Engaging the community with our renewable future

Apr 16, 2024

We invit­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers out to the Desert Knowl­edge Precinct this month to hear about the work that’s gone into the Alice Springs Future Grid project, what we’ve learned, and what could be next for renew­able ener­gy in Alice Springs. It was well attend­ed, with near­ly 40 engaged com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and sec­tor experts join­ing for the talk and a pic­turesque evening tour of the DKA Solar Centre.

A roadmap to 50% renewables

They were here to dis­cuss the Roadmap to 2030, a new report pub­lished by the Alice Springs Future Grid project which brings togeth­er three years of learn­ings from five sub-projects, includ­ing real-world tri­als and investigations.

The report sets the scene, talk­ing through the cur­rent ener­gy sys­tem in Alice Springs, and how the input of solar, which cur­rent­ly accounts for 13% of all ener­gy use, is mak­ing the sys­tem unsta­ble. If no changes are made, it will become more unsta­ble as the input of solar grows. So, the sys­tem needs an update if we’re to hit to the 50% renew­able tar­get by 2030

Alice Springs is also like­ly to reach this point of insta­bil­i­ty before most oth­er places in the ter­ri­to­ry and beyond. And while here it could mean los­ing pow­er for a short while, the impli­ca­tions could be far greater if larg­er grids face the same problem. 

This is why what we’re doing is so impor­tant nation­al­ly. The eyes of the nation are on us. Min­is­ters lose their jobs for that sort of thing,” said Lyn­don Frear­son at the com­mu­ni­ty event, CEO of project part­ner Ekistica. 

The report goes on to lay out four dif­fer­ent path­ways to meet­ing this 50% tar­get, based on what has been observed dur­ing the research peri­od. You can read the full report here.

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Every­thing, every­where, all at once

Lyn­don start­ed his talk at the Precinct with what made the Future Grid project dif­fer­ent. While some of the tri­als have been con­duct­ed before, Future Grid was unique in test­ing every­thing all at the same time, and there­fore more close­ly mir­ror­ing reality.

The chal­lenge of the real world is that it’s messy and dif­fi­cult,” he said.

This is why the Roadmap looked at dif­fer­ent vari­ables when think­ing through pos­si­ble path­ways to a renew­able future.

A chang­ing ener­gy consumer

Lyn­don also spoke about how the aver­age ener­gy con­sumer has changed over the last two decades. In gen­er­al, now we are more demand­ing. Not only do we want ener­gy to be cheap and reli­able, but we’d also like it to be sus­tain­able, equi­table, empowering.

And from oth­er Future Grid tri­als, it’s clear that we’re reluc­tant to lim­it our ener­gy use. If we need to use ener­gy, we’ll go ahead and use it, and incen­tives or vari­able tar­iffs make lit­tle impact on our behaviour.

That being said, there is a high lev­el of sup­port for renew­ables in Alice Springs, with 85% want­i­ng the gov­ern­ment to invest in their development. 

Col­lab­o­ra­tion is key

Lyn­don also made a point about the impor­tance of work­ing togeth­er, dur­ing the Future Grid project and as we take our next steps.

Future Grid has been an oppor­tu­ni­ty for peo­ple to work togeth­er in ways they nev­er have before. That’s why the consumer’s input is so impor­tant. Every­one should feed in as com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers,” he said.

He also talked about the ques­tion of fund­ing, stress­ing that the most effi­cient out­come would be more pri­vate invest­ment. This would help spread the cost, as more peo­ple install solar pan­els and bat­ter­ies at their homes and com­mer­cial prop­er­ties.
We’re all in charge. We’re all in this togeth­er,” he said. 

What’s next?

Although we don’t know what the future has in store for us, the Roadmap gives us a few dif­fer­ent options, and a series of steps to fol­low right now. 

One of these is impress­ing upon the gov­ern­ment the need to remove bar­ri­ers by intro­duc­ing enabling frame­works. Anoth­er is ask­ing for input from the com­mu­ni­ty and oth­er con­cerned parties.

None of the solu­tions are the solu­tion,” Lyn­don said. They’re all part of it.”

We’re invit­ing respons­es to the Roadmap by email at info@​dka.​com.​au

Explor­ing the DKA Solar Centre

Lyn­don also took the group on a walk­ing tour of the solar cen­tre here at the Precinct, a col­lec­tion of pro­to­type solar pan­els, many of which have been here for many years.

He talked through the dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies dis­played, the data being record­ed, and the exper­i­ments that have tak­en place. There are solar pan­els which fol­low the sun, for exam­ple, and the impact dust can have on func­tion­al­i­ty has been test­ed. Often, it’s not worth clean­ing solar pan­els in this cli­mate, as the risk of dam­ag­ing them is too great and not worth the pay off.

The advan­tage of hav­ing some of the old­er mod­els here is we can col­lect data about their degra­da­tion and map this in line with what the man­u­fac­tur­ers have predicted.

There’s nowhere else in the world you have 15 years of this data,” said Lyn­don. What we’ve learned is there is no panacea. Things work dif­fer­ent­ly in dif­fer­ent circumstances.”

The solar cen­tre is free to vis­it dur­ing the week between 8am and 5pm, or at oth­er times by pri­or arrange­ment – and you can look at the live data from the solar pan­els and bat­tery on the web­site.

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