many ways, it serves as a proxy of what is happening now in the broader National Energy Market, where most of the modelling provided to policy makers gets cost of technologies – particularly wind and solar and storage – hopelessly wrong. And bad decisions are made because of it – mostly propping up incumbent and increasingly expensive fossil fuel technologies.

wind turbine coober pedy

Coober Pedy councillors describe the situation as a shame, even if there appears to be little they can do about it, seeing that the PPA has been signed, the two wind turbines have already been installed, and the solar farm is also in place, and only the “enabling” technologies – battery storage and smart controls – wait to be connected.

“If this was done properly, there is a good chance that we wouldn’t need the state subsidy,” says councillor Justin Freytag, who was elected to council last year, three months after the contract was signed.

“And that would have been fantastic. But now we are lumbered with this. We’re trying to get state government, and ARENA and EDL to the table, but it’s like herding cats.”

In its damming report, Resonant Solutions says the deal is significantly more expensive than other available commercial options, and – even with a government subsidy that guarantees locals don’t pay more than people in Adelaide – could lead to grid defection within 5-10 years and a doubling of the kWh rate.

“Resonant considers the proposal to be exceedingly expensive, highly risky to (the Coober Pedy Council) and damaging to the renewable energy reputation,” the consultant said in a report completed early last year for the council.

The report by Resonant suggests that poor decisions have been made about technologies, particularly the various “smarts” used to integrate wind, solar, storage and diesel. It also suggests EDL will be getting an “excessive” internal rate of return.

It also questions why the developers would put a limit (100kW) on the total amount of rooftop solar within the grid, when it would make better sense to encourage it.

It says up to 400kW would directly displace diesel, and the payback on that extra rooftop solar investment is estimated at 1.5 years.

So what happens now? Two major businesses, including the Desert Cave Hotel and the Opal Inn, and the operator of the local IGA supermarket, have told local news website InDaily that they are looking to manage their own electricity needs.

“I think they walked in there with their eyes shut and their arse exposed,” Desert Cave Hotel owner Robert Coro told the InDaily website, regarding the decision to sign the PPA.

“It’s going to hurt our town,” councillor Freytag told RenewEconomy. “It’s an opportunity missed to get cost competitive renewables.”

Note: ARENA said it had no comment on the Coober Pedy project. We also sought comment from EDL, but did not receive a reply before publication. EDL’s presentation last May to the local community is here. Interestingly, among the benefits cited by the company, lower electricity costs is not one of them.

On its website, it does say, however, that “this project is expected to provide a lower and more stable cost of electricity over the project life for the District Council of Coober Pedy and the South Australian Government.”

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214 Comments
  1. john 3 years ago

    There is something really wrong with the outcome.
    It seems very hard to come to the understanding that PV during the day for most days and wind when available is not cheaper than diesel gen sets.
    Just what was the cost of the PV, storage and the Wind Generators?
    The 192 million over 20 years does not explain the capex of this project.
    From the link it turns out this cost $192 million seems a lot of money for 1 MW solar
    4 MW wind and 1 MW 250 kWh system.
    I would have thought the Capex would be in the sub 10 million area correct me please if wrong.
    Turns out it is something like $19 million Dollars.

  2. solarguy 3 years ago

    What a cock up by the council and ARENA. The contractor has a hell of a lot to answer for as well. Even though a PPA has been signed, they should be getting some legal advice in the hope of reducing the 48 cents/kwh figure. Shame EDL!

    • john 3 years ago

      I totally agree get a lawyer does not have to be a good one I feel.

      • Connor James 3 years ago

        Proper commercial and legal advice is what was needed in the first place.

        Connor J

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    • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

      Unless you know the PPA terms and modeling figures used in Resonant Solutions report, it’s all just speculation on your behalf, show me how that 48 cents/kwh figure was reached.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        The figure was from the article, not me. If you want to find out how it was reached, then ask the CP council.

        • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

          Understood. note the figure/s didn’t come from the council, and any that have been mentioned in articles relating to this project all stem – as far as I can tell from an “”Independent report””, of which is not available to the general public, ragnor lothbrook who is active in this discussion apparently has seen this, so until that document is available it’s just speculation.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Do you have any reason to doubt Ragnor?

          • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

            Well I suppose if Ragnor could post a copy of a current power bill and the independent report I wouldn’t,

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Well why don’t you talk to him, don’t ask me for Christ sake. I get the strong feeling you can’t be told.

          • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

            In my defence any posts that I have made suggest that I fully understand what i’m being told, and yet still, even on request have not seen any evidence such as the PPA or the “Independent Report” to properly assess the economics of a very important project for the renewables industry.

  3. john 3 years ago

    $19 million for the project.
    What is the amount of power used?
    Something is very wrong here.

    • juxx0r 3 years ago

      I know right, Commenters on this site pointed that out years ago when it was first announced. Nobody in their right mind could justify $19M for solar which is cheaper than diesel and wind which is cheaper than diesel. To replace diesel and you throw in a 250kWh battery which cost maybe $250,000.

      Someone was clearly on crack, not least of all ARENA, who should have known better. Maybe there was hookers and blow when they arranged all this.

      One good thing to come out of this though is that some manager from EDL got a hell of a nice yacht out of it. Or a holiday home in the Bahamas or an island somewhere.

  4. humanitarian solar 3 years ago

    Why would anyone get a company with experience in supplying diesel power to design and implement a renewable energy microgrid? What this demonstrates is ARENA really do not appreciate technical qualifications and experience. I think it’s time to do an inventory of ARENA staff to determine if people with technical qualifications are included in their decision making. In my mind a team needs to be truly interdisciplinary, with people specialising in all the different fields required, including assessing tender processes, market analysis, costings, technical design – all combining into a comprehensive team making an assessment of each project.

    • Andrew Woodroffe 3 years ago

      It really does not look good for ARENA. 4MW of wind and 1MW of solar? In the middle of SA? Not the other way round? 1MW of wind and 4MW of solar?

      $8m for 3 x E53 800kW on 73m towers producing 5000MWh/year (the AEP is rough, would be nice to have the data from the poor old 150kW Nordex wind turbine – but am fairly confident about the capex, see our project in Mt Barker, WA, http://www.mtbarkerpower.com.au/)
      $8m of single axis tracking 4MWac of solar, 9000MWh/year
      $1m for 2MWh of lithium ion battery
      Not even $20m.

      Not even considering the STCs available for rooftop solar (they have rooftops in Coober Pedy?

      And ARENA signs off on a $192million. Out by a factor of 10. This utterly undermines the credibility of the organisation.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        The wind resource at CP, going by the info I have from this forum, is totally inadequate and should never have been considered for the project.
        As max demand is 3.5MW and the solar resource is 3.5 PSH in winter, I would have designed the PV to be oversized to 5.6MW Array fixed, in order to reduce install cost and maintenance. It would also make it more reliable.This would also give a decent output in overcast conditions, assuming the PSH dipped down to 1. This would greatly reduce diesel use.
        This is all rule of thumb stuff as I don’t know the load profile. By any account, EDL got this project wrong, very, very wrong!

        • Andrew Woodroffe 3 years ago

          Given that the sun does not shine overnight and that this is offgrid, some wind would be good, but I agree it should be mostly solar, and single axis tracking, as again, it is off grid.

          That Mt Barker project is also low wind, got a grant, makes it’s investors happy but gets nothing, nothing like 48c/kWh.

          Another major point, with LGCs running so high at the moment, where oh where is the justification of 48c/KWh?

          Finally, with PV and battery prices set to keep getting cheaper, there ought to be plans to stage more pv and battery later.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            I agree 48c/kwh is a rip off big time. The problem with single axis tracking is cost and reliability, there is a lot of dust out there that could cause problems with the mechanisms, which will increase maintenance costs.
            You say Mt Barker is low wind what are the max, median and lowest wind speeds there?

          • Andrew Woodroffe 3 years ago

            Lowest wind speeds? You are solarguy. Zero m/s, a few percent of the time at less than startup. But the real question is the average, which at hub height is less than 6.5m/s as measured by the turbine anemometers (not quite the same accuracy as met mast anemometers free of the slowing down effect of passing blades or speedup effect of the nacelle).

