Why Alice Springs?
Alice Springs is a major centre for remote Australia, located 1500 km from Adelaide and Darwin.
Alice Springs is one of three main grids in the Northern Territory. The Darwin-Katherine grid services 200,000 people, the Tennant Creek Grid services 3,000 people, and the Alice Springs grid services 30,000 people. The other communities (including Yulara) are self-sufficient micogrids, powered by diesel generators and solar energy.
The Roadmap to Renewables report by the Renewable Energy Expert Panel to the Northern Territory Government celebrated the knowledge, capability and expertise in renewable energy technology that had already been acquired in the NT — especially in Alice Springs.
“There is considerable value in building on this existing infrastructure, knowledge and expertise. In particular, Alice Springs offers an excellent location to develop and understand the requirements of a city with a high penetration of solar energy. In addition, the lessons learnt in Alice Springs can be applied across the Northern Territory … Alice Springs will also provide an ideal location for new research and development programs, trials, demonstration projects and other initiatives.”
- Renewable Energy Expert Panel
Roadmap to Renewables
Alice Springs is small enough to manage and big enough to matter
Alice Springs is a regulated, structurally separated grid with characteristics that make it a microcosm of the National Energy Market (NEM), the massive power system that services Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia.
As well as serving Alice Springs itself, the grid also services the communities of Santa Teresa (85km southeast of Alice Springs) and Hermannsburg (130km southwest of Alice Springs), which makes it a long, stringy grid prone to outages with the associated challenges of managing system strength and voltage.
Due to technical restraints, the Alice Springs power system cannot readily accept more renewable energy into the grid, despite renewables currently only contributing 8% of the annual energy fraction. Alice Springs is facing this challenge now, and the NEM will face the same challenge within the next five years.
Alice Springs shares several defining characteristics with the NEM, albeit on a smaller scale:
- Power generation comes from a mixture of gas, diesel and solar assets
- Diverse demand with a mix of residential households, commerce, light industry and an airport
- Wide ranging demand from 60 MW down to 8MW
- Independently managed grids that include both transmission and distribution
- Similar market players
- Retail contestability
As a microcosm of the NEM, Alice Springs can rapidly test, trial and innovate on a scale that is meaningful and cost-effective. The solutions that the Alice Springs power system provides will be applicable to the NEM and other power systems, with the rest of Australia looking to the Northern Territory for answers in the coming years.
Small investments in Alice Springs can make a huge difference.
What is the challenge?
Intyalheme was established to assist the NT Government with the goal of powering the Territory with 50% renewables by 2030.
In Alice Springs, only 8% of the annual energy fraction is met by renewables. Despite enjoying 300 sunny days a year, Alice Springs lacks a pathway to reach 50% renewables by 2030. No additional large-scale solar energy can easily be integrated into the Alice Springs system under current operating conditions, due to a reliance on gas machines to provide ancillary services such as frequency control and spinning reserve which maintain system stability and reliability, ensuring that the supply of power can meet the demand.
Frequency and voltage control are also increasingly difficult to manage. The single large-scale solar farm in Alice Springs, Uterne Solar Farm, experiences regular curtailment, demonstrating there is no current business case for more investment in renewables in Alice Springs.
As a microcosm of the NEM, Alice Springs is the perfect place to develop innovative solutions that have national relevance.
A solar history
Intyalheme builds on the strong history of renewable energy projects and existing infrastructure and expertise in Alice Springs. The town has led the successful rollout of solar systems to remote outstations, been named a Solar City, and has some of the largest and most diverse solar installations in the Southern Hemisphere. Businesses, local government and the Alice Springs community all invest in solar and are highly engaged in discussions about renewables.
Bushlight 2002 — 2013
Bushlight was a renewable energy program run by the Centre for Appropriate Technology, following a report into Renewable Energy in Remote Australian Communities, released in 2000. The project enabled community livelihood and opportunities by providing affordable and reliable power. During the project, 130 renewable energy systems were installed across remote Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.
Alice Solar City 2008 — 2013
Alice Springs was one of seven areas chosen to be a Solar City, funded by the Australian Government. During its time, the number of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed on rooftops across the town rose from two to more than 700. Solar Cities provided a $100 million economic boost for Alice Springs, and left a legacy that included five projects which at the time were the biggest of their type in Australia.
Solar SETuP 2014 — 2019
The Solar Energy Transformation Program, or SETuP, is a project of Power and Water Corporation (PWC). It has activated the construction of solar systems in 25 remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, totaling 10MW. It differs from Bushlight in that it focuses on gazetted communities, as opposed to outstations and homelands.