Solar, Storage, And Wind — Success Stories In Australia, US, And Vietnam

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There is a problem that haunts traditional means of generating electricity — it takes years to design, build, and activate any coal or gas powered facility. Building a nuclear power plant can take a decade or more. But renewables — especially solar — can come online quickly. Take the new 450 MW Trung Nam Thuan Nam Solar Plant, in Vietnam’s southeastern province of Ninh Thuan, which may be the largest solar power plant in the country according to PV Magazine.

Solar Power Plant in Vietnam
Courtesy of Trungnam Group

The Trungnam Group says it completed that project in just 102 days after the financing was approved. A veritable army of 8,000 workers cleared the land for the project in just 45 days while installation of the solar panels and construction of a 500 kV transformer station and 220/500 kV transmission line required a mere 57 more days to reach completion.

Hybrid Wind And Solar In Australia

Iberdrola wind turbine
Credit: Iberdrola

Spanish energy group Iberdrola has begun construction of a hybrid renewable energy installation in South Australia that will combine 210 MW of wind power with 107 MW of photovoltaics. The $303 million project, which is expected to come online in 2021, will be the company’s first foray into renewable energy in Australia and its first hybrid venture in the world.

This is truly an international effort. Spanish company Elecnor will be the company in charge of building the plant’s substation and the transmission lines. Danish wind specialist Vestas will manufacture and install the 50 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 4.2 MW. Chinese module maker Longi will supply 250,000 solar panels for the photovoltaic plant and Indian EPC contractor Sterling & Wilson will install them.

Iberdrola has become one of the leaders in the Australian renewable energy market, It operates more than 800 MW of solar, wind and storage batteries and has 453 MW more renewable energy projects under construction with more than 1,000 MW in different stages of development.

Solar And Storage To Replace San Juan Coal Generating Station

Solar in New Mexico
Courtesy of Public Service Company of New Mexico

Power generation in the American southwest was dominated for decades by two enormous coal fired generating stations — the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico. The first is now closed and the second is scheduled to go offline in 2022. Last summer, New Mexico regulators ordered the Public Service Company of New Mexico to replace the electricity generated by the 847 MW San Juan facility with renewables.

Some areas of America are more amendable to solar power than others but there are few places better situated to take advantage of solar energy than New Mexico and Arizona. It may be anticlimactic, therefore, but PNM has decided the best way forward after the San Juan Generating Station closes is to substitute 650 MW of solar energy from 4 solar power plants and a 300 MW/1.200 MWh energy storage facility.

The four projects slated to replace the generating station will all be located in Farmington, New Mexico, the same town where the San Juan facility is located. Two of the projects have already been approved by state regulators — Arroyo Solar, which will have 300 MW and generating capacity coupled with 150 MW/600 MWh of storage, and Jicarilla Solar I, with 50MW of solar energy plus 20MW/80 MWh of battery storage.

The other two projects will be San Juan Solar 1 with 200 MW of generation and 100 MW/400 MWh of storage, and an as yet unnamed facility with 100 MW and 30 MW/120 MWh of storage. PNM is pushing for approval of those two projects before Dec. 4 so construction can begin in January with operations commencing in June of 2022. Current federal tax credits begin shrinking for projects approved after the end of this year, so timing is important. The projects are expected to generate up to $74.7 million in property tax revenues for the town of Farmington over the next 20 years and will create 500 construction jobs during the build out phase of the projects.

The solar plus storage approach signals the end of a poorly conceived and economically untenable carbon capture scheme that would have allowed the San Juan Generating Station to continue in operation longer. In the end, it was not job killing regulations by the Deep State that killed the carbon capture plan, it was high prices. The free market worked. Conservatives should be celebrating but off course they are incapable of embracing any idea that does not involve extracting fossil fuels and burning them.

Karl Cates, an IEEFA analyst, tells PV Magazine, “The retrofit was riddled already with numerous holes in its business plan, which overlooked such fundamental questions as to who would buy the power from such a complicated and high priced project, how it would be transmitted, and who would finance it.” The high cost, coupled with a mandate from state regulators to obtain 50% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 80% by 2040 put paid to the carbon capture boondoggle.

The price of electricity will be $18.65 per MWh for the Arroyo project and $19.73 for the Jacarilla facility. The electricity from the San Juan Solar I and Jicarilla Solar I storage projects will be $26.65 and $27.35 per MWh respectively. In comparison, coal fired generation runs $66 to $112 per MWh and combined-cycle gas fired generation is $44 to $64 MWh according to the latest estimates by Lazard.

As important a step as these new plans are for New Mexico’s energy transition, Karl Cates says they send a strong signal to the rest of the region. “When a utility of this size makes that kind of commitment, other utilities are going to look at it and respond accordingly.” Some of it is policy driven…..but I have to believe that most of it is market driven. These are deals that are from 18-25¢ per MWh — that’s cheap electricity. It’s a business decision as much as anything. They’re a regulated utility that must be responsive to its rate base. This is one way it gets there.”

There are few regions better suited for solar than the American southwest, and many of the area’s utilities have adjusted their long term integrated resource plans accordingly in order to take proper advantage of the cheap, reliable electricity that solar provides and that trend is accelerating.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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