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HomeIssue 2Too much sun power in Alice?

Too much sun power in Alice?

p2321-ASTC-Territory-GeneraBy KIERAN FINNANE
Alice Springs cannot take any more sun power without battery storage, says Tim Duignan, CEO of Territory Generation, the company that’s spending $75m of public money on a new gas-fired power station for the town, with a life span of 25 years.
Mr Duigan (pictured, in the light shirt) told the Alice Springs Town Council last night that if another solar power plant, like Uterne, were built, without storage it would be “detrimental” to the network, affecting its stability. And using the storage technology available now would lead to a “dramatic” increase in energy costs, he said.
For Glenn Marshall, one of the RePower Alice lobby sitting in the public gallery, the news was a bombshell, but on reflection he says it should be seen as an opportunity. Until now the pro-solar movement had been focussed on getting greater solar penetration – more solar on rooftops, for instance. Now they know that the focus has to be on battery storage.
As for the costs issue, Mr Marshall says those involved in getting the Alice Solar City project going were faced with exactly the same argument in the early 2000s – that costs made solar prohibitive.
However, they continued to do the work and they were ready to go when in June 2004 the Australian Government announced its Solar Cities initiative. By the following year a consortium had been formed, in the next year it made its bid, and in April 2007 Alice Springs was announced as the country’s fifth Solar City.

As a result of that project, Alice Springs is now “probably second to none” in Australia when it comes to penetration of solar, as Mr Duignan acknowledged. Combining rooftop and industrial installations the town has an estimated 10.6MW of solar PV capacity, which represents more than 40% of the town’s average annual demand.
Right: At the launch of Uterne solar power station, Mayor Damien Ryan third from left.
Mr Duignan says Territory Generation continues “to explore innovative technologies” and will move to introduce battery storage as soon as it becomes commercially viable to do so.

As this is expected to be in the not too distant future, isn’t the town is being locked into gas-fired power generation by the current investment decisions, Cr Jade Kudrenko asked.
Mr Duignan said the opportunity for further use of solar would come with growth in the town’s population and increased energy demand, while Territory Generation is already investing a significant amount of money “to cope with” current solar capacity installed.
Mr Marshall asks why we would sit on our hands until the town grows. Why can’t a modest portion of the $75m be put into getting ourselves ready to adopt battery storage? Cr Chansey Paech also wanted to hear how much money, compared to the $75m, had been allocated to renewables.
Mr Marshall welcomed Mr Duignan’s announcement that Territory Generation is putting together “a roadmap” for its renewable energy strategies, which will be ready by the middle of this year.
He sees it as a chance for the former members of the Alice Solar City consortium, in which the Town Council took a leading role, to become “intimately involved”, including by setting the terms of reference for the roadmap, which should be towards a solar future.
To have too much solar is “a wonderful place to be in”, he says. The town now needs the investment in innovation to “take us to the next level”.


  1. Let’s hope that the community gets an opportunity to be engaged on the energy future of Alice Springs before the installation of any of these gas fired engines.
    A roadmap to a renewable future is a great initiative, though it would be hopelessly compromised if these 10 engines aren’t put on hold until we had a plan to go forward with.
    Territory Generation is an NT Government owned corporation. The NT Government is supposed to represent us, its constituents.
    I can’t imagine there being one person in Alice Springs who doesn’t think we should get as much energy as we can from the sun.
    So, putting both of these facts together, why is the NT Government owned TGen locking us into gas when the community and the rest of the world is heading towards solar?
    We could be world leaders in gas and solar integration with investment in battery and storage innovation quickening the process for change. But instead, our generator of non-choice is aiming for the mediocre, ensuring that Alice Springs will be left at the bottom of the heap.
    The time is now to let Chief Minister Giles and Essential Services Minister Chandler know that Alice Springs will not accept this. Investment in innovation is needed now, not in five years’ time. Now.
    The 99-year lease of the port should be benefiting future generations, not funding short-term fossil fuel investments that exacerbate climate change.
    The best way to benefit future generations is to invest in innovation to ensure the acceleration of product development and uptake. Solar + storage is where it’s at and there is no place with a more compelling case for it.
    Let’s hope the next bunch of elected representatives actually understand that the future will be powered by renewables and not be bent over backwards for gas.

  2. Storage is a distraction. The current plant has enough gas powered generators to address night and sunless events. Put some small PV in Hermannsburg and Santa Theresa to address cloudy days and quadruple solar in town.
    Then have pricing that incentivizes solar use – cool, heat, dishwasher during sunny days. Double the buy back rate.
    Halve the sunny day usage rate. Double the nighttime usage rate. The cheap option. In fact it would cost nothing if you guaranteed buy back rates for 10 years.

  3. David de Vries (Posted April 13, 2016 at 5:59 pm) – interesting proposal, but what happens when we have prolonged cloud coverage over the whole of Central Australia?
    For example, a succession of cyclonic systems in different parts of northern Australia led us to have pretty constant cloud cover (and very high humidity) over Hermannsburg, Santa Teresa and Alice (and many more communities) for nearly the whole of February in 1999 or 2000.
    One cold July in the mid-80s there was rain and cloud cover for much of the month, and again this covered a very wide area.
    In these situations, surely either quite long term storage or substantial standby systems would be very important issues?

