By ERWIN CHLANDA
Tired of Santa and Christmas carols? Tune into a chorus that’s welling up into a crescendo in The Alice right now: Hello solar, good-bye power grid.
Making electricity from solar has pretty well become a no-brainer: You can do it on your roof with kilowatts to spare.
But storing it for a rainy day remains the fly in the ointment: Will you remain dependent on the government to perform a stand-by function, with its massively expensive generation and distribution systems that are inexorably moving towards obsolescence in a Town Like Alice?
Will those sneaky pollies bring in a tax-like charge that you’ll have to pay, whether or not you’re using their grid power?
Paul Darvodelsky is looking for answers. He’s asking: Why is Alice Springs not using 100% renewables for its power generation right now?
“There’s been a lot of news about South Australia’s new battery,” he says.
“Elon Musk famously tweeted it would cost $250 per kilowatt hour.” (A kilowatt is 1000 watts.)
Mr Darvodelsky is an expert in process engineering and infrastructure delivery whose consulting business, Pollution Solutions & Designs Pty Ltd, has clients throughout South East Asia and Australia. He is also the owner of the Alice Springs Cinemas which run mostly on solar.
This month the Musk battery in SA has come on line, and Mr Darvodelsky is figuring out how a device like that could complete the renewable cycle in Alice.
The average Australian house uses 18 kWhr per day or 6570 kWhr per year. The domestic rate in the NT is 25.67 cents per kWh. At the average Australian home consumption, that amounts to $4.62 a day or $1672 a year.
The Musk battery in SA has a 129 MWhr capacity. (That measurement means megawatt hours which is 1000 kWhr.)
It can run 6450 homes. There are 17,434 homes in Alice.
So where do we go from here?
“At $250/kWh the storage cost of the same size as SA would be $32m – call it $50 million, allowing for some associated infrastructure,” says Mr Darvodelsky.
“Now that makes you think, doesn’t it?
“If it costs $50 million for a 129 MWhr battery and Alice Springs peak demand is around 30 MW (megawatts), then this is a battery which could run all of Alice Springs for about four hours. It’s not quite that simple, but let’s go with that broadly.
“We also know the cost of solar is coming down. We at the cinema put 100 kW on recently for $130,000.
“A large scale solar would be cheaper so let’s say $1m per MW. For Alice Springs total demand that would mean we need about 30 MW or $30m. Call it 50 MW if you want and make it another $50m.
“What did the Owen Springs power station cost? The ticket cost was reported as $125m. The actual cost is reputed to be over double that. And they are upgrading it or have recently upgraded it. Was that another $75m?” Mr Darvodelsky asks.
He adds that a solar power station cost about a third of one powered by fossil fuels, both producing the same amount of electricity.
“Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? These days for $100m we could go close to making Alice Springs 100% solar.
“We still have Owen Springs as back up for extended cloudy periods. And we haven’t even started to consider energy efficiency measures or other stuff like an Energy from Waste (EfW) plant at the tip.
“Energy efficiency would at a guess save 25% of the town’s demand if we were serious about it.
“That would include energy and water saving measures. It’s normally accepted that energy or water saving measures are the cheapest wins for the community.
“EfW could supply about 10% of Alice Springs energy needs. If you built this you might even just use it to charge the battery (and as a bonus heat the town pool making a huge saving).
“Food for thought, isn’t it? It’s not a simple thing to make a change of this size, but perhaps the biggest hurdle is overcoming the mindset of the institutions which maintain the current approach.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA