Victoria ends Big Solar drought with 320MW new capacity by 2018

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Work set to begin on three 100MW solar farms near Mildura – the state’s largest, and possibly first, large-scale projects.

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Victoria’s large-scale solar drought appears to have well and truly broken, with the news this week that work is set to begin on 320MW of large-scale solar farms near Mildura in the state’s west.

The three roughly 100MW grid-connected solar farms are to be built by Australian company Overland Sun Farming in a joint venture with UK outfit Island Green Power, on separate sites in Yatpool, Iraak and Wemen.

Large wind and solar farms can be planned and built in 2-3 years (compared with 10-15 years for nuclear) and are ready now to replace fossil and nuclear electricity. Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

Construction of the three projects – each of which stands to be the largest solar farm in the state – is slated to begin in April, which also puts them in the running to be the state’s first large-scale solar projects, if they are completed before the 60MW Gannawarra solar farm being built by Solar Choice and Edify Energy between Swan Hill and Kerang.

Unlike Ganawarra, which last week secured a power purchase agreement with EnergyAustralia, the fully funded $500 million Overland projects are going ahead without an offtake deal, but with grid-connection agreements already secured with Powercor subsidy Beon Energy Solutions.

Overland founder Brett Thomas – a former head of Spanish group Acciona’s operations in Australia – says the fact that his company is going ahead with the build without a PPA is a key indicator of the health of Australia’s big solar market.

It’s also not the only one taking advantage of high prices in wholesale markets and renewable energy certificates and going ahead with such arrangements, with Eco Energy World pursuing a 100MW plus project in north Queensland and Sun Brilliance doing the same in Western Australia.

“That’s the important message,” Thomas told RenewEconomy in a phone interview on Monday. “The market is strong enough to develop the projects without (an off-take) partner.

That said, the company says it is in talks with retailers on securing a PPA, the market for which appears to have picked up over the past few months.

As we reported here, the past two weeks alone, Snowy Hydro has contracted the 100MW Tailem Bend solar farm in South Australia, Ergon Energy has committed to the 100MW Lilyvale solar farm in Queensland, and Origin Energy signed a PPA with Reach Solar’s Bungala Solar Project, a potentially 200MW affair being developed 7km north-east of Port Augusta.

“There’s no doubt that the PPA market is hotting up,” Thomas added. “Particularly for projects like ours that are (fully funded and shovel ready).

“The grid is the real risk to many projects in the Australian market,” he said. “(as the) Australian network is becoming more and more constrained.”

Thomas’ pedigree in renewables is mainly in wind, through an extensive career at Acciona – although Acciona was one of the bidders in the Rudd government’s ill-fated Solar Flagships program.

But his interest now lies firmly in Big Solar, which he describes as “the new growth technology” in energy generation, both in Australia and internationally, as the delivered cost of PV generation continues to fall and general energy pricing heads in the other direction.

“I think solar has a big role to play,” Thomas told RE. And for Overland, Victoria’s Sunraysia region is a good place to start.

mildura-vic-3500-real-estate-photo-20-large-10704168
Some of Mildura’s “flat, clear land”

“We’ve been working there since we started in 2012,” he said, noting that the area’s abundance of “clear, flat land,” good connection capacity, and premium solar resource make it ideal for solar farms.

“We want to demonstrate that it can be done here,” he said. “It’s been talked about for awful long time.”

On policy, Thomas says renewables in Australia still need support for their “green component,” as has been delivered, thus far, through the RET.

“The value that energy brings to the market for its green credentials needs to be priced in,” he told RE. “But we’re now seeing solar being able to be delivered in Australia without any further government subsidies,” he added. An achievement he attributes largely to the efforts of ARENA.

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14 Comments
  1. solarguy 3 years ago

    Great news. I agree the RET should stay as there must be a goal and that goal should be 100% by 2050 or sooner. A 300MW Array could produce up to 1.8GWH on a fixed array basis, but 25-35% more if single axis tracking is used.

    • john 3 years ago

      Yes true I agree however we have to have the Head and the Tail of the Duck Curve covered as well and the silent night demand

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        I have heard of the duck curve before on this forum and seen the graph relating to it, but I can’t recall it. Can you help me on this one!

