Image courtesy of My Energy Solar

Solar Powers Entire Town In South Australia, Slashes Energy Costs

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William Creek in South Australia is no metropolis. It has a campground, two motels, one of the world’s most remote pubs, and a solar farm. The town has 10 permanent inhabitants, although a full census might get that number up to around 50 people on weekends and holidays, but it does attract over 25,000 visitors a year, possibly because it has the only gas station between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta. The town looks like a place that may have been visited by Crocodile Dundee back in the day.

It’s fair to say William Creek is part of the Australian Outback. In 1998, a woman died while trying to walk back to town after her vehicle got stuck in sand. One of biggest claims to fame is that its nearest neighbor is Anna Station, the largest cattle ranch in the world — bigger than Israel, actually. Another is that it is the only town in Australia powered entirely by solar energy. Few other communities anywhere in the world can make that statement.

My Energy Solar Installation

In 2022, William Creek became the site of a new solar energy installation from My Energy, which says the system consists of 35 kVa of Victron Energy Quattro inverters, 200 kW of Trina solar modules that are DC coupled using Victron 450/200 Smart Solar Chargers and AC coupled using Fronius International ECO inverters, Victron Cerbo GX for remote monitoring and control, 280 kWh of storage using Pylon Technologies US5000 batteries, and cabinets from Tro Pacific. All of the hardware is built into a 40-foot container and kept cool by Daikin Comfort split heat pump systems.

Dan Howard, the head of commercial sales for Horan & Bird and Juice Capital, tells Energy Matters, “William Creek is one of the most remote communities in Australia. There is over 300 kilometers of dirt road to get there.” The new solar installation has had a massive impact on the cost of electricity. “The town’s previous diesel generated power was priced at approximately $1.20 per kWh. Now the town purchases its electricity for $0.287 per kWh.”

According to Trevor Wright, William Creek’s tourism operator, “It’s a no-brainer. I think it really pretty much the only solar power town in South Australia. A lot of stations are definitely coming on board, I think with the price of oil merit going on the last few years everyone knows when the drawing vehicle is becoming a real issue.” It probably helps to be an Aussie to decode that statement accurately but it doesn’t take a dingo to know that paying four times more than necessary for electricity doesn’t make a lot of sense. The absence of the roar of a diesel generator is a nice bonus as well.

Solar Surges In Australia

The new solar installation in William Creek may be small potatoes, but the trend toward solar energy in Australia is getting stronger all the time despite substantial pushback at the highest levels of the federal government during the Reign of Terror known as the Scott Morrison administration.

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In Preston, a suburb of Melbourne, a 52-unit low income apartment block, now gets electricity from its own microgrid, thanks to an innovative partnership between the government of Victoria, Housing Choices Australia, the Australian Energy Foundation, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and several companies, including Gippsland Solar, Allume Energy, and retailer Ovidia.

The roof of the apartment block now features a 70 kW solar array coupled with a 56 kWh storage battery. Using the Solshare energy distribution technology pioneered by Allume, it connects the 52 apartments and allows for the rooftop generated and battery-stored solar power to be shared between them.

The Solshare system is contained in a small box and is designed to work within a building’s existing metering infrastructure to allow solar to be distributed and billed to individual apartments. “52 low-income households now have access to clean, affordable electricity in this world-first integration of shared solar and batteries,” Allume said in a statement published on LinkedIn. “The SolShare ensures solar and battery power is sent to whichever apartment is using energy at that time, to maximize use of solar, and minimize consumption from the grid.”

The rooftop PV system was installed at no upfront cost to the tenants through a 10-year “roof licence” with the landlord. Allume then charges the tenants for the solar electricity on a “pay for the power, and not the panels” basis. A power purchase agreement locks in a rate that is 30% lower than the prevailing retail rate of electricity.

The groundbreaking solar sharing plan breaks the so-called “solar ceiling” that locks people with no roof of their own to mount a solar array out of cheaper, cleaner energy. The success of the Allume system has led to the creation of several new start-up companies and attracted favorable attention from several state and local governments.

Tesla is also involved in one of the world’s largest virtual power plant programs in South Australia. Beginning in 2019, Tesla installed rooftop solar systems on just over 1,000 low income houses and coupled them with Tesla Powerwall home storage batteries. A second phase earlier this year added about 300 more homes to the test population. The batteries store electricity during the day to help power the homes at night. In addition, all the batteries are linked together digitally so that some of that stored electricity can be fed back into the grid to meet peaks in demand or provide power during an outage.

The program has been a huge success, primarily because those families participating in the program are paying about 20% less for their electricity than their neighbors. Who doesn’t like saving money? Dan van Holst Pellekaan is represents South Australia in parliament, In a statement published on the South Australia government website, he says, “This VPP is delivering affordable electricity to some of South Australia’s most disadvantaged households whilst increasing the reliability of the state’s electricity network.”

He adds, “Phase 3 of the VPP could see 50,000 homes connected to the VPP becoming the equivalent of a 250MW virtual power plant. VPPs will be an integral part of the future of Australia’s energy system, allowing people with solar panels to store the energy they generate during the day to power their home after the sun goes down.”

In small ways and big ways, Australia is learning to take advantage of the enormous power of the sunlight that hits the continent every day. It’s not so much that solar power makes sense, it’s that not making use of it to provide clean, affordable zero emissions power would be a colossal waste. Low cost and low emissions? Who (besides ScoMo and his henchmen) could possibly be opposed to that?

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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." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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