            Most of the new solarfarms going in are single tracking, it is not like the old days. Also, cost of piles is a big compared to sticking them on roofs. If you are going to have ground mount, might as well go tracking – cannot do that with rooftop.

            Plus the extra solar MWh occurs earlier in the morning, later in the afternoon. Save on battery cost.

            Seriously, what a fantastic project. EDL deserve to go bust for stuffing it up. I am hoping an Adelaide based PV installer chases up the Desert Cave Hotel, the Opal Inn, and the local IGA supermarket. Battery suppliers would also be keen to be involved.

            Maybe also the local council? What? no, wait. . . .

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Ok, averages are the median and by the lowest I didn’t mean zero, I should have asked the start up speed of the turbines. Maximums are interesting too, because if they occur even 20% of the year and say in winter and at night, that’s very useful to know and to have.

            Tracking PV is desirable, I agree, but the cost can make it not worth it. I have been informed from the ASC that tracking arrays aren’t that common, but I will have to do some more research as whether they have increased in reliability and reduced in cost.

          • Andrew Woodroffe 3 years ago

            Depending on your class of turbine and the wind regime, expect to be at full output 5 to 15% of the time, with upto 5% you have nothing and at all other times, output fluctuates between the two. For the season and for the time of day, probabilities of exceedance can be calculated but your system will need to cope with full wind at lowest loads and no wind at peaks. (Excellent data ought to be available from the massive anemometer that is the Nordex machine – though the hub height will be much lower than the new machines).Unlike solar, which you know will never generate at night but will during peak times, though not usually at full rating. Roughly expect half your wind generation at night when you know your solar is not generating – the major reason for wind on an offgrid system. As you are competing with diesel rather than coal, and still getting LGCs, with wind class III machines, the average wind speed could be very low and you would still get very nice economics.

            I am presuming the existing diesel still exists and the only cost there is running. A modest amount of battery will allow the diesels to only ever run at full load under low wind, low/no sun, high load and low charge level battery conditions.

            In five or ten years time, when second EV batteries hit the market, it may be possible to get entirely off diesel.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            “I should have asked the start up speed of the turbines.”

            It varies a little but is generally around four meters per second or 14.5 KMH.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            “Finally, with PV and battery prices set to keep getting cheaper, there ought to be plans to stage more pv and battery later.”

            This especially.

      • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

        So in the Mt Barker at $8m for 2.7MW is $3.3m per MW, x 4MW = $13.2m, also $2m per MW for solar + power line = $2.3, turnkey at those prices is reasonable but then for Coober Pedy you have 2x 850kW DUPS, the 3MW of Dynamic Resistors, the 1MW Battery, and the other integrating infrastructure: HV/LV Cables, Switchboards, PLC, protection relays etc, all which need somebody to install the additional infrastructure, on site. So if you did try to work out a per MW rate i.e $39mil divided by the 10MW of equipment, its $3.9 a MW, which is 3 times the cost of a traditional power station (gas/diesel) and twice a renewable. So not to extreme for an emerging tech – zero diesel base load capable station, but note the aforementioned is not a very good method to determine economics because of the unknown technical aspects of the project

    • Weapon Sixtyfour 3 years ago

      But Hydro Tasmania with plenty of experience in renewable technology and has provided the enabling technology and the design for the hybrid system. EDL is actually the owner and operator, so between them I’m pretty sure they have the right team executing the job on site, but if the project is delayed and over the planned budget obviously I would be happy to retract this statement.

  5. tom laux 3 years ago

    How can there be no enquiry into this seedy council that didn’t put this rather large but very important project to tender! The results stink to high heaven. why would the council make a deal for 20 years, when renewable tech is rapidly getting cheaper?

    • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

      ARENA are 1000 times more responsible because they have prior experience is funding these projects. They’re meant to be experts in the whole process. ARENA should have mentored the local council through the process, like Australian Ethical Investment visit and help mentor some of the boards of companies they invest in.

