A first-of-its kind 3.5MW hybrid wind, solar and battery storage project is set to power a remote garnet mine in Western Australia, after getting a funding boost from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
ARENA announced on Wednesday that it was providing $3 million in funding to the Port Gregory Wind and Solar Farm, to build the grid-connected wind, solar and lithium-ion battery project near Kalbarri, on the WA coast north of Geraldton.
The ground-breaking project is using five second-hand Enercon wind turbines for the 2.5MW of wind power, alongside 1MW of solar and a 2MW/0.5MWh lithium-ion battery.
The battery is manufactured by Kokam – which supplied the battery at the ground-breaking Mt Newman gas station further to the north – and battery inverters by Siemens.
All this will ultimately provide up to 70 per cent of the electricity needs of a garnet mining and processing operation run by GMA Garnet, next to which the hybrid power plant will be built.
The $11.2 million project has been in the works for a couple of years now, since GMA Garnet signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Perth-based Advanced Energy Resources for the output of the hybrid renewables plant, back in June 2017.
The plan has been for AER – a renewables developer, generator and electricity retailer – to build, own and operate the site for 13 years, after it is commissioned in December.
The project caught ARENA’s attention not just for its hybrid and battery combination, but also for its use of refurbished wind turbines, and for its “novel” use of inverter technology, to get around problems associated with connecting large amounts of renewables to remote, fringe-of-grid locations.
In the case of the Port Gregory project, AER will do this by using ‘back-to-back inverter topology’, a design that decouples the load and renewable energy generators from the grid via a DC link.
“Fringe-of-grid communities in mid-west Western Australia suffer from network outages, so this is a great step forward in creating a template for other electricity users in similar conditions, to replicate and reduce electricity costs and improve reliability and stability,” said ARENA CEO Darren Miller.
“This grid connection design will overcomes challenges associated with connections to weak grids, providing backup power, and facilitating high penetrations of customer-side renewable generation.
“Effectively, this approach allows the solar and wind to operate in a microgrid with the battery and inverters, which avoided the need to upgrade the network,” Miller said.
As for the second-hand turbines, they have been sourced from northern Germany, where they were decommissioned, and then refurbished in Australia by AER.
“In Europe, there is a significant market for refurbished wind turbines, as wind farms increase their capacity by upgrading smaller turbines for larger, more powerful ones,” Miller said.
“Now, AER has brought experience from the European market to enable them to give these turbines a second life in Western Australia.”
For GMA Garnet, the wind and solar farm offers what the company has described as a “truly practical way” of reducing its input costs while also hedging against the “ever increasing” cost of electricity.
“Price certainty is an important consideration for our business which sells high quality garnet to an international market,” said GMA Garnet’s COO, Grant Cox, back in June 2017.
“We are proud to be moving our operation to have the lowest carbon emissions in the industry.”
ARENA, meanwhile, has also thrown its funding support behind a separate W.A. hybrid renewables project – where 18MW of wind is being combined with a solar, battery and gas microgrid to help power a remote gold mine.
That off-grid system, which is being built by EDL for a mine owned by Gold Fields, will combine a five-turbine wind array with a 4MW solar farm and a 13MW/4MWh battery system (BESS), underpinned by a 16MW gas engine power station, and back-up diesel. It is a first for the Australian mining industry.