Sustainable Regional Australia - submission to medium-scale solar discussion paper
Response to the Victorian Government's Medium Scale Solar Discussion Paper
The Victorian Government released the Medium Scale Discussion Paper in November and called for feedback within a fortnight.
The paper and supporting documentation can be found at www.new.dpi.vic.gov.au
This document is a response to the Victorian Government's discussion paper, initially providing a snap shot of Sustainable Regional Australia's position on medium scale solar and then detailed responses by question.
About Sustainable Regional Australia
Sustainable Regional Australia leads the development and operation of medium-scale solar parks in Victoria. SRA developed Victoria's first and largest solar parks and is preparing to release 12-months of detailed production data to government and the public. The 300 kW Bendigo Solar Park and Ballarat Solar Park were officially launched in November 2009 and produce enough renewable energy to provide 150 households with solar power. This is approximately the equivalent of 150 households installing a 2 kW solar PV system.
The report will be the first of its kind and will provide concrete evidence of the viability of medium scale solar parks in Victoria. As a result of our lead position within the industry, SRA provides an essential evidence base for the Victorian Government to consider in policy development. This is supported by the research nature of the project administered by SRA, Central Victoria Solar City (CVSC).
The solar parks were developed as a part of CVSC to pilot the viability of medium scale solar parks and are blueprints for other regional communities wishing to consider medium-scale, local renewable energy generation.
SRA was developed in 2007 as the commercial arm of Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance. SRA's primary purpose is to implement CVSC and is the lead proponent in a consortium that consists of Bendigo Bank, Origin Energy, Powercor and Central Victorian Greenhouse Alliance.
PART A: Our solar parks in Bendigo and Ballarat
About our Solar Parks
Central Victoria's bid for Solar Cities funding outlined the value of trialling two grid connected Solar Parks, in Bendigo and Ballarat. The Parks were constructed over five months in 2009 and have been operational for one year. The Parks are financed via a corporate lease arrangement through Bendigo Bank. The Parks have three revenue streams, a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Origin, a Simulated Gross Feed in Tariff from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and community sponsorship.
Our Solar Park Supporters
In December 2010, Central Victoria Solar City will launch a new program to engage schools, community groups and business in the life of the Solar Parks. Our Solar Park Supporter Plan provides members with:
- Up to ten free Home Energy Assessments for staff.
- Monthly E-newsletters about the Park's performance and production.
- Invitations to community events at the Solar Parks.
- Signage highlighting the organisations public support for locally generated renewable energy.
What we've learnt about Medium Scale Solar in the past twelve months
Central Victorian Communities have a strong appetite for locally owned Community Solar Parks
Sustainable Regional Australia plans to offer our Solar Parks up for Community Ownership through and Independent Public Offer (IPO) in 2013. To date we have received over a hundred requests for presentations to various community groups on the Solar Parks and specifically a request for more information on the opportunity to become a shareholder. In the last twelve months CVSC has delivered 64 community presentations on our research project including opportunities to engage with the Parks.
Tracking systems are problematic
CVSC installed 15kW of our 300kW Ballarat Park on trackers. Over twelve months we have logged 18 maintenance issues associated with the trackers. We are currently trialling a new maintenance strategy which has proven effective to date in reducing production losses.
Our initial retail offer did not resonate in the market
Central Victoria Solar City's first retail offer associated with the Parks was based on the concept of a customer 'renting' the equivalent of a 2kW system. We asked customers to sign up to an Energy Plan with Origin, to purchase 100% Green Power notionally from either park. Customers were asked to pay an annual rental fee of $220 in addition to their standard electricity charges through Origin. The intent of the initial offer was to model locally produced power sold in the local community and to promote greater understanding and uptake of renewable energy solutions. Our experience was that consumers required a greater understanding of how distributed generation works in order to take up the offer. For example, Central Victoria Solar City ran a stall at the Bendigo Home and Lifestyle Expo in June promoting the Solar Park Energy Plan. A number of customers who enquired about the offer on the day asked whether additional poles and wires would be required to bring the power from the Park to their home. In explaining how power is distributed, those customers then questioned the purity of their green power, "if the power that I buy is only notionally green, why should I pay more? Where does the margin go?" CVSC's experience was that greener groups throughout the community understood the value proposition but did not take up the offer as they already had PV panels on their roof tops.