      • juxx0r 3 years ago

        Lol, arena have been subsidising $4/W solar for ages whilst those that just get on with it and build it for $1/W can’t even be bothered with the ARENA paperwork. Maybe the paperwork is what takes the price from $1/W to $4/W.

  6. john 3 years ago

    Ok look at pvwatts and see what a 1 mw solar should put out.
    The same for wind.
    My rough in my head figures if the system does 70% of the energy and storage is used for FCAS the figure i get is 4.9MWh power per year and the total usage is 7MWh per year.
    Cost on Capex of 19 million cost of power per kWh is $3.89 kWh for the first year, now divide that by 10 years that is 38.9 cents per kWh.
    Something is terribly wrong with the figures.

    • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

      Why would a company design a renewable microgrid for 70% of the electricity, unless it were a vested interest by historically supplying that same towns diesel power since 2004?

      • john 3 years ago

        I guess not having looked at the percentage of power output for solar and wind for the site they have figured it as a 30% coverage needed.

        • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

          well with solar panels at least, they are so cheap, the rule of thumb is oversize for summer, so the battery still fills in most good days in winter. It’s not like off grid setups install panels for summer and just accept running diesel in winter.

          • john 3 years ago

            use this site to check figures.
            http://pvwatts.nrel.gov/
            yes just put in cooper pedy South Australia it will find the nearest BOM site and do the calculations.
            I used 1 kW for cooper pedy south australia here is the figures for a year
            Annual 1,759 kWh

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            The book I work on has a map and Coober Pedy isn’t plotted on it though looks like it gets about 8 Peak Sun Hours in january and about 3.5 Peak Sun Hours in july. That means that every 1kW of PV = 8kWh into the battery in january and 3.5kWh in july. So they get less than half the sunshine in winter.

          • john 3 years ago

            yes true less in winter.
            The link i gave above is accurate IMO as it uses 30 years of figures from the nearest available weather site to compile its findings.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            What I think is central is security of supply and diesel is expensive, so if it were me I would have looked at what is the most critical time of energy shortfall in the year, when the combined solar and wind is lowest, then plan for a system as close as possible to that.

          • john 3 years ago

            Very true as I have advised however I have found that it is very difficult to explain in simple terms the amount of solar sunshine changes as does the amount of energy used per day.
            However as you said match up the worse case where solar is low and usage is high, it depends on the latitude in Cooper Pedy they need heat in winter however they use a lot of power for mining which is a day time usage.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            In my minuscule experience with a house, air con in summer is a low concern because when it’s needed most the sun is beating down. Ditto as you noted, mining is daytime. So without overlapping graphs of wind and sun harvest throughout the year, I guess winter is likely to be the time to plan around. Even though usage might be overall higher in summer, winter probably has overall less power to work with. Next I’d look at costings for what is cheapest for getting the wind and sun to add up to enough power in winter, then see if those same MW cover summer (or the easier seasons). Though I’m fairly conservative and plan around the worst. That would produce a system for the worst month of the year. That just leaves the diesel to fill gaps in extraordinary bad days in that month and a few elsewhere. That’s my guesstimating rationale!!! Be interesting to hear EDL’s! There must be people who specialise in these co-generation projects.

          • john 3 years ago

            True in everything you said.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Edited my last post, looks like EDL may have installed enough power for the mid-season and decided to just use diesel in the worst season. That’s my guess.

          • john 3 years ago

            I have just checked the wind information for CP it seems it varies from about 5.75 down to 4.6 Meters per Second which is not exactly good however it does not vary much during the year

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            When is it worst?

          • john 3 years ago

            actually winter which is not a good outcome as solar also is down then

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Calamity_Jean highlights if the panels are tilted to 65 degrees for winter harvest, about 3/4 of the harvest can be achieved for winter compared to summer. In the absence of alternative generators, perhaps thats what is needed.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            That’s bad, turbines normally need about 4 meters per second to produce any power at all, so low averages like that tell me that there are many hours of no wind power output at all. Unless it’s quite windy at night and becalmed during the day, I can’t see why there were any wind turbines called for at all.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Correct Jean. It clear EDL are incompetent, same for ARENA.
            EDL will be battling to get any work in this industry again.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            Incompetence or subtle sabotage? If EDL is making good money running a diesel generator system they have motive to screw up a replacement renewable system. Now if any other town they run diesel generators in wants renewables they can say “See, it didn’t work in Coober Pedy!”