        • john 3 years ago

          This term was possible used very early in the usage of PV when the traditional usage of power started low over night rose in the morning then went higher during the day with the curve of consumption looking like a bell curve.
          The PV production being in the middle area has hollowed out that and hence the shape of a duck in the curve. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eb56c227be5faa2a739786912179d0529d83872aed7a35eb866febcfce44672a.jpg

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Thanks for refreshing my memory. There is no problem taking care of the duck curve if storage systems are designed appropriately. Most off grid systems I design use solar generation only, as the wind resource is either lacking, can’t be verified as suitable or not worth the expense as an additional generation source. A good off grid system will allow for at least 3 days of battery storage of median or maximum load depending on size of array. This works out fine for most of the year, with the genset hardly ever used.

            Powering a grid with RE will be exactly the same as the above, but with a twist, as wind power can sub for x amount of storage, because the wind can blow at night taking care of the load, with any excess going to storage. There has to be enough storage to take care of max loads for a determined amount of days.

            Back up power can still be RE based, such as Biogas and doesn’t have to be natural gas.

          • john 3 years ago

            One wind farm that is being built has a weir that is unused backing onto it, I think this could be used for pumped hydro.
            The wind farm is Emerald Hill near Mareeba on the lower area near the Atherton Tablelands.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Not knowing what you know about PHS, I’ll tell you that there needs to be 2 dams one higher above the other about 100m. If such terrain is in the area it could be used.

  2. Rob Campbell 3 years ago

    It’s great to see so much solar being planned, the dilemma is that there is nothing coming on-line to replaced the 1.6 gigawatt hole that Hazelwood is going to leave for next summer and any gas generators will refuse to add gas capacity unless a) they can screw us for both baseload and peaking and b) the government or regulators don’t try to prevent a).

    I predict energy caos next summer, and some pretty tidy profits.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      On the cards Rob, isn’t it! Somebody needs to pull the rabbit out of a hat. The fastest solution is PV with some battery storage and I think it’s possibly on the way. However, there seems to be enough generation for the moment, so I’m led to believe.

    • GlennM 3 years ago

      It will be touch and go…
      On this site I did see an analysis of what is coming along including residential another 800Mw buy then. The conclusion was that it would almost squeak through. But as you say some big profiteering ahead.

      Since then there have been significant new announcements so maybe…

      It would be good to see a web page dedicated to the upcoming new capacity with timing, there is so much happening it is hard to keep up !!

      • George Darroch 3 years ago

        How much of it will actually be complete by December this year? What’s the turnaround on large solar construction in Australia?

        I expect that the current excess generation capacity will be sufficient but that there will still be a good amount of profiteering. But continued residential and commercial rooftop installs alongside increased battery penetration will soften the edge a little.

  3. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    Good point about grid limitations. These developers are clearly trying to get “first mover advantage” in access to grid capacity into the south of the State. The 220 kV line south from Red Cliffs to Horsham has a rating of ~400 MW, and also receives input from the Ararat wind farm (242 MW) and Waubra wind farm (192 MW). No problem if solar and wind are producing at different times, but on rare occasions there is potentially 300 + 242 + 192 = 732 MW feeding into a 400 MW line. There is another transmission line of similar capacity from Red Cliffs south to Bendigo, which already has plans for 300 MW of solar. There may be times when the excess generation would need to feed north into NSW (which has a transformer limitation of ~350 MW at Darlington Point), or into South Australia via MurrayLink (200 MW).

    Those promoting the aspirational target of 50% renewables don’t yet seem to have acknowledged the need for some expensive new grid infrastructure to link sunny places with the main demand centres. Our grid to date has been strongest linking coal-fields with demand centres, and South Australia was unusual in the lines passing through places that were both sunny and windy.

  4. john 3 years ago

    To me the simple fact is that Solar can fill in the power need during the day.
    This has historically reduced the bell curve usage of power to a duck curve.
    What is needed now is either CST or solar hydro to reduce the tail an the head.
    Once this kind of power producer network is put in place with an average cost of 3 to 5 KwH the outcome for the consumer will be very much lower power bills.
    Removing the $13,000 per MwH price bids will greatly reduce the over all cost of energy.
    This is one area that is over looked a coal generation power plant can idle along and in 3 days of the year make the profit they need by bidding up the price to supply.
    It is about time we had a mature look at just how the pricing of energy supply is done.

    Remove this from the political situation just look at the facts and work from there.

  5. James Ray 3 years ago

    Solar farms are OK, but I think solar closer to the point of energy consumption is better. Solar, storage, and blockchain microgrids can help to achieve this. Have a look at this petition to find out more about policy changes to enable local electricity trading: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_AEMC_Reconsider_the_change_request_for_local_electricity_trading/edit/

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