More solar farms prepare to connect as solar pipeline leaps to 35GW

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Another three new solar farms ready to begin production as list of projects in the pipeline jumps to a breath-taking 35GW.

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Another three solar farms – and another major wind farm – are preparing to connect to Australia’s main grid as the pipeline of large-scale solar projects leaps to 35GW, and the uptake of rooftop solar also continues to surge.

According to Paul McArdle from WattClarity, the providers of our popular NEM-Watch, the Whitsunday and the Hamilton solar farms in central Queensland, both 57.5MW, and the 110MW Darling Downs solar farm in south-west Queensland, are now going through the connection process.

(And so too is the 138MW Mt Gellibrand wind farm in Victoria, according to Dylan McConnell from the Climate and Energy College, joining the 54MW Salt Creek wind farm that began production just last week).

The new PV projects will soon join some 564MW of large-scale solar that have already been connected to the grid – including the two largest solar farms to date in Australia, the first stage of the 220MW Bungala solar project in South Australia, and the 124MW Sun Metals solar farm in north Queensland.

That means that for the first time, installations of large-scale solar are keeping pace with rooftop solar, although by the end of the year the addition of more large-scale projects should see large-scale taking the lead. (See graph above from the Sunwiz Large-Scale Lookout data).

“The capacity of systems over 100kW commissioned so far in 2018 has already reached 574MW, double the previous best year (2015), and we’re not even half-way through the year,” says Sunwiz director Warwick Johnston.

“This is practically equal to the volume that has been registered in the STC market (584MW).” The STC market applies to systems of 100kW or less.

“We’re now tracking 259 solar farms with total capacity of 35GW,” Johnston adds, noting that the figure has been boosted by the recent proposal to build 3GW of large-scale solar in the Pilbara to satisfy demand in south-east Asia, through a sub-sea link, and local mining and manufacturing businesses.

It is becoming clear that solar is now underpinning the business decisions of many large-scale Australian manufacturers and other big industrial users.

Sanjeev Gupta is leading the way in sheer scale, planning 1GW of solar plus storage in South Australia to make his Whyalla steelworks profitable, and talking of up to 10GW of large scale solar around the country to underpin the energy needs of his own steel businesses, a possibly new copper business, and other energy users.

Already, Gupta’s SIMEC ZEN Energy has signed up five large-scale industrial and mining groups in South Australia, promising to deliver “firm” solar output via a new 220MW solar farm near Whyalla and ultimately with a 120MW/140MWh battery and pumped hydro.

Sun Metals has nearly completed construction of its 124MW solar farm in north Queensland that it says will slash its electricity costs and provide the price certainty to go ahead with a $300 million expansion.

It was interesting to note that even in the Australian Financial Review, energy analysts such as Bruce Mountain, from CME, were being quoted wondering why the Tomago smelter in NSW wasn’t looking for wind and solar to reduce its electricity costs.

At the moment, Tomago relies on a contract from AGL with its supplies depending on the ageing, increasingly expensive and unreliable Liddell coal generator. Last week it was forced to switch off some parts of its production because of soaring prices as numerous coal generators were out of action, including much of Liddell.

Mountain points out, as RenewEconomy did earlier this week, that solar prices are now in the $40s and $50/MWh, which is cheaper than the bids made by the black coal generation fleet in NSW.

Mountain pointed out that just the marginal cost of coal at current prices indicates a generation cost of $60/MWh, and that’s without the capital cost and maintenance cost of the plant.

“He will have a contract with a retailer, he can buy the shortfall from the retailer but if he can source the whole lot of his production for 10 or 15 years at $40 or $50/MWh why wouldn’t he?” Mountain told the AFR.

Others are clearly understanding the cost advantages. Companies such as CUB, Mars Australia, and University of Queensland have committed to going 100 per cent solar, while numerous other companies are signing up for deals with solar or wind plants to supply at least part of their needs.