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            I also had thoughts along those lines. I’m going to read the submission and get back to you, as to what I think.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Ragnor pointed out they sold quickly. Maybe that’s why. Sooner or later, the community would have discovered the install is a suboptimal design with price gouging. They created a flawed asset for the community, though the project would have increased in value enormously because of the PPA the council had signed.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            The wind resource isn’t to good there going by your information. They should have opted for more PV and storage and canned the wind turbine.
            That’s how I would have designed it.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            “They should have … canned the wind turbine.”

            I agree, unless it’s seriously windier at night than during the day.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Thanks Jean, Bet ya socks it isn’t better at night and if so, not often enough. More PV and storage I believe would have been a better design. Best bang for the buck.

          • john 3 years ago

            Output for a fixed array 1 kW Cooper Pedy South Australia
            1759 kWh of power per year.
            That is at 20 degrees north which it chooses.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            See how that site calculator with averages works well for most of us with a grid on hand, though doesn’t reveal the disparities in seasons, and we really need to plan for the worst, because at least for PV/batteries, the PV is so much cheaper, so it works much better to go big on PV to make sure the battery is filled, than to start thinking of batteries supplying a number of days of power.
            1759 kWh a year is 4.8 kWh a day, though based upon the book I have they only get 3.5 Peak Sun Hours in winter, so only have 3.5kWh a day from each 1kW of PV. And guess what!!! 3.5 is about 70% of 4.8kWh so bet that is what EDL did – used calculations based upon the mid-season!!!

          • john 3 years ago

            It looks at 30 years of information to give an average.
            You can then discount the figures to your own preference to allow for that one rotten week to oversize the system which would be prudent.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            The monthly averages for each day are in kWh / m2 / day. Never seen it done that way. My panels are about 1M x 2M I think. The panels can be different sizes so as far as I know installers just calculate using kW and the Peak Sun Hour (PSH) diagram, although this website gives a more accurate method. Thanks.

          • john 3 years ago

            Yes it definitely does and correlates very closely with the outcomes i have used for years

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Now I’ve worked it out, look to the AC column and it calculates out similar to the old method I was using, although a little less. Thanks.

          • john 3 years ago

            That would not surprise me

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            “See how that site calculator with averages works well for most of us with a grid on hand, though doesn’t reveal the disparities in seasons….”

            What site calculator? PVWatts? It gives estimates for each month individually.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Yes I didn’t look at it long enough like ARENA with this project above.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            Nobody’s perfect. Look at me, I’m living proof.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            We have a category 4 (out of 5) cyclone in Queensland at present with up to 270km/h winds and 50k properties without power presently. Hit the coast at 2pm. The army is being called in. They’ve lost landline, mobile phone towers and they’re back to AM and FM radio. But we’ll rehash the same debates like we did with when South Australia had the state go down. Everybody will say, what should we do differently if anything…

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            From where I am, half the world away, all I can say is I hope not too much permanent damage is done.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            Could the array be tilted to a steeper angle to optimize winter production?

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Absolutely although with our houses at least, allot of them in Aus aren’t very steep, tilt frames are fairly expensive and a bit ungainly looking, so a general consensus in installers I’ve spoken to is not to worry about them and where possible just add more panels to compensate if the rooftop real estate is there. This makes the panels hug the roofline and looks much better for resale value. The other thing that happened historically that was a trend with grid-tie inverters and FIT’s, nobody really worried about getting little winter harvest and lots of summer harvest, because the grid has dramas with air con and peak demand in summer, so most people were okay to have a system tuned to summer. Of course it’s okay if there’s always a grid there connected when needed, though far from ideal for the off grid setup, because draining old generation batteries below 40%-50% tends to give them a heart attack, shortening their lifespan dramatically. So for off grid setups a steep roof helps them allot, reducing their generator run time, and of course people find out they are noisy, annoying, troublesome, dirty and smelly, including the neighbours.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            I was under the impression that the main solar array in Coober Pedy was ground-mounted and that the company managing the system (more like mis-managing IMO) was discouraging people from installing rooftop solar. If the ground-mounted PV was re-oriented to improve winter energy production then the company wouldn’t need be able to use their existing diesel generators as much.