  4. Bob you have encapsulated the argument of the state as to why “solar is a nonsense”.
    We need a real power supply, one that gets us through thick and thin.
    A storage system for the town would cost a billion in dollars and a billion in CO2 emission. Household storage is affordable, but only for those with a spare 20k.
    Minor point, we have successfully survived a rickety irregular supply. Essential services have backup generators. Gold plated supply is not on the table nor necessary.
    Summer peak demand: Big clouds happen. How often when the resident population is greater than 10,000 and the tourist population greater than 500? One in 50 years?
    Winter peak demand: Big cold clouds happen. If half the town relies on electric heat then there will be major brownouts and areas of no power rationing – unless alternatives incentivised: Thermal mass, insulation, NT gas.
    Most public houses survive no power card winters and summers. It is not life threatening.
    Am I suggesting a First World scenario? No. I am suggesting a responsible world one.

  5. Thanks for your reply, David de Vries (Posted April 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm). However, I am still puzzled by some aspects of your argument. I agree that we “need a real power supply, one that gets us through thick and thin”.
    But what does such a system look like?
    If creating a “storage system for the town would cost a billion in dollars and a billion in CO2 emission”, then surely we could retain elements of the existing fossil fuel system, modified for use in emergencies, along with smaller and less costly storage systems for some storage of solar-generated energy?
    The thing is, it is difficult imagining the population of our region coping very well if there were to be periodic outages, even if they only lasted for just a few hours.
    We would not be very happy if they effected all the complex machinery of our sophisticated society, including power-dependent sewerage and water and fuel pumps, traffic lights, railway signals, all types of communication systems, dialysis machines, oxygen machines, fridges and freezers, air-conditioning and lighting for schools, hospitals and other workplaces, power for workshops, and other such necessary day to day services and infrastructure, (and not least, devices for whiling away the hours writing letters to you via Erwin).
    As you pointed out, some of these necessities could be sustained by using emergency generators and/or expensive home battery systems (if you are rich or upper middle class), but it would take thousands of diesel or petrol generators to cover them all, and, apart from not being very practical, wouldn’t that partly defeat the purpose of the project of reducing carbon emissions?
    We might have recently “successfully survived a rickety irregular supply”; however, outages do produce fatalities, in the same ways that heat waves and cold snaps do. The aged, infirm and very young die at much greater rates than is normal when these events occur.
    Twice recently we have had dialysis cancelled, water supplies failing, freezers defrosted and no air-conditioning because of outages during hot weather for over 10 hours at Hermannsburg. It is not all that rare that we get widespread cloud cover lasting two or three days, or more.
    Australian climate change scientists have stated that an average increase of 1.5 degrees in Australia as a whole would likely produce an average increase in temperatures of around twice that amount in the centre of our continent.
    A reduced population of residents and tourists over the Christmas / New Year holiday period is still likely to experience vast sheets of monsoonal cloud cover, and need reliable power, not least for fans, freezers, fridges and air-conditioners.
    I think our best solutions may be a little more complicated than simply damning the consequences and going fully solar without providing due care regarding foreseeable complications. The most responsible way forward would seem to be a well-planned whole-system approach, which considers reliability, access and the social, environmental and economic cost-benefits of each element, and also factors social equity into the budgeting of such a plan, proceeding at a pace which doesn’t compromise important aspects of our services and systems.
    And by the way: if gas is permissible for home heating in your scenario, then why is it not permissible for standby generation of electricity for the main system?

  6. Bob: Agreed, a systemic approach involving several technologies and a range of behaviors can afford energy security. Simplistic ideas like Go Gas and Go Solar create dependency, generate excessive CO2 and ignore the role of consumers in creating security
    Gas is great. We have a recently commissioned gas power plant that can satisfy night time requirements for the next 20 years. Then we have pollies who insist we go on a gas binge and spend the whole power budget on more gas gensets.
    Then we have this article saying we don’t know what to do with all the solar electricity.
    We have two good technologies at hand, gas and solar. They are not incompatible. With some smarts they can be harmonious.

  7. Bring on The Solar Centre!
    We have the capacity, we have established and emerging technologies, we have the passion. Never mind a vague road map released in time for an election propaganda machine to say “look at how fabulous we are … we’re doing what the people want”.
    Let’s lock in some KPIs and ramp up the journey. Time frames for particular aspects of the solar and geothermal energy roll-out. We don’t need another plan.
    @ Jimmy: The next Parliament will have more people of integrity and substance who will help drive this initiative forward. There are at least three current sitting members who won’t be there because they’re either retiring or failed to be endorsed by their own party for pre-selection (says something about how much one incumbent is trusted by his own party).
    There are at least three others who are unknown entities due to health concerns or other factors.
    There are at least three smart, measured and talented sitting Independent members who, if they all contest, are likely to win in their electorates.
    Then, of course, there are new candidates all vying for a place in the next Parliament. The very exciting prospect of new thinking, new energy and new positive outcomes awaits.
    The successful roll out of this will depend on industry partnering with governments (Federal and NT) to deliver to the people who make up the very fabric of our commUNITY.
    Phil Walcott
    Independent candidate fro Braitling

  8. Did the government consider a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant before deciding on piston engines to power the new generators?
    Such a plant uses the solar energy to produce heat either in steam or molten salt, the heat stored can be used for a variable period (depending on design) to allow for cloud. There is one set of turbines, but as an alternative to solar heating natural gas can be used in the event of prolonged periods of cloud ( or volcanic ash etc).
    Such plants have operated in the US for quite a few years now.
    For the sake of transparency in decision making on behalf of the public it would be good to see the documentation used to guide the government in making this decision.

  9. Exactly! All the technology is there! There are storage options! We are wasting so much precious time and money that could be spend on environmentally friendly options! Let’s do it! For our future and future generations!

  10. KM (Posted April 26, 2016 at 8:51 pm): Do you mean that there are energy storage systems available to run the town’s public infrastructure in an emergency that don’t “cost a billion in dollars and a billion in CO2 emission” as alleged by David de Vries (Posted April 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm) below? If so, what do they consist of?


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