Birdsville bids farewell to geothermal, opts for solar and battery storage instead

Plans to replace what was Australia’s only utility-owned and operated geothermal power station in Birdsville – a small town at the end of the eponymous Birdsville Track, in central west Queensland – have been dumped in favour of a switch to distributed solar and storage.
State government-owned network operator Ergon Energy said on Thursday that it would encourage residents of the frontier town to install rooftop solar PV and battery storage as the best option for increasing renewables on the isolated grid.
Ergon said it would do this via a “technology trial” similar to that used in Lockhart River, which would cater to customer choice, while also supporting the network and supplying the local community.
As we reported here, the Lockhart River trial resulted in 130 households installing rooftop solar to help power the remote Indigenous community in Queensland’s far north, dramatically reducing its reliance on diesel.
Another 200kW of rooftop solar, plus battery storage, was also installed on government and council buildings, and is now providing around 10 per cent of the community’s power supply.
While the full details of the Birdsville scheme are still being finalised, Ergon says it expects solar PV and storage to be able to reduce the amount of diesel used to generate power for the town by 118,000 litres a year.
The solar and battery roll-out is also expected to reduce the number of generators needed to meet peak loads, and to provide customers with greater energy choices.
In the same statement, Ergon said it had “reluctantly decided” not to continue with plans to replace the town’s geothermal power station, which at its peak supplied up to 20 per cent of the town’s electricity needs.
Those plans, which were very much alive in June last year, would have integrated a new geothermal power station with the existing diesel power station, lifting the share of renewables generation to 70 per cent for the outback, off grid town.
Ergon’s manager of isolated networks, Glenn Dahlenburg, said the decision to drop the geothermal component was guided by rapidly changing energy market dynamics – in particular, the plummeting cost of solar PV.
“This decision was made due to rapidly changing energy market driven by our customers’ adoption of renewable energy such as PV and the continued reduction in energy storage costs, which is expected to substantially alter the energy requirements of our isolated communities in the future,” he said.
“Ergon’s adoption of geothermal technology at Birdsville in 1992 was ground-breaking, but it remained the only utility-owned and operated plant in Australia until it reached the end of life and ceased supplying power to customers last year.
“Ergon’s long-term renewable energy strategy for our isolated networks is focused around customer-owned generation and storage, supported where necessary by centralised systems.
“Ergon expects that if this alternate supply solution is successful at Birdsville, it will provide the foundation for a scalable solution that can be deployed progressively in its 33 other isolated networks in outlying parts of Queensland.”

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