            It seems to me from where I am (USA) that the company planned the system to waste as much money on equipment as possible and to maximize the use of diesel to the extent they thought they could get away with it. I feel like they designed the renewable system in bad faith. If I were a Coober Pedian (What do you call a resident of Coober Pedy?) I would be mad as hell.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            I guess its ground mounted and I think I’ve read on this site that some large scale ground mounted PV systems use single axis tracking, which I’ve never seen though suppose is a tilt adjustment. Interestingly I’ve seen a tilt adjustment on a roof mounted solar hot water system. I didn’t know what to say about the limits imposed on residents with rooftop solar because I found this para didn’t go into enough depth:

            “Resonant Solutions questions the technology choices made by EDL, the costings, and some of the contract details, such as a limit on rooftop solar in the town, effectively removing competition from the “centralised” generation.”

            From my limited experience, I agree the system looks extremely poorly designed from the information you raised on the cost effectiveness of wind turbines due to lowish wind speed and the percentage installed, and that the amount of PV installed may not be designed to be adequate for winter harvest and offset the majority of the diesel. PV is the cheapest part of the system and over the duration of the project, diesel is the most expensive cost of the system. In terms of if EDL acted in bad faith, if I were a resident or their representative, I would argued they acted in bad faith by evidently designing a system badly based upon their choice of system components. To support that, I would have a system designed and scaled by a microgrid and co-generation specialist – in terms of the % of wind and % of solar with costings for the year it was designed. I would ask who EDL had design the system and ask for their previous portfolio of projects, given this project is a sizeable $192 million project. If the system designer had not designed comparable sized systems with similar technology, I would argue EDL acted in bad faith based upon a haphazard or reckless design process, lumbering Coober Pedy citizens with excessive costs for energy. Additionally, even if EDL didn’t have experience in co-generation microgrid projects, they would have had experience in project design and therefore would have had the experience to know they were out of their depth. If there is a large discrepancy in EDL’s experience and qualifications to undertake such a renewable energy project, ARENA should also have picked that up along with the price gouging with the costings.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            “…some large scale ground mounted PV systems use single axis tracking, which I’ve never seen though suppose is a tilt adjustment.”

            Single axis tracking rotates the panels on a daily basis to follow the sun’s apparent east-to-west motion. I had assumed that the array at Coober Pedy didn’t move. The panels are mounted tilted north to catch the sun, but they can be tilted less steeply to optimize catching the higher summer sun, or tilted more steeply to optimize catching the winter sun, or at an compromise tilt that isn’t best for either season but is “good enough” for both.

            “Additionally, even if EDL didn’t have experience in co-generation microgrid projects, they would have had experience in project design and therefore would have had the experience to know they were out of their depth.”

            Yes, this. If they were willing to do an honest job, they should have told the town to get someone else.

          • john 3 years ago

            Yes single axle or double axis tracking wold increase the output.
            Use the link to PVWatts and put in single or double to see the difference.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            Tracking increases the cost and complexity of the system. Assuming a fixed array, changing the tilt changes the proportion of energy produced in winter compared to summer.

            For example, according to PVWatts, at my location a nominal 4 kW system with premium modules, a fixed open rack array at 15 degrees tilt gives 203 kWh in the lowest winter month and 635 kWh in the highest summer month. A 65 degree tilt for a system that is otherwise identical gives 308 kWh in the lowest winter month and 432 kWh in the highest summer month.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            I think the issue comes down to having enough power to heat in winter, without homesteads turning to gas or wood or diesel generators on remote grids.

          • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

            Yes, if they are short of power in the wintertime, the PV array should be set up to optimize winter collection.

          • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

            Maybe that’s what needs to be done. For areas with little wind to help in winter, accept PV needs to pull more weight and tilt the panels to accomodate.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            But don’t forget charging efficiency of the batteries and other losses HS.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Best to match PV for the max average load in winter, then summer performance should be more than adequate, as a rule of thumb. Diesel use, will then be minimized.

  7. Rod 3 years ago

    “I think they walked in there with their eyes shut and their arse exposed” LOL

    Coober Pedy, a special place. That’s what you get from living in caves.

    I’m wondering if the diesel and the transport of it is subsidised.

    • john 3 years ago

      My thoughts are they did not get any help from anyone who actually understood Solar Wind or Storage which i think is used for FCAS

  8. Eb 3 years ago

    I like how the savings chart has no y-axis!
    To assist any future comments, the annual diesel generation in 2012-13 was 13.35 GWh and in 13-14 it was 12.1GWh.
    http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/pages/searchcenter.aspx?k=Coober%20pedy
    The existing 150kW Nordex wind turbine would increase this by around 0.3GWh if it was operational.
    Hydro Tas was involved in the design of the solution, and before July 2014, the Capex was estimated to be $39m, possibly to obtain ~50% funding from ARENA.
    https://arena.gov.au/project/coober-pedy-renewable-diesel-hybrid/

    The $192m PPA figure is over 20 years, so care needs to be taken on whether it is real or nominal and what load growth is assumed.

  9. juxx0r 3 years ago

    Cannot believe that Giles couldn’t see this coming as easily as the rest of us. $19M for 4MW of wind at $2/W, 1MW of solar at $1/W, which makes a 250kWh battery about $10M or $40,000 per watt. Sounds plausible.

    All for only 70%. Comedy gold.

  10. Miles Harding 3 years ago

    After my initial thought “how did they stuff that up??”, almost immediately “Unconscionable conduct” popped up as the most likely answer. The developer really took the council to the cleaners on this one.

    This probably has an analog in the suburbs; there are still plenty of dodgy solar+battery installers, only too willing to fleece any dumb bunny that hops in their shop door.

    We’ve seen this with Tesla batteries – they’re very easy to direct order form Tesla, but there are solar installers out there selling rip-off solar packages at a 50% premium over the reasonable installed cost of the battery and solar individually.

  11. Ian 3 years ago

    Giles, well done for not hiding this cautionary tale. It’s the biggest gem to come out of Coober Pedi. The frontier character of the town is paralleled by the frontier nature of their renewables transformation. The hardy, hardworking stoic energy homesteaders are shafted by the big branded diesel energy ranch. The big city law representative (sheriff) ( played by Arena) is both in cohoots with the greedy energy landowner and ignorant of its evil intentions. Matters come to a head and a show-down is eminent . Which financial coffins will be filled? Those of the homesteaders or those of the energy ranch?

    Jokes aside, their experience is a valuable one , pointing to the pitfalls, and worthy of study, like any train-smash, to ensure the same mistakes are not repeated on a more macroscopic scale.

  12. James Ray 3 years ago

    I’ve been skeptical about ARENA seeming to place undue bias on ground mounted, utility scale solutions rather than rooftop solar. I reckon that the cost to the consumer would be lower with rooftop solar, storage, local electricity trading and grid services, rather than utility scale solutions. RFQ/T/Ps are always a good idea vs only going with one contractor, that smacks of corruption.
    Have a look at this petition:
    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_AEMC_Reconsider_the_change_request_for_local_electricity_trading

    • OnionMan77 3 years ago

      In Coober Pedy, roof top IS ground mounted as everyone lives underground.

      • Calamity_Jean 3 years ago

        Would they have above-ground sheds for cars and other large things used outdoors? They could mount PV panels on those roofs.

  13. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    Surely the local Council has a procurement policy, which states that above a threshold multiple quotes must be sought unless a strong case is made for exemption. In the Victorian public sector, for example, anything over $100,000 has to go to an accredited purchasing panel. One possible reason for exemption could be that EDL were a co-applicant on the ARENA contract. ARENA would be a grant-funding organisation that would rely on the applicant to have internal good governance policies, with payments made upon completing certain milestones. In this case, ARENA should share responsibility for the stuff-up be accepting above-market costs. If it wasn’t a joint contract, responsibility would rest entirely with the Council.

