Remote infrastructure that doesn’t need fossil fuels any more

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Taking key infrastructure off-grid and powering them with solar and storage expected to boom because it is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable.

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The developers of a ground-breaking solar plus storage installation for a large communications tower in NSW say the potential to take infrastructure off-grid in Australia is huge.

Michael Gartner, the head of Photon Energy Australia, which led the project, says interest in solar plus storage has surged in the last few months. And it’s not just for off-grid applications where the cost of diesel makes solar and storage a “no-brainer.

Installations on the grid, such as the BAI communications tower in Muswellbrook (in the heart of NSW coal country), are looking to use solar and storage to take their installations off grid because it will be cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable.

“The market potential is exploding in front of us,” Gartner told RenewEconomy in an interview on Friday.

diesel vs solar“The cost of off-grid diesel is crazy. You can halve the energy costs with solar and storage, and that’s very significant,” he said. (Please note graph to the right).

For on-grid customers, the main attraction of going –off-grid” is reliability. “These installations cannot afford to lose power. These solar storage systems are more reliable, and they provide certainty on future costs. It matches extremely well with the long-term infrastructure model that they have.”

As RenewEconomy reported back in July, the systems will include a 39kW solar array and a 215kWh battery storage installation. That’s enough solar to power 7 homes, and enough storage to power the tower for 43 hours, or to power an electric vehicle to Melbourne and back.

The technology – 156 solar panels, 72 BAE batteries (supplied by R&J Batteries), 3 SMA inverters and a monitoring system – is mostly made in Germany. There is a small 8kW diesel system as back-up, but is expected to be seldom used. The planning if for 7%, but it may not be used at all.

Leslie Williams, the NSW parliamentary secretary, says the project what is possible in NSW with its “abundant” renewable energy resources. “This project brings us closer to achieving our goal of secure, affordable and clean energy future for households and businesses in NSW,” she said.

Gartner says the potential market for solar plus storage is in the “gigawatt hours in Australia. He says there is potential for “thousands” of such installations across Australia, and also cites storage as a compelling proposition for business customers looking to shave their peaks and reduced capacity and demand charges.

BAI confirmed it is looking at a network-wide rollout once the pilot project is proved. “BAI is excited to be at the forefront of integrating this advanced technology into the communications sector,” BAI Group CEO Jim Hassell said.

Gartner added in a statement:“Our vision is to take infrastructure off-grid with highly reliable solar power and battery storage. Not only does the storage technology provide off-grid power or remove grid reliance in the areas where the grid costs the most, but it does this cost-effectively and without fossil fuel emissions.

“The system has been designed to be rugged and reliable with the choice of the highest quality Australian outback tested Q CELLS solar panels, SMA inverters and BAE batteries to provide maximum power and longevity in the toughest Australian conditions.”

Michael Schiemann, from German battery developer BAE Batteries, said there was clearly a change in the market.

“If you look at general market, the philosophy is changing from producing energy to energy storage applications. Just a few yeas ago, it was just about solar panels.”

For the tech-minded, here is a schematic of the project ….

photon schematic

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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5 Comments
  1. Stuart Paterson Evans 4 years ago

    Does the electricity flow better downhill?

    • WR 4 years ago

      Yes, but only by a factor of about 1 billionth of a percent.

      • Stuart Paterson Evans 4 years ago

        Hi WR, pleased to see that you agree with me – sort of. Actually, I was trying to be funny, but also to clear confusion between the panels being uphill of the batteries and the panels being tilted down a bit more to better catch the winter sun. As for the private behaviour of electrons, I claim no authority whatever.

  2. john 4 years ago

    Among the very first installations of PV and battery was for communications in the 1970’s I guess we are just a little bit slow in dear old oz.

  3. Alan Baird 4 years ago

    Please don’t joke. Bob Sydney won’t get it. Anyway, electricity DOES flow better downhill. My friend in the wind energy haters group has proof!

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