By ERWIN CHLANDA
One square kilometre, just 1.2% of the municipality’s vacant crown land, could accommodate all the solar panels needed to meet the entire electricity demand of Alice Springs – 100% of it.
And this is not counting the large number of solar systems already on top of residential and commercial buildings in the town.
At the moment just 10% is solar and the target is 50% by 2030.
This provides food for thought as the local Future Grid report is due to be released later this month, according to Jimmy Cocking, CEO of Desert Knowledge, whose “flagship project” the $12.5m study is, initiated by the Roadmap to Renewables Report in 2017.
After six years of studies there are still fundamental questions to be answered: All will be revealed in the “imminent” Future Grid paper, according to Mr Cocking.
The town and its council, if they can muster the political will, are clearly set to play their local role in the global movement to fight climate change.
Perhaps even more significant will be wresting the immense powers that come from controlling energy production from a handful of corporations, odious dictatorships, individuals such as Vladimir Putin, and at home, the government’s PowerWater being much used as a pawn in elections by either party.
In place of these controls, there are likely to be billions of independent power producers around the globe, with their fuel – sunshine – delivered free of charge to their solar panels every day.
What’s more, The Alice is better positioned in that movement than most.
According to the Bureau of Metereology, the town has nine hours of annual average daily sunshine.
In 2021/22 Alice Springs used 197 billion watt hours (GWh) of electricity. One watt hour is the equivalent of the energy supplied if electrical power of one watt is maintained for one hour. No more jargon from here – promise.
The standard price of a 415 watt solar panel measuring 1.7 by 1.1 metres (1.87 square metres) is $150. Let’s call that a standard panel.
In Alice Springs, with its abundance of sunshine, a standard panel produces 1.5 million watt hours (MWh) a year, the formula being 415 x 365 x 9.
That means to meet the town’s demand we’d need 130,054 panels that would cover 243,200 square metres. That’s less than a quarter of a square kilometre, namely 24.3 hectares.
As there would need to be some space between the panels – which could be used for horticulture – let’s call it a square kilometre.
The percentage of vacant Crown Land within the Alice Springs Municipality (map at top) is about 26%, an aggregated area of 84 square kilometres.
At present much of that land is used for illegal dumping of rubbish.
The money numbers are equally surprising: The total cost of the panels, with a life span of 25 years, at $150 each would come to less than $20m.
The racks can be estimated at $15m. SBP Electrical promotes its racks costing just over $200 each, capable of holding three panels each.
The installation work could be farmed out – in fact the entire project could be set up as a patchwork of individual commercial leases.
At the moment the two biggest solar farms in town are owned, respectively, by the Alice Springs Airport (bottom of the page) and Uterne, by South Korea’s Korea Zinc.
At left: Image from Korea Zinc website. The batteries can be incorporated into a household system.
As Mr Cocking admits “there is a lot of work to be done”, the public will be looking to the report for answers.
- For the interim period until 100% or even just 50% solar, have issues of gas and solar co-existing been resolved? In earlier statements Future Grid chief Lyndon Frearson has spoken about the split-second responses needed for switching from one to the other.
- How will massive red tape be cut?
- The use of the wires – the town’s grid, owned by the government via PowerWater: At the moment people not using it also have to pay for it. PW will have to get used to much of its gear becoming stranded assets. Self-sufficient members of the public would take a dim view of having to pay for services they don’t want and would regard being forced to as a desperate attempt by PW to retain some control.
- Can there be savings by having brief, scheduled brown- or blackouts and will users have hysteric break-downs and threaten to unseat governments if that happens? (It’s one of those your grandchildren’s future vs destructive climate change issues.)
- How can consumers be made to shift power usage (such as heating water, washing clothes etc) out of the high consumption time-slot of late afternoon and early evening?
- What arrangements are planned for shared battery use, at the convenience of the consumer not of some government authority, so long as safety issues are taken care of?
UPDATE October 12: An announcement this morning is an example of politicking with electricity. “Important cost of living relief is here,” trumpet Chief Minister Natasha Fyles and Treasurer, Eva Lawler.
“The Territory Government provides hundreds of dollars worth of savings each year for Territorians and their families.
“Together with the Federal Government we are funding a joint $23m package of further power prices relief – this is on top of $124.1m worth of savings we provide all Territorians,” they say in a media release.
“Supporting Territorians and small businesses is front and centre for our Territory Labor Government.”