South Australia’s iconic opal mining town of Coober Pedy has successfully – and finally – made the shift to clean energy, and is already achieving periods of 100 per cent renewables since the completion of its wind, solar, battery storage and diesel hybrid system last month.
Hydro Tasmania, which engineered and installed the hybrid renewables solution, said on Thursday that the project was performing slightly above expectations in its early weeks, contributing an average of 80 per cent renewables in October, and running the local grid entirely on renewable energy for more than half of that time.
The result notches up another win for Hydro Tasmania, whose busy Hybrid Energy Solutions team recently took Rottnest Island to 45 per cent renewables, with up to 90 per cent instantaneous renewable contribution achievable.
It has done the same for Flinders Island, where a hybrid energy hub will be switched on in December, with the aim of meeting at least 60 per cent the island’s 6.7 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of annual demand with renewables, and minimising the output of its 3MW diesel power station.
And, of course, it has done the same for the large King Island, where Hydro Tasmania’s prototype wind, solar and battery system – aimed at providing 65 per cent of the Bass Strait island’s energy needs from renewables – has regularly achieved 100 per cent renewables, on one occasion for 33 hours straight.
The completion of the mainland project also marks a win for the township of Coober Pedy, whose population of 3,500 has not had an entirely smooth ride to renewables.
The ARENA-backed project, which was led by Energy Developments Limited (EDL), has been some years in the making, based on a plan to take the outback town to 70 per cent renewables, while providing a possible blueprint for the rest of Australia to follow.
It gained serious momentum in 2016 with the idea of using 4MW of wind, 1MW of solar and a 1MW/250kWh battery to minimise the use of the existing 3.9MW diesel power station and cut costs.
But the project turned sour in March this year, when a council commissioned cost assessment for the project returned prices of more than double other renewable alternatives, and barely any cheaper than sticking with diesel.
As we reported at the time, this led to the extraordinary situation where some homes and some the big business in a population of 3,500 were threatening to go “off grid” – in a town that is already off the grid – and use their own solar and storage to provide electricity at a fraction of the cost.
In May, the project got back on track with the appointment of Hydro Tasmania to oversee its development.
“This is Tasmanian innovation bringing clean energy to outback Australia,” said Hydro Tas’ Hybrid Energy Solutions Manager, Ray Massie, in comments on Thursday.
“Coober Pedy’s diesel power station now has containerised enabling technology and an advanced control system that lets EDL balance wind, solar, battery and diesel power, as required, in a stable and secure way,” he said.
“As well as our own expertise and technology, we’re using Tasmanian suppliers to fulfil this contract, which will inject several million dollars into the local economy.
“We’re breaking new ground towards an energy future that’s clean, reliable and affordable.”
Anther party bound to be pleased with the result will be ARENAy, who granted the project $18.4 million back in 2014, and touted it as a “landmark project” that would show how high penetration renewables can deliver safe, reliable power to remote, off- grid communities – even deep in the desert.
Hydro Tasmania says the project has proven “for the first time” that major hybrid renewables power station components can be assembled and tested under factory conditions, and then installed on-site.
It has also shown, they said, that renewable energy can power an entire town reliably and affordably without needing conventional “baseload” generation.