The plunging cost of solar, with more cost falls expected as the forecast 30GW of surplus module capacity washes through global markets, as well as cheap wind, is enabling brokers and some retailers to put together “firming products” – the cost of solar and supply when the sun doesn’t shine – of less than $80/MWh.

Even the combination of solar and battery storage is being priced below that level – according to manufacturers such as Fluence – with huge implications for the structure and contracting arrangements in the local energy market.

Of course, the 35GW of solar projects in the pipeline won’t all see the light of day. Many are competing for a position to secure the “last” of the projects that could benefit from the 2020 renewable energy target, despite most analysis that it is already effectively met.

Many more will be competing for position in the various state targets – such as Victoria and Queensland – while others will be jockeying for attention from corporate buyers. According to some in the industry, some projects are being “announced” simply as part of a “network grab” and getting priority in connection negotiations.

Much may depend on the structure of the National Energy Guarantee, more details of which will be released this Friday afternoon.

The latest word is that apparently the documents will be released around 5.30pm on the Friday, which is when governments typically hang out their dirty washing.

It will be a busy day for the industry, and for energy journalists, as the ESB and its members, which include AEMO and the AEMC, have chosen the same day to release their annual consumer survey (AEMC), and what could be a landmark report on the future of rooftop solar (AEMO).

For more information about the Large Scale Solar Lookout data, please click here.

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21 Comments
  1. Joe 4 months ago

    The Tomago issue is interesting. It’s not the first time time that when the Coalers flamed out that the Tomago potlines had to be curtailed. And then I read in last Saturdays SMH ( 9/6 ) that the Tomago boss, Matt Howell, wasn’t blaming AGL for the latest coal clunker clapout. No, he says the problem is with the overall market but there was no expansion on that in the SMH report. The problem just might be that old clapped out Coalers can’t be relied upon.The myth of reliable and cheap BASELOAD Coal has now been belled.

    • MaxG 4 months ago

      Well, Matt thinks nuclear is the way to go: “Finkel review: Tomago Aluminium chief executive says nuclear energy should be an option” (https://www.theherald.com.au/story/4730851/be-brave-and-use-nuclear/)
      And see what the flat earthers make of it: https://www.2gb.com/energy-grid-at-crisis-point-as-power-prices-surge-160-times-the-usual-rate/

      • Joe 4 months ago

        Max, thanks for those links. The NU Clear boosters talk it up but get them to say where to plonk the Reactors they go quiet. That NU Clear is expensive, would take 10 plus years to build and leaves RADIOACTIVE WASTE for generations to grapple with never enters their thinking. The Coal boosters, just can’t let it go, refuse to accept ‘King Coal’ may need to abdicate.

        • Cris Baker 4 months ago

          Thorium nuclear reactors burn nuclear waste and produce very little. One was working at the Oak Ridge National Lab Tennessee, USA, fifty years ago but it got shut down, although “they” say it was nothing at all to do with the fact that it does NOT produce anything for nuclear weapons. It also could potentially put the oil, natural gas and coal energy businesses out of business. see, for example:

          https://whatisnuclear.com/thorium.html

          It’s also perfectly safe since it’s impossible for a well designed Molten Salt Reactor with Thorium to run away, the salt plug melts and the fuel simply drains away… see
          https://whatisnuclear.com/msr.html

          Thorium also solves the Chinese Rare Earths problem. There are LOTS of videos if you google it

          • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

            If it’s so good why can’t anybody see one… or buy one for an LCoE under $200/Mwh? Thorium boosting just shifts the problem, doesn’t solve it. Still has many of the problems associated with nuclear, including the need for a base load to operate with decent economics. Renewables need to be matched with dispatch-able generation that doesn’t come with such high CAPEX as nuclear. Short of a breakthrough small modular reactor with zero waste and no need to mine U then NPPs are cactus.

      • jeffhre 4 months ago

        That would have been a feasible option at a point in the past. That point was passed a while back though. What was Matt’s job title 30 years ago?

