A clean and connected energy future for Alice Springs

Aug 14, 2020

An ambi­tious project to trans­form the Alice Springs elec­tric­i­ty sys­tem will gen­er­ate impor­tant lessons, which are expect­ed to assist Australia’s tran­si­tion to a renew­able ener­gy future. 

The project, called Alice Springs Future Grid, is led by the Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Ener­gy and involves mul­ti­ple organ­i­sa­tions from across the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry and Aus­tralia. Ener­gy experts will work togeth­er to iden­ti­fy and remove bar­ri­ers to fur­ther renew­able ener­gy pen­e­tra­tion, through a num­ber of inter­de­pen­dent sub-projects, over the next two years. 

Sys­tem mod­el­ling, house­hold bat­tery pilot stud­ies, the devel­op­ment of new tar­iff options, and micro­grid tri­als are all part of Alice Springs Future Grid. The project will cul­mi­nate in the pro­duc­tion of a Roadmap to 2030, explain­ing how the Alice Springs pow­er sys­tem can be con­fig­ured to sup­port an increas­ing pro­por­tion of renew­able energy. 

The com­mu­ni­ty is play­ing a grow­ing role in the ener­gy sys­tem, and Future Grid will inves­ti­gate how dis­trib­uted ener­gy resources — such as house­hold bat­ter­ies and rooftop solar — and exist­ing infra­struc­ture can work togeth­er to cre­ate a clean, reli­able and afford­able ener­gy supply. 

Intyal­heme Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Tris­tan Simons said the rise of the pro­sumer’ had brought about oppor­tu­ni­ties and challenges.

Res­i­dents and busi­ness­es are more engaged and will­ing par­tic­i­pants in the ener­gy tran­si­tion, but man­ag­ing this increas­ing engage­ment pos­es its own set of tech­ni­cal and social chal­lenges,” Mr Simons said. 

Alice Springs has a strong his­to­ry com­mu­ni­ty buy-in and engage­ment with solar,” he said. 

Com­bined with our 300 sun­ny days a year, we believe Alice Springs is at the fore­front of the ener­gy tran­si­tion, and is the opti­mal loca­tion to test a series of inter­ven­tions on a large scale.”

The organ­i­sa­tions involved include Pow­er and Water Cor­po­ra­tion, Ter­ri­to­ry Gen­er­a­tion, Jacana Ener­gy, Desert Knowl­edge Aus­tralia, Ekisti­ca, and the Arid Lands Envi­ron­ment Cen­tre (ALEC).

The Com­mon­wealth Sci­ence and Indus­tri­al Research Organ­i­sa­tion (CSIRO) is the Knowl­edge Shar­ing Part­ner for Alice Springs Future Grid, and has been instru­men­tal in the pro­jec­t’s devel­op­ment. CSIRO Ener­gy Sys­tems Research Direc­tor, Dr John Ward, said Future Grid would deliv­er the knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence – com­mu­ni­ty, eco­nom­ic and tech­ni­cal – to sup­port a tran­si­tion to 50% renew­able ener­gy by 2030 and pro­vide the path­way to 100%.

The lessons we learn here will direct­ly inform Australia’s clean ener­gy tran­si­tion,” Dr Ward said. 

The chal­lenge is one of sys­tem inte­gra­tion – not just of gen­er­a­tion. Achiev­ing this tran­si­tion for an elec­tric­i­ty sys­tem of this size means that elec­tri­cal sys­tem ser­vices such as bal­anc­ing pow­er deliv­ery and reg­u­lat­ing fre­quen­cy – ser­vices nor­mal­ly pro­vid­ed by con­ven­tion­al fos­sil fuel-based gen­er­a­tion — will need to be achieved through renew­able ener­gy sys­tems,” he said. 

We know that large-scale bat­ter­ies can pro­vide these sys­tem ser­vices, but accu­rate siz­ing and con­trol is need­ed to ensure reli­able and secure elec­tric­i­ty at an afford­able price.”

The lessons we learn here will direct­ly inform Australia’s clean ener­gy transition.”

Dr John Ward, CSIRO Ener­gy Sys­tems Research Director

The Alice Springs pow­er sys­tem is often said to be small enough to man­age, but big enough to matter’.

It is both a mas­sive scale-up com­pared to exist­ing renew­able micro­grids; and a micro­cosm of the chal­lenges faced on large inter­con­nect­ed sys­tems, such as the Aus­tralian Nation­al Ener­gy Mar­ket, with lessons learnt applic­a­ble to both,” said Dr Ward.

Alice Springs Future Grid received fund­ing from ARE­NA as part of its Advanc­ing Renew­ables Pro­gram. The project is also fund­ed by the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment Depart­ment of Indus­try, Sci­ence, Ener­gy and Resources through the Region­al and Remote Com­mu­ni­ties Reli­a­bil­i­ty Fund – Micro­grids Pro­gram

Intyal­heme has fund­ed about a quar­ter of Future Grid through seed fund­ing pro­vid­ed by the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment, and the rest of the $12.5m com­pris­es con­tri­bu­tions from par­tic­i­pant organisations.

Vis­it the Alice Springs Future Grid website

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