Qld car dealership to trial "urban solar farm" technology

A car dealership in south-east Queensland has installed a 330kW solar and battery storage array, not just to slash its power costs, but potentially to generate a further revenue stream by selling excess renewable energy to the local grid.
Planet Ark Power – the result of a merger of Planet Ark with GoZERO Energy to tap Australia’s booming commercial solar market – said on Monday it was installing the solar and 96kWh battery storage system on-site at Llewellyn Motors in Ipswich.
The solar and storage system, designed and installed by Planet Ark Power, comprises 1,232 REC PV panels, and a lithium-ion smart battery system developed in-house by Elevare Energy – Planet Ark Power’s R&D sister company.
The solar system – which has been installed, but will be officially unveiled on Thursday this week – is expected to reduce the dealership’s carbon footprint by 8400 tonnes and save more than $2 million on energy costs over the next 20 years.
But a key part of the project is the incorporation of Planet Ark Power’s new dSTATCOM technology (static synchronous compensator technology) which aims to allow commercial solar customers to become “urban solar farms,” exporting their excess or stored solar power to the grid in a way that will help meet network needs, while increasing the business’s return on investment.
According to Planet Ark Power, their version of the technology achieves this by monitoring the power requirements of the grid and scaling the site’s power output to match demand – thus getting around network restrictions on solar exports.
The project at Llewellyn motors is the company’s first shot at putting the technology to work – depending on the progress of negotiations with the network provider.
“We’re using this site as a trial to prove (the benefits of the technology) to the network,” said Planet Ark Power’s Tom McVerry in an interview with One Step Off The Grid on Tuesday.
“What we’ve developed is a couple of pieces of technology to allow us, when we’re exporting, …to regulate the voltage on the network,” said Planet Ark Power CEO Dr Bevan Holcombe.
“Depending on the time of day, or the season, we can monitor the volts and export the amount the network needs at the time it needs it.
“We’re trying to find the scope of the trial,” Dr Holcombe said.  “We’ve done some preliminary testing and, in a worst case scenario in summer, we can probably export the whole system output without upsetting the grid.
“It’s important to mention that this site has about a 87 per cent solar utilisation rate,” McVerry added. “It’s just on the weekend, and mainly on a Sunday, where there is the opportunity for the exports.”
But that would not always have to be the case. As Dr Holcombe points out, the levelised cost of solar energy on large commercial sites is lower than it is for large-scale solar farm generation, so presents a great opportunity for businesses with large amounts of unoccupied roof space to become “urban solar farms”, selling power to the grid either on a merchant basis or through a power purchase agreement.
“Commercial solar arrays of this size can be installed at almost half the cost of a solar farm,” Dr Holcombe told One Step. “At the moment, we waste the solar energy simply because we can’t export it. We’re developing the technology to allow urban solar farms to actually make some money from their excess solar,” he added, and to do that in a way that benefits the grid.
And the potential is huge, particularly as commercial and industrial solar begins to take off around Australia.
“We’re actually finding now, that probably 80 per cent of the commercial sites we quote on, it’s cheaper for them to add solar than to keep buying electricity from the grid,” Holcombe said.
“We do lots of leasing arrangements, and the payments (on those) are lower than buying electricity on the grid.
“The batteries will kick in,” he added. “If they’ve got the right load curve it’s a no-brainer to add batteries.”
Wade Llewellyn, who heads up Llewellyn Motors, said the addition of the smart energy management platform has allowed the business to be cashflow positive from day one of the solar and storage install.
“With the battery technology on top of that we will be able to improve the business case as the years go on and electricity prices go up,” he said.
Another key to the ability to export reliable, good quality power is the smart battery, which will be able to store unused power until the optimal time to sell it into the grid, such as during peak demand.
Richard Romanowski, the executive director of Planet Ark Power, says this not only encourages the uptake of larger commercial and industrial solar systems, and rewards those businesses switch to solar, but could be of benefit to the grid.
“Imagine if many multiple large roof space industrial sites across the network were able to export cheap affordable solar power into the grid during periods of peak demand,” Romanowski said.
“The overall cost of grid supplied energy would be lower, thus also being beneficial for members of the community who do not have their own battery and solar systems on their roofs, as well as reducing the carbon intensity of the national energy market.”

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