A Queensland project that could deliver the state’s first solar-powered public water supply has come one step closer to fruition, after the successful completion of a pre-feasibility study.
State energy minister Mark Bailey said on Monday that the project, which will now progress to the design phase, would use renewable energy to increase the security of water supply to Mt Isa, a mining town in Queensland’s north west Gulf Country region.
Mt Isa, while boasting a bountiful solar resource, has suffered extended drought conditions, which last year resulted in water supply being shut off to some local schools.
The solar project, which is being conducted by the Mount Isa Water Board will, is examining the use of cost-effective solar pumping to bring water from Lake Julius to the town’s water treatment plant.
Mt Isa’s water supply is usually sourced from just 13km away at Lake Moondarra. But in drought conditions, it can also be sourced from Lake Julius, which is 70km away.
Minister Bailey said the project had the potential to slash the “significant cost” associated with transporting water over that distance.
Mount Isa Water Board CEO Stephen Farrelly said the pre-feasibility study had indicated the project would be viable and generate a net cost saving for customers, but that there was still a lot of work to be done for it to be realised.
“The project is still in its infancy and, as is appropriate for such a substantial investment, it will need to progress through a series of approvals before a final investment decision can be made,” Mr Farrelly said.
Mount Isa mayor Joyce McCulloch said the project could have great benefits for the remote town.
“There is the obvious water security and reduced costs of pumping from Lake Julius, but it would also mean greater year-round recreation access for Lake Moondarra if the region can use water from Julius for a similar cost,” she said.
“North-west Queensland and Mount Isa have been identified as having one of the highest amounts of solar radiation per square metre, so it makes perfect sense for solar projects to be pursued.”
As reported on Energy Matters, another major Australian town already harnessing solar power to pump water is Broome in Western Australia, with a trial using hybrid solar-diesel and battery storage to pump drinking water from a borefield to Broome kicking off in August.
On a smaller scale, using solar to pump water for irrigation on farms is also taking off: “If a farmer has a requirement of reliable water supply, there’s no doubt in my mind that the economics of solar would stack up in each case,” Queensland-based solar installer Matthew Beech told One Step in September.
“A lot of the applications are going to be vertical bores, or transferring water from one damn to another.
“I can’t think of anything cheaper than filling one hole with water and being able to send it anywhere you like as long as the sun is shining. And with battery packs, you can take that to a 24 hour operation.”