12 Annual Production Figures Bendigo and Ballarat
The Bendigo and Ballarat Parks were 12months production data illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 below:
Figure 1: Annual Production Data, Bendigo Solar Park
Figure 2: Annual Production Data, Ballarat Solar Park
Our commitment to supporting 100% Renewable Communities
Central Victoria Solar City developed an innovative June 2010, to support residents to reduce their energy consumption and create 100% of their energy renewably. The partnership will see resident through the Solar City trial) and access competitive solar PV and hot water packages. The partnership also involves the completion of a feasibility study to assess the financial viability of a medium scale Solar Park. The community will also consider wind and bio goal of one hundred percent renewable energy.
PART B: Response to the Victorian government's medium scale solar discussion paper
This section of the paper outlines SRA's position on some key points related to medium scale solar. Due to time constraints we have only would have valued the opportunity to respond to every question.
The Role of Medium Scale Solar
Facilitating Community Ownership and Innovation
- SRA recommends the governm Solar Parks. SRA recommends medium scale solar parks that are community owned and operated.
- Community Ownership of medium scale solar parks promotes better understanding of energy generation and use and equips communities with valuable knowledge that may assist them to adapt to changes in the energy market more effectively than communities not engaged in creating their own energy.
The introduction of a medium scale feed in tariff should promote maximum engagement and uptake of PV across the State. As such, SRA believes that Medium Scale Solar should be defined from 5kW to 5MW.
QU1: It is appropriate to define medium-scale solar as falling between 100kW and 5MW?
No, SRA believes medium scale solar should include small to medium businesses and community based organisations that have 5-10MW systems.
QU3: What are the immediate financial short-term barriers to investing in the medium-scale solar sector and how do these differ from investment in small or large-sale solar?
The barriers SRA has encountered include
- the need for an evidence base around the performance of medium scale solar installations
- the absence of a feed in tariff
- the need for broader community engagement and promotion of solar
- the need for innovative community based investment models
QU8: What level of uptake would be required for medium-scale solar to make a significant contribution to meeting renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets and how feasible is such a level of uptake?
SRA's partnership with the community of Newstead aims to generate one hundred percent of the town's energy locally and renewably. Our intended strategy is to trial the approach in Newstead, refine the model and take it to scale in other small communities around Central Victoria. SRA plans to invite other communities who express interest in working toward a one hundred percent renewable energy production target to express interest in securing our support in late 2011/2012.
SRA's existing parks in Bendigo and Ballarat prevent approximately 567 tonnes of carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere each year. 1
QU9: What contribution is medium-scale solar likely to make to the security and reliability of supply?
In townships such as Newstead, medium scale solar of between 400kW's and 600kW's could provide one hundred percent of the towns energy requirements.
QU12: What are the benefits of increased community engagement in this space over and above financial benefits? To what extent can these be quantified or do they remain largely intangible?
SRA plans to measure the social, environmental and economic benefits in the community of Newstead throughout the pilot program. We are working with the University of Ballarat who have developed an action research approach to the Newstead pilot, involving residents making contributions to the research through keeping diaries. To date, we have been involved in four community forums in the town designed to share information about medium scale solar as well as individual household solutions. The workshops were very well attended with many residents making comments about how this project gave their community a sense of responsibility and power to take charge of their local energy consumption and production.
QU13: What support models for medium-scale solar are likely to provide the greatest opportunities for community engagement?
SRA would recommend any new medium scale solar initiatives are coupled with free community workshops where residents and other stakeholders can learn about reducing their energy consumption before taking up solar. Communities need to understand energy efficiency before engaging in medium scale solar programs to generate power to facilitate greater understanding of energy use and instil a sense of control over power use in the community.
Sustainable Regional Australia
1 For every MW hour of grid electricity used in Victoria approximately 1.35 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent is released into the atmosphere. Source: Department of Climate Change, National Greenhouse Accounts Factors Workbook 2009.