The South Australian government’s official target for renewable energy is 50 per cent of local demand by 2025. According to the Australian Energy Regulator, it didn’t just reach that target in 2016/17, eight years early, it is literally blowing past it.
Data released in the AER’s state of the energy market report released last week suggests that the combined contribution of large scale wind power and rooftop solar PV has already reached 57 per cent in the first nine months of 2016/17.
The report showed that wind power accounted for 38 per of the state’s demand in 2015/16, jumped to about 43 per cent in calendar 2016, and then jumped even further in 2016/17 as new wind farms such as Snowtown and Hornsdale came on line.
“In the nine months to 31 March 2017, the contribution of wind generation was even greater, supplying 50 per cent of South Australia’s electricity,” the AER says.
Add in the at least 7.6 per cent contribution from rooftop solar – the AER report says that the 728MW of rooftop solar contributed 7.6 per cent of South Australia’s annual energy requirements in 2015–16 – that takes the state up to at leat 57 per cent for the nine months to the end of March.
That figure is expected to jump again as households and businesses continue to add rooftop solar, and as the third 109MW stage of the Hornsdale wind project comes on line.
Over the next year, the 220MW Bungala solar project and the 212MW Lincoln Gap wind farm, both near Port Augusta, will also come on line, taking the state up towards 65 per cent renewables, and there are numerous other projects said to be near the point of financial close.
As we reported in April, The Australian Energy Market Operator predicts that the state is heading towards 80 per cent renewable energy by 2021/22, saying that capacity of large scale renewables (wind and solar) will double to around 3,100MW over the next five years.
Those additions could be affected, however, by the structure of the state’s proposed energy security target, and whether it allows wind and solar farms to be paired with battery storage, or whether its insistence on “real inertia) (i.e. from spinning turbines) results in curtailment of wind and solar.
AEMO also expects the amount of rooftop solar capacity in South Australia to double and reach over 1500 MW by 2025, by which time the state’s minimum demand could on occasions be met entirely by rooftop solar, suggesting the need for something smarter to happen with battery storage.
This is because the prices are, in the end, set by the high price of gas-fired generation, and often manipulated when states have few major generators. Both South Australia and Queensland are dominated by just two or three major generation companies, and this is seen as a major cause of the problem
The AERs analysis shows that the most number of price spikes occurred in Tasmania in recent years, thanks to the failure of its Basslink cable, the drought that depleted its hydro resources and the subsequent reliance on fossil fuel generation.
The number of price spikes in South Australia and Queensland is roughly even, although the South Australia number is higher for the latest year after the work on the upgrade to the inter-connector to Victoria saw the gas generators in the state push prices to the maximum level on multiple occasions.
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The community solar pilot program is subscriber based and is currently maxed out at 1,500 customers with an additional 500 customers on a waiting list. It’s meant for people who are interested in using solar power but don’t want or can’t have panels on their homes.
“Utility community solar programs have proven to be successful around the nation as electric utilities are able to utilize cost effective utility-scale solar resources in developing customer offerings, and EPE is excited to bring this new program to our community,” now-retired EL Paso Electric CEO Tom Schokley said in a statement when the company first filed for the pilot program.
The price per kilowatt is fixed at $20.96. Subscribers must receive one kilowatt but can add to their subscription in half-kilowatt increments. Solar is more expensive than traditional power but EPE representatives believe solar subscribers will save money in the long run. They said the price of solar is guaranteed and won’t go up if traditional power prices rise, and the price may go down when more people subscribe; spreading maintenance costs to more people.
EPE expects the first few months of the program to be extremely successful thanks to El Paso’s long, hot and sunny days. However they said there could be a drop off in the winter when the days are shorter and there are more frequent storms.
EPE filed for approval in June of 2015. They began construction in November 2016, allowed customers to enroll in March 2017, were fully subscribed in April and brought the facility online last week.
“This is actually one of the first facilities where we actually now own it. And now with our customers voluntarily being part of that program it becomes a program I think our customers will be proud to see,” said Eddie Gutierrez, El Paso Electric’s spokesman.
Solar fields have been challenged on their safety to wildlife. Some have been known to cook birds mid-air if they flew over the panels on a hot day. But representatives for EPE say that their facility does not reflect heat because they used a thin film that does not have the reflective properties of older solar panels.
The panels are automated and tilt to follow the sun throughout the day. The DC power they produce is sent to a converter where is comes out AC, then it’s converted to the proper voltage through a transformer, through two safety checks and into the grid.
There is no contract for the program so customers can get out if they don’t like it. If customers move within El Paso, they can take their solar subscription with them. The program is only for EPE’s Texas customers but they are planning a solar facility for their New Mexico customers.
Ray Bogan is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in El Paso, Texas. Follow him on twitter: @RayBogan