Melbourne Water goes big on solar to slash grid power use

Image: Melbourne Water

A waste-water plant that treats nearly half of Melbourne’s sewage is set to slash its grid electricity consumption, with the installation of a 19MW solar array set to begin early in the new year.

Melbourne Water said on Thursday that local outfit Beon Energy Solutions had been awarded the contract to build the solar system at on land adjacent to the Eastern Treatment Plant (ETP) in Bangholme in Melbourne’s south east.

Once complete, the hefty solar array is expected to boost the renewable energy supply to 65 per cent for the plant, which treats around 40 per cent of Melbourne’s sewage – about 350 million litres a day.

“We’ve been generating electricity from sewage gas at the plant since it opened in 1975 and can supply 30 per cent of our electricity needs,” said Melbourne Water’s general manager of program delivery Eamonn Kelly.

“With the addition of this solar plant, that capability will more than double to about 65 per cent – similar to the power required to run 6000 homes a year.”

Kelly said the addition of solar at the plant would also take “a significant amount of pressure” off the local electricity grid and help Melbourne Water to meet its targets of halving its emissions by 2025 on a path to net-zero by 2030.

Melbourne-based Beon general manager Glen Thomson described the construction of the ETP solar farm as a very exciting project for the company and for Melbourne.

“Establishing a solar farm to help power ETP is a practical way for Melbourne Water to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and tackle climate change,” Thomson said.

Melbourne Water said work was scheduled to begin on site in January, with the solar farm due to be up and running by mid-2022.

At 19MW, the ETP solar farm will rank among the biggest to be installed by a water utility, whose operations are notoriously energy intensive.

In August, works began on a 12MW solar farm at a South Australian reservoir that supplies the drinking water for nearly half of metropolitan Adelaide.

As One Step reported at the time, the 30,000-panel installation at the Happy Valley Reservoir is one of 33 being installed across SA Water sites, as the state government-owned utility rolls out a total of 154MW of solar as part of its Zero Cost Energy Future project.

And back in Victoria, a group of 13 Victorian water utilities banded together in early 2019 to forge a major renewable energy off-take deal to supply between 20 and 50 per cent of each of their total electricity needs, and lower water bills for consumers.

The utilities, under an umbrella organisation called Zero Emissions Water Ltd (ZEW), signed a deal with the 200MW Kiamal Solar Farm – Victoria’s largest such project at that time, developed in the state’s north-west by Total Eren.

In Western Australia, the state government-owned Water Corporation this year unveiled plans to install solar at around 50 of its pump stations, buildings and borefields, in a bid to further reduce both the utility’s greenhouse gas emissions and its costs.

The $30 million project was scheduled to roll out around 15MW of new solar systems over the coming three years, adding to the 30 renewable energy projects already installed at Water Corporation sites throughout the state.

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