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.