More than 60% of electricity demand in the Australian town of Alice Springs can be met via solar photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity without causing grid instability, according to a new study that was partly funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
The remote central Australian town currently has a solar PV capacity (utility scale) of 4.1 megawatts (MW) — helping to support a population of ~29,000. The conclusion of the new report is that 10 MW of new capacity can be safely added to the town’s grid with no issues — preferably spread across 9 different 1.1 MW arrays, in order to minimize the effects of variable cloud cover.
If the report’s conclusion is followed through on, that will bring the town’s utility-scale solar PV share to ~25.5% of total generation capacity at peak load (55 MW, in summer).
The report made note of the fact that small grids — like those in remote towns similar to Alice Springs — are already exposed to significant levels of load variance as part of normal operations, regardless of intermittent solar. Owing to this, large amounts of solar PV can be added to the grid, with the accompanying variation on the grid ending up “being very similar to the step change ‘noise’ variance which currently occurs in the network.”
The report shows that by spreading out installed solar PV systems geographically, production can be made less affected by variable cloud cover — a bit obvious I suppose, but something worth noting. The advice gleaned from the study is that the proposed 1.1 MW solar arrays in Alice Springs should be spread 1.85 to 3.1 miles (3 to 5 kilometers) apart.
“The findings of this study are timely and show how more solar PV could be reliably introduced into Australian electricity networks,” stated Ivor Frischknecht, CEO of ARENA. “CAT Projects used a network of solar monitoring stations to estimate the maximum number of solar power generators that can be connected to the Alice Springs electricity grid without energy storage.”
The CAT Projects team that conducted the research noted that the findings are likely equally applicable to other small remote communities throughout Australia.
Image Credit: Alice Springs via Wiki CC
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