  2. Peter F 4 months ago

    It is rumoured that Alcoa was getting power for $14/MWh to stop the coal plants having to turn off at night. Liddell probably has a deal in the range of $30-40, which can be achieved in a plant like Liddell which has a captive coal mine and which in effect has negative capital costs because each MWh they can generate before it closes reduces the NPV of future closure costs

  3. john 4 months ago

    To me a layman it makes Eminence sense for Tomago to contract to a wind solar and PHES system to supply them with power 24-7.
    Besides they will get the power at a price that is to their advantage.
    No doubt as a high energy user they get a price of about 6 or 8 cents a kWh however I would submit that using the alternative they will be able to be powered at highest price 5 cents per kWh or going on overseas prices less than that.
    Prices of 2 cents are being given in the market place.
    The Innovation Nation about time we innovate.

    I do not expect any movement any time soon frankly.

    • RobertO 4 months ago

      Hi John, Your numbers are a little too expensive, their price is more like 1 cent per kWhr.

      • john 4 months ago

        you may be correct but I think just a bit above 1 cent per kWr.

    • Greg Hudson 4 months ago

      If 1 to 5 cents are the going rates, it beggars belief that retailers are averaging 24c to their customers. No wonder we have the most profitable businesses in the world 🙁

  4. solarguy 4 months ago

    Well, don’t we live in interesting times, as we watch the different battles that rage on in this Carbon War, it is even more interesting to note that companies are designing firming products for RE and I’m sure existing gas will for the short term be part of that. But only for the short term, as RE is cheaper, but what about the bigger loads, when the sun and wind are all but absent in different regions. Somebody some where has to have either, the generating capacity and or the storage capacity, to not only supply those regions, but be able to satisfy local demand as well.

    And the winners will be the businesses that have the foresight to build lots of storage into their model and do that very soon, because I now believe 100% RE is less than 2 decades away, hell even some of the vested FF interests are seeing the light slowly,
    but surely.

    Wish I was cashed up!

  5. Charles 4 months ago

    Don’t miss Tassie off the map! There’s a 12.5MW solar farm going in at Wesley Vale near Devonport. We may be spoiled with hydro and wind but we can make the most of solar too 🙂
    [Edit: Just noticed you can see it if you zoom in on the first map!]

  6. Barry Alternative Fact Covfefe 4 months ago

    35GW should power all of Australia

    The Australien Government will never allow it



  7. Cris Baker 4 months ago

    You use the acronyms STC and LGC but what are they? – you don’t define what they are short for… Is there any reason why you don’t bother?

    • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

      Same reason you don’t google them I suppose. Most people commenting here know them, as they’re what drives investment in Renewables in Australia.

      http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/OSR/REC/The-REC-Registry

      • Cris Baker 4 months ago

        Why are you so unhelpful? Of course I googled them both – see https://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/STC for example. But NONE of the Australian definitions, nor any of the others, seem to fit the bill – hence the post…

        But intelligible writing always expands acronyms, it’s very stupid to assume that everyone in the world knows native Australian ones…

        • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

          I provided you with the best link I can. AGAIN. The actual Australian RECs Registery with explanations of both acronyms. That assumption was not one I made or I would not have provided the link in the first place. Be careful who you accuse of making assumptions if you want help.

          Why so grumpy?

          • Cris Baker 4 months ago

            Thanks for the link – which did NOT show up by googling. But the crucial point remains – good English does NOT assume Australia is the center of the world…

          • Alastair Leith 4 months ago

            I think you’ll find it’s well supported in the literature that Australia is the gravitational centre of the universe as per a infinite multi-body state computation will easily determine. Just ask our fossil funded politicians, the world can change but they won’t until the state goes beyond 50% and then they wake up.

    • David D 2 months ago

      STC’s (Small-scale Technology Certificates) are the name for REC’s (Renewable Energy Certificates).
      LGC – Large-scale Generation Certificate
      http://www.awsolar.com.au/lgc-and-stc/

      https://www.google.com/search?q=acronym+STC+electrical&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab

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