New solar farm offers bite-size chunks for small business on road to energy democracy

Aerial view of Robinvale solar farm. Image: Suntech

The completion of the 9.4MW Robinvale solar farm last week marked a milestone not just for the project’s developer Suntech, but also for a company called WePower and its plans to open up Australia’s renewable energy procurement market to a potentially huge market of small businesses.

As RenewEconomy reported last week, Suntech’s 9.47MW(AC) Robinvale solar farm was successfully commissioned last week by Suntech Power Development Australia around 90km south-west of Mildura in Victoria.

Suntech Power Japan Corporation CEO Zeight Gao said on Friday that the completion of Robinvale marked the company’s first 100% owned project in the Australian pipeline to come to realisation. “And we look to further expand our solar footprint in Australia,” he said.

And while the project is relatively small in the scheme of the Australian large-scale solar market, it has layers of significance.

First, the electricity from the solar farm was contracted to upstart retailer Mojo Power, as the result of a deal struck in October of last year, to add to Mojo’s expanding portfolio of wholesale renewable power.

Then, in February of this year, a secondary Power Purchase Agreement was inked between Mojo and boutique electricity retailers People Energy (Vic) and Q Energy (Vic, NSW and Qld).

The 10-year, $10 million PPA, was a bit different, however, in that it was executed using digitised contractual architecture, enabled by the energy tokenisation technology of Lithuania-based company WePower – a first in Australia.

And it means that corporates will have the opportunity to buy renewable power from the 9.4MW solar farm via a secondary marketplace facilitated by blockchain technology.

Most importantly, the technology opens the door to small businesses that until now, were restricted by the 10MW or $2 million minimum for energy procurement deals, or put off by the lengthy and sometimes costly negotiation process.

“By purchasing power through this platform and avoiding traditional retail energy plans, companies will be able to save up to 30 per cent on their power bills,” said Mojo Power CEO Warren Murphy in a statement on Monday.

“Companies will know with certainty where their electricity came from and how it was generated. Increasingly, employees want corporates to lead on sustainability issues, including energy.”

WePower CEO Nikolaj Martyniuk said the project going live was a milestone on the road to energy democracy in Australia.

“Energy customers in Australia can now receive an unprecedented level of transparency, access and insight by purchasing energy through our platform.”

The milestone is also good news for developers of smaller renewable energy projects – including community-based solar farms – which are well-suited to this sort of platform, and to WePower’s Australian plans.

“We want to establish a base layer of virtual PPAs, and then it’s the customer’s choice. If you want firming, we can provide it. We have multiple partners,” explained WePower co-founder and CEO Nick Martynuik in February.

“Australia is one of the best countries for PPAs [thanks to] amazing resources, a lot of sun a lot of wind, and the market itself, the structure of the market, allows corporate PPAs to be done very easily.

“Some large companies already [secured] their PPAs. We’re opening up the market for smaller companies to buy directly from the supplier they want to.”

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