By ERWIN CHLANDA
Private and public solar power installations in Alice Springs are now producing the equivalent of electricity needed by 600 average homes here.
About one-third of this came on stream last week with the opening of the Uterne power station (pictured), on a 4.5 hectare site near the National Transport Hall of Fame.
Half of its $6.6m cost was paid by the Federal Government’s $94m Solar Cities program.
The American owner, SunPower Corp, based in San Jose, California, through its Australian branch, has a 20 year deal to sell electricity to the Northern Territory Government’s PowerWater.
It won’t disclose the price it is paying for the power but says it’s not much dearer than electricity made with gas.
Uterne – it means “bright, sunny day” in Arrernte – is the country’s largest tracking solar power system.
It has 254 “trackers” – flat racks each of which carry 12 high-effciency PV panels.
The trackers are mounted on shafts tilted on a fixed angle of 20 degrees towards the north, the ideal angle for Alice Springs, but oscillating east to west to always face the sun as it tracks across the sky.
This boosts productivity by 30% compared with fixed PV panels.
The plant will be saving 1564 tons of CO2 emissions a year, says SunPower.
All this makes for interesting back-of-the-envelope calculations.
Each tracker provides enough power for one average home, give or take a bit.
Dividing the $6.6m cost by the 254 trackers puts the cost of each tracker at around $26,000.
If you’re handy with a welder you could do it for much less. The simplicity of the design is truly inspiring!
Prof Ray Wills, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Association, who attended Uterne’s opening, says PV panels are getting cheaper all the time.
At current electricity costs you can pay off a plant in eight years. The PV panels have a life of 25 years.
Alice Springs has an average of 9.6 hours of sunshine per day.
In the last 56 years the area has averaged just 63 cloudy days a year.
So far the other solar power generators in The Alice are the plants at the airport and on the roof of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and 400 householders who’ve put panels on their homes.