Alice Springs energy experts present a vision of the future

Feb 21, 2019

The challenge of integrating renewable energy into the Alice Springs electricity grid has been highlighted to experts all over Australia, in a recent webinar.

The Intyal­heme Cen­tre for Future Ener­gy was invit­ed by Engi­neers Aus­tralia to deliv­er a pre­sen­ta­tion out­lin­ing how Alice Springs is posi­tioned to demon­strate what a future grid could look like. 

Intyal­heme Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Sara John­ston was joined by elec­tri­cal engi­neer Clare Payn­ter for the pre­sen­ta­tion, which was viewed by about 500 experts; some in the room in New­cas­tle, and oth­ers logged in to the live stream. 

View­ers were giv­en an insight into Alice Springs’ long his­to­ry in solar ener­gy exper­tise. That exper­tise is now being lever­aged to address the fact the town’s pow­er sys­tem is at sat­u­ra­tion point, with regard to the inte­gra­tion of renew­able energy. 

By fund­ing Intyal­heme, the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry Gov­ern­ment recog­nised that no sin­gle ener­gy sec­tor par­tic­i­pant can inno­vate across the entire sys­tem, and dri­ve the change need­ed to tran­si­tion to a pow­er sys­tem with 50 per cent renew­ables,” Ms John­ston said. 

Despite strong com­mu­ni­ty endorse­ment and invest­ment inter­est in Alice Springs, there is cur­rent­ly a lack of busi­ness incen­tive for devel­op­ing more large-scale solar. In its cur­rent form, the grid is fac­ing tech­ni­cal con­straints that lim­it how effec­tive solar can be. The frac­tion of ener­gy pro­duc­tion met by renew­ables in Alice Springs stands at eight per cent, and will remain there until changes are made. 

Pow­er sys­tems are very impor­tant pieces of infra­struc­ture and you can’t make changes with­out rig­or­ous test­ing,” said Ms Payn­ter, who works for Alice Springs-based tech­ni­cal con­sul­tan­cy firm, Ekisti­ca.

Sta­bil­i­ty and strength in the sys­tem is pro­vid­ed by a cer­tain amount of gas gen­er­a­tion. Chang­ing the sys­tem to meet the trend towards renew­ables is a long-term tech­ni­cal challenge. 

You have to be real­ly con­fi­dent that the ser­vices pro­vid­ed by the gas machine will be pro­vid­ed by some­thing else like a bat­tery, with­out any com­pro­mis­es in secu­ri­ty,” Ms Payn­ter said. 

Major play­ers in the NT ener­gy sec­tor are already work­ing to address these chal­lenges, and fund­ing is being sought for a large-scale col­lab­o­ra­tive project involv­ing experts from right across Australia. 

Lessons learnt about how to inte­grate more renew­ables into the Alice Springs pow­er sys­tem, will be applic­a­ble to the Nation­al Ener­gy Mar­ket. It has been acknowl­edged by indus­try lead­ers that Alice Springs is small enough to man­age, but big enough to matter. 

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Elec­tri­cal engi­neer Clare Payn­ter and Intyal­heme Gen­er­al Man­ag­er Sara John­ston pre­sent­ed at an Engi­neers Aus­tralia webinar.

Tags: Renewables , solar

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