    • ragnor lothbrook 3 years ago

      Council does have a policy that they did not enforce for reasons only known by them. And yes this whole fiasco rests financially on the council and especially the ratepayer’s of Coober Pedy.

      • neroden 3 years ago

        It should be possible to sue in court to void the contract because the Council violated the “multiple quotes” (open tender, bidding) policy. This is a standard procedure in the US. I don’t now about Australia. But I’d get a lawyer who knows about suing over government issuing no-bid contracts, and I’d sue. The Council might be willing to back the lawsuit at this point. EDL would come to the table to renegotiate, rather than losing a *corruption* suit.

        • ragnor lothbrook 3 years ago

          Council was involved and have gone onto a coverup and are blaming everyone else now that they have been exposed. Funds for a legal challenge from council I find highly unlikely as it would bring them undone. Information recieved by me indicates it has been tried to implement what you have suggested and have hit a brick wall the whole way. I’ll refer you to one part of the above article where Councillor Freytag states that there is really nothing that can be done know the contracts have been signed. Why would he say that? Freytag is also on the council Audit commitee where there was evidence of council complicity in this fiasco and yet still makes statements in the media such as he has done. He is there to protect his buddies in council and all evidence points toward this. A person on a Resident’s group who tried to expose this had false POLICE reports made against them by FREYTAG and I believe that the writer of this article Giles Parkinson should try and get in touch with that group to hear their side of the story.

  14. ragnor lothbrook 3 years ago

    Two councillors that moved and seconded this lunacy also run a gem trade show in Coober Pedy that the Department of State Development (DSD) are also a gold sponsor of. The Mayor promised extensive community consultation on this issue. NONE of that happened. All of this went under a section 90 meeting.(SECRET) WHY? I disagree with the 3500 population as well.More likely half.The district council had plenty of time to walk away from this deal and chose not too. As soon as they were exposed they started crying foul. If this story is going to be out there get all the facts right council were totally involved in this deal. I know for fact Mayors were spoken too. Ministers (FEDERAL) were contacted over this issue and could not get a straight answer out of any of them. Some didn’t even reply. There are questions still being asked by a residents group in Coober Pedy and can’t get a reply from anybody. As I have previously stated on comments on the INDAILY website there is a digital recording verifying a lot of what has been posted here and yet no one wants it. I WONDER WHY? Its okay to attack companies and attack governments what about the councillors that agreed to this deal. The whole town ship of Coober Pedy could have been put on solar power for the price of this facility.There are around 1200 rateable residential properties in Coober Pedy and that would roughly equate to 30K a property. Could have been easily been done. In a Town of 330 day’s of sunshine the only beneficiary out of this is an energy company and the retailer THE COUNCIL. I am a Coober Pedy local so I would believe I know what I am talking about. I know that local’s in Coober Pedy spoke to Graeham Davies of resonant solutions who advised that council should not be put into administration over this issue as the “GOVERMENT” then would not answer for what they have done. If the Council want’s to play the victim here why was this put under a section 90 meeting.

    • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

      If EDL or the system designer didn’t have experience with a portfolio of similar previous co-generation (wind and solar) microgrid systems, then I think there’s grounds to argue EDL acted in bad faith by being out of their depth to undertake such a project. If there is a large discrepancy in EDL’s previous experience and the project undertaken, ARENA should have picked that up along with the price gouging. To highlight this, I would have an experienced designer give a design and costs for the year the project was planned.

      • ragnor lothbrook 3 years ago

        As soon as this contract was signed EDL was taken over by another Company DUET that is about to be taken over by another Company a HONG KONG based consortium. Is there anything now that can legally be done? If so who’s footing the bill? I don’t believe federal or state government will do that. Comes back to the Coober Pedy ratepayer. Still boils down to the fact that this project should never have been signed off.

        • humanitarian solar 3 years ago

          I’m not aware of what happens if there is mismanagement of community money with local councils although there must be people who understand that. ARENA would also have policy processes it has to follow.