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Kidston solar project set to start sending power to the grid

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kidston copyThe first stage of Genex Power’s world-leading Kidston solar and the “giant water battery” project is set to begin sending electricity to the grid in northern Queensland, as the initial 50MW PV array powers up.

Genex executive director Simon Kidston said on Monday that the massive solar and pumped hydro storage project was on target to reach its next key milestone, the first export of electricity, in the next week to 10 days.

It’s an important moment for an important project; one which is essentially transforming what was once Australia’s largest gold mine into what will likely be Queensland’s biggest power plant – at least for a time.

Stage two will add another 270MW of solar PV and pumped hydro energy storage capacity of 2000MWh by the time it is completed, in early 2021.

Speaking at the Large Scale Solar and Storage conference, co-hosted by RenewEconomy in Sydney on Monday, Kinston (no relation to the owners of the original gold mine where it is sited) said delivering energy to the market was a “massive milestone” for the project.

“We are very excited that we’ve managed to get these projects to a point where they are bankable in a very, very short period of time… since company’s formation,” Kidston told the conference.

“But the real focus is executing a strategy for Stage 2, and I believe that though the support of our funding partners, that’s a very realistic target to achieve.”

Indeed, as we reported last week, Kidston Stage 2 (K2) is in line to reach financial close in 2018, after receiving another $5 million in grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Kidston said the project had key economic advantages, including its location on an old gold mine – where old pits were re-purposed as reservoirs – and in Queensland’s PV “red zone”, where some of the best solar resource can be harnessed.KidstonSolarPumpedHydro

“Using the old gold mine provided an enormous advantage” in the mitigation of capital costs, he said, with two reservoirs for hydro, a transmission line on site, an air strip on site, and accommodation on site.

Water security was also a fundamental issue financiers would look closely at, he said – the mine site already had a pipeline connected to dam nearby, as well as a water entitlement.

That, along with the site’s existing environmental authority, helped make permitting very easy, he said.

Kidston, who credits Genex co-founder Michael Addison with the idea of using the former gold mine, said the company had built its business case around the premise that Australia’s increasingly renewables powered grid needs ways to store power.

“I guess we see the project as a giant water battery,” he said.

“The grid needs ways to store power. Whether that’s battery storage or pumped hydro energy storage, it doesn’t really matter, provided the intermittency can be managed.”

But the business case for Kidston was also built around soaring gas prices.

“Our hydro project, I guess at its heart, is not just a water battery, it’s also a peak power generator,” he said.

“We did the economics of our project when gas was trading at $2-$3 a gigajoule. With the gas price at $8-$10 a gigajoule, we believe that provides a compelling, sustainable advantage for the project.”

Crucially, it has also secured a 20-year old off take deal with the Queensland government, and a 30-year grid connection agreement with network operator, Ergon, which matches the expected life of the plant.

Kidston said Genex had also been careful to partner with tier one companies to develop the project, including US PV heavyweight First Solar and German-based inverter giant SMA.

And while project is a ground-breaking one for Australia, Kidston says he believes there is potential for as many as 10 more, at similarly ideally suited former mining sites around the country.

“There are a good half dozen half dozen sites …at least 5-10 sites around Australia that would be suitable,” he told the conference, while stressing that developing those sites would be no easy task.

“Never underestimate how hard it is to deliver a project in this country,” he said – “that’s probably the key (learning from the project).

“As a small team, with a relatively modest funding capability, we’ve had to work very, very hard to deliver this project.”  

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  • John Saint-Smith

    I first read about the Genex Kidston pumped hydro and PV project about 28 months ago. Imagine if it a new technology concept HELE coal-fired power station had been announced at the same time. Would it be threatening to export its first electricity to the grid in the next few weeks?

    • RobertO

      Hi John Saint-Smith, no they would still be in EPA court trying just to get approval (I would hope).

      • Alex Hromas

        Even if they got EPA approval instantly, the present government has done crazier things, they would still be in the earth works stage. It takes about 10 years to get one of these things up and going.

  • Steve159

    Great turn of phrase — “water battery”. That will be much easier for the populace to grok, then “pumped hydro”.

    And great news about power to the grid, next couple of weeks.

    I wonder if the Qld Labor Party, and the Federal Labor Party have the smarts to be championing this, and how much it will help Mr Jobson Grothe.

    • Joe

      Ah, you mention….Two Tongues Turnbull. Will we see him and the rest of his COALition mates up in the North when the switch is flicked to ON? Now, if it was a new Coaler being launched I’m sure they’d be wetting themselves with excitements, high viz shirts, hard hats, high fives allround in front of the media posse and TV cameras!

  • Andy Saunders

    “Kidston (no relation to the owners of the original gold mine where it is sited)”

    Actually there is – the mine was founded by his grandfather, I believe. Pure coincidence.

    • Rob Roy

      There is a link, but it’s not that. According to the SMH,

      “The Kidston gold mine, 270km northwest of Townsville, was Australia’s largest open cut gold mine in its heyday, having first opened in the early 1900s. It was named after Queensland’s premier at the time, William Kidston.

      “Now more than 100 years later, Kidston’s great great grandson Simon Kidston has co-founded a company, Genex Power, around recasting the mine into an electricity producer.

      “‘I was always aware of the mine because of the family name connection,’ he told AAP.

      “‘I also knew it had two very large pits adjacent to each other so when we were looking for a site it came to the top of my mind.'”

  • Eclectic Eel

    Great to hear this form of pumped hydro using old mines is finally happening in Australia. Does anyone know how the water volume can be preserved considering evaporation in North Queensland?

    • Jim Mitchell

      “the mine site already had a pipeline connected to dam nearby, as well as a water entitlement.”
      I suppose it’ll be evaporating out of the dam anyway. Might as well be evaporating doing some work.

      • George Marsh

        Could a floating PV array on top of each pond, rising and falling on fixed piles, help to mitigate water loss by evaporation … and also add to the energy generated?

        • Rob Roy
          • George Marsh

            Of course I’m no engineer or accountant, so feasibility and cost are obvious question marks … but we know this is being done elsewhere.

        • Alex Hromas

          Would not have much impact evaporation is mainly governed by the humidity and temperature of the air and wind. Hot dry air can absorb a lot of water and the ripples caused by wind can increase the surface area by a factor of about 10. Floating arrays will not minimize the ripples enough. Floating plastic or glass balls have been used with good results on smaller dams. I suspect the cost would rule this out here. Also moderate winds tend to force this type of floating blanket over to one side and windrow it.

        • Jim Mitchell

          Having done some modelling of evaporation from large water bodies I would say that yes there would be a measurable reduction of evaporation from the surface of the water. Firstly from shading reducing the temperature of the water surface and secondly from reduction of wind velocity at the water surface. Other side benefits include the cooling of the panels resulting in greater generation efficiency and the reduction of algal growth due to the shading. There has been multiple projects like this carried out this notably in Korea.

          • George Marsh

            Yes that was my thinking tho’ costs etc would have a bearing on feasibility. However, in principle, maximising the technology used at any site appeals to me if the figures work.

  • Petra Liverani

    Only seems like yesterday that this project was announced. Exciting.