A Perth-based solar power systems company, Sun Brilliance, is proposing a 25MW solar plant on the outskirts of the Western Australia capital, in a development that breaks new ground on a number of fronts in the Australian solar market.
The $42 million project will be the biggest solar plant to begin construction without a direct subsidy from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which has supported the 102MW and 53MW solar plants in Nyngan and Broken Hill, and the 57MW single tracking plant at Moree.
The 25MW solar plant will be more than double the size of the previous biggest in the state, the 10MW Greenough River solar plant in Geraldton, which was funded by the state-owned utility Verve Energy and GE.
It is one of a number of solar PV projects on the table in and around Perth. Another, a 20.1MW Emu Down project, proposed by APA, made a shortlist for funding from ARENA in its large-scale solar funding round, which attracted 77 proposals across the nation.
But the plant will also break new ground, because of the nature of the company that will buy the power, and the way it will be used.
Sun Brilliance executive director Ray Wills says the plant has already secured an agreement for a 25-year power purchase agreement from Community Electricity, a local power retailer supplying power to commercial customers in Perth based around wholesale prices.
WA is considering one of the bright spots for large-scale solar in Australia – and indeed the world – thanks to its excellent solar resources, the high price of electricity in the state, and the promise by the state government to remove huge state-based subsidies that have supported a surplus of fossil fuel plants.
Steve Gould, the founder and CEO of Community Electricity, says this is presenting opportunities for solar not imagined previously.
“The output from a PV power station is highly correlated to the power system load profile and is a natural hedge, albeit intermittent,” he told RenewEconomy by email. “We are now at the beginning of the risk and return sweet-spot where upwards pressure on energy prices is intersecting with the price reductions of bulk solar PV.”
On top of this, Australia also has a 33GWh renewable energy target, and because of the standstill in investment in recent years, upwards of 6,000MW of new capacity has to be built to meet that target.
Because of this standstill, renewable energy certificates are now trading at record levels of more than $70/MWh. (Sun Brilliance believes it will generate 45,000 LGCs year, or annual revenue of around $3.2 million if LGC prices remain where they are).
Wills says he hopes that site selection and all regulatory approvals will be completed in time to allow plant construction to commence in the second half of this year and to be operational by early 2017.
Funding is likely to come from Singaporean investors interested in equity, and other international investors, including US parties, are interested in providing debt.
Wills says it is time for Australia to focus more on investment in large, utility-scale solar farms rather than just on rooftop solar, which has dominated the solar market in WA and across the country in recent years.
“Solar farms will be important to deliver competitively priced electricity to customers who want power from renewable sources, but might not otherwise be able to access solar via their rooftop,” Wills said.
“While fossil fuel energy markets are in retreat around the world, global renewable energy investment reached $329 billion in 2015, and investment in solar and wind will continue to grow through 2016,” Wills said in a statement.
“This project in Western Australia will be a major milestone for Sun Brilliance Group as we look to develop a range of large-scale solar and wind power projects in Australia, India and other parts of the Asia-Pacific Region.”
Sun Brilliance hopes to build 5GW of solar power projects, although much of this will be in its newly established operations in India. Wills says the company is also looking to build a solar manufacturing plant in India and expects to make announcements on plant projects in coming months.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of Renew Economy, and is also the founder of One Step Off The Grid and founder/editor of The Driven. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.