Solar farms: Who’s using them, and how?

6 types of organisation that are getting behind large-scale solar, and they are doing it in different ways.

1. Enterprising local governments

What’s electricity going to cost in 10 years? How volatile are the prices going to be?

18 Sydney councils are getting ahead of these worries with a groundbreaking solar power agreement. Between now and 2030, they’ll receive about 440,000 MWh of energy from Moree Solar Farm, all at a fixed price.

The deal promises to reduce carbon emissions, boost the local renewables industry, and put a real dent in power bills in these areas:

Bayside, Campbelltown, Canada Bay, Canterbury-Bankstown, Georges River, Hunters Hill, Inner West, Ku-Ring Gai, Liverpool, North Sydney, Parramatta, Randwick, Ryde, Singleton, Sutherland Shire, Waverley, Willoughby, Woollahra.

And Sydney councils aren’t the only ones making this choice. The City of Fremantle is building a 2MW solar farm as part of its renewable energy plan; the Sunshine Coast Council is installing 15MW capacity to cover its electricity use; South Australia’s Berri Barmera Council is looking to build a 10MW farm; City of Lismore’s innovative 100kW farm floats over the East Lismore sewage treatment plant; and even the City of Newcastle is replacing coal with solar to the tune of over 5MW.

Wish your local council was on the list too? Tell them why they should be future-proofing with solar too.

Inner West Councillor Anna York says her area’s investment came straight out of ‘strong support for solar and renewable energy’ in the community: ‘Inner Westies want action on climate change, and a smart, solar future.’

2. Forward-thinking universities

The University of Queensland, Monash University, and the University of Technology Sydney all think renewable energy is the way of the future, and each is putting their money where their mouth is with big investments.

UTS’ latest renewable energy agreement is for the output of the Walgett Solar Farm. This isn’t the University’s first solar deal, but it is the biggest—set to cover half of its electricity demand. The deal secures the construction of the solar farm, which is expected to start generating power in 2019.

In previous agreements, UTS has powered specific buildings with electricity supplied by solar farms in Singleton and Orange. It’s also installed 6 systems on its own buildings with plans for more.

Why invest in solar farms? Key reasons included more stable future power prices, reduced environmental impact, and a desire to model sustainable energy use for others to follow, according to statements from UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast and UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs.

Meanwhile, the University of Queensland is planning to build its own 64MW solar farm near Warwick. It’s also going to add to the 50,000 solar panels already on its campuses, which Vice-Chancellor and President Peter Høj says already made it the biggest solar generator out of Australia’s universities.

The University aims to cover 100% of its electricity demand with the solar farm, and will also be looking into storage options and selling excess power to the merchant market. “We see a lot of exciting opportunity by being the owner/operator of the generator as well as a large energy consumer”, said Andrew Wilson, UQ manager of energy and sustainability.

Monash University has signed up to purchase a large amount of power from Murra Murra wind farm, but it also has the rooftop solar capacity to power hundreds of average Australian homes. It will have 7100 panels at the end of 2018 and counting.

3. The metals industry

Running a blast furnace to refine metals uses a lot of electricity, making this industry a perfect candidate for large-scale renewables.

The Sun Metals Solar Farm started exporting energy mid-2018 and is Queensland’s biggest solar farm at 124MW. The power it generates goes to covering one-third of power needs for the fortuitously named Sun Metals zinc refinery, as well as exporting power to the grid.

BlueScope Steel has signed up for 7 years of solar power from Finley Solar Farm to cover about 20% of power demand for the Port Kembla Steelworks.

Likewise, the Whyalla Steelworks, which was the subject of a high-profile acquisition by UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, is shifting towards solar in order to cut costs by 40% and rejuvenate the failing steel plant.

200MW of solar, along with 100MW of demand response and 100MWh of battery storage will be installed in the area around Whyalla Steelworks as part of a 1-gigawatt renewables project for the area.
Gupta also wants to move his Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle steel plants to 100% renewable energy.

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4. Big business

Big companies ranging from MARS to the Commonwealth Bank are getting on board too—both to make good on promises to reduce emissions and to save money.

It goes without saying that MARS is a giant of the market; as well as satisfying many a sweet tooth, it owns a hefty chunk of the brands that feed every man and his dog (and his cat, and his bird) from MasterFoods to Kan Tong to Schmackos.

So it’s a pretty big deal that MARS Australia is switching its 6 factories and 2 offices to 100% solar power. It’s agreed to buy this power from Victoria’s Kiamal solar farm for the next 20 years. The company’s head of sustainability, Barry O’Sullivan, said the move is part of its commitment to a greener future for consumers, but was hurried along by the volatility of recent electricity prices.

CommBank has also committed to 100% renewable energy, and it was the first major Australian-owned corporation to do so.

The bank, which already has almost 1MW of solar attached to its individual branches, is now going to buy 96,000MW from the Sapphire wind farm each year for the next 12 years. It anticipates splitting the amount between the wind farm and the upcoming Sapphire solar farm. 66% of energy needs will be met by the agreement as of January 2019, making a strong move towards CommBank’s goal of 100% by 2030.

5. Airports

Airports around Australia are upgrading with solar—which makes a lot of sense when you think about all the open space they’ve got.

Brisbane Airport has been busy installing 6MW of PV, and Adelaide Airport supplies nearly 10% of its own energy needs with 1.28MW of solar capacity.

Now the Northern Territory is upgrading the solar farms at 3 airports to better utilise the baking sun of the Top End. The lucky airports are Darwin International Airport, Alice Springs Airport, and Tennant Creek. DIA is adding to its existing 6MW solar farm, and Alice Springs to its 800kW.

6. That one car dealership in Ipswitch

Who said that farming solar was only for the really big players? Not Wade Llewellyn of Llewellyn Motors, or any of the other individual businesses expanding their horizons with solar.

Llewellyn motors became an ‘urban solar farm’ when it had 330kW of solar capacity installed, along with 96kWh in battery storage. The dealership’s location has an 87% usage rate, powering itself during the week and seizing the opportunity to export over the weekend. It’s expected to save over $2 million across 20 years, and reduce the business’ carbon footprint by 8,400 tonnes.

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