Alice Springs Future Grid
The Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy is bringing together energy experts from the Northern Territory and Australia to develop a series of solutions which will remove barriers to further renewable uptake in Alice Springs. The project will support the town’s ‘Future Grid’ and the lessons learnt will be valuable for larger interconnected grids such as the National Electricity Market on Australia’s East Coast.
Alice Springs sits at around 10 per cent renewable energy penetration. Currently, no additional solar can be integrated into the power system due to network challenges including low fault current, inertia and spinning reserve, and poor frequency control (see glossary for technical definitions).
These challenges are forecast to affect the National Electricity Market (NEM) in coming years.
Alice Springs can address this now, generating new insights that are relevant and applicable to other power systems, including the NEM.
The two-year $12.5m undertaking will holistically investigate intersecting hypotheses encompassing consumers, power systems, and industrial micro-grid challenges. Trials can be conducted in the existing power system, to explore new approaches to spinning reserve, and use new technologies like solar forecasting.
Through this project, it is anticipated that Alice Springs will become a nationally significant blueprint for what a grid with very high levels of renewables (including Distributed Energy Resources) could look like.
This will assist Australia’s transition to renewable energy by providing lessons on a small scale that can be applied nationally or globally.
Renewable energy in Central Australia: FAQs
What is the Northern Territory’s target for renewable energy?
The Northern Territory Government is committed to 50% renewable energy by 2030. This is mapped out in the Roadmap to Renewables Report of 2017.
How much energy currently comes from renewables in Alice Springs?
On average annually, around 10% of the power used in Alice Springs comes from solar energy. At certain times – e.g. in the middle of a summer day when air conditioners are running hard and demand for power is high – Alice Springs can reach up to 50% solar. Gas engines contribute most of the power generation in Alice Springs.
Why are we not already at 50% solar, or more, in such a sunny part of the world?
Alice Springs is an isolated power system, so all the services needed to run the grid have to be provided locally. In all power systems, generation constantly has to match demand. On top of this, there needs to be enough generators focused on maintaining a stable power system (providing things like voltage, inertia, spinning reserve and frequency). Currently gas generators do most of this work. Transitioning to renewable energy requires careful consideration to maintain a reliable power network.
Why can’t we just put in a big battery?
In 2018 Territory Generation installed a five megawatt battery in Alice Springs, which is actually larger proportional to our grid than the Tesla “big battery” in South Australia. Currently, the cost of installing a battery big enough to provide energy overnight is prohibitively high. The Alice Springs Future Grid project will increase our understanding of the role that batteries can play, particularly as costs reduce.
Is Intyalheme and Future Grid a bit like Alice Solar City?
Intyalheme is building on the success of Alice Solar City, to achieve next-level renewable energy uptake. Alice Solar City ran from 2008 to 2013 as part of the Australian Government Solar Cities programme. Intyalheme is a Central Arrernte word meaning “a fire flaring up again”, which alludes to the rich local history of renewable energy projects in Central Australia. Intyalheme invites the community to stay in touch and get involved.