Alice solar report: Now options must be chosen



The $12.5m Future Grid report released today is documenting options for a variety of solar power issues, but it doesn’t tell the government which ones to adopt.

The “Roadmap” makes it clear there needs to be a new round of studies to make those decisions, with only six years to go until the government mandate kicks in for 50% of electricity to come from renewables by 2030.

Project Director Lyndon Frearson explains the cautious approach: “If I came out and try to predict the future and say this is what I think is what 2030 is going to look like, any one of different people will say, well, we’ve spoken to someone else and they predicted a different future, to say you’re wrong.”

Mr Fearson says leaving options open means: “You can continue to observe the market, the different interests different investors have and you can make decisions as time goes on about what the preferred framework actually is.”

Key milestones along the way are identified in the report, such as for the rate of private installations: “It is a series of decisions over time,” he says.

The four main variables are: “One is a highly centralised solution, one really big battery and one really big solar farm, or it is highly decentralised, with lots of solar systems on people’s roofs, with lots of batteries.”

Another choice is for the existing electricity generation – the 10 gas powered piston engines installed at Brewer Estate for around $100m during the Giles Government – to always stay on, or have times when they are switched off.

“That’s the solutions space that we are exploring,” says Mr Frearson

What can we expect in Alice Springs?

“We don’t need to get to a point when the generators are switched off. However, to turn the generators off is technically viable, and it is economically viable.”

So what do we do?

“The report maps out the body of work that needs to occur immediately and over the next two years to five years, to be able to get to that point.

“The priority actions that are outlined are largely the same for all four scenarios.”

While the report, originally due out in October last year, does not give priority to any of four the options it makes it clear that some of them may become unviable unless these “immediate” actions are taken.

And that – in a nutshell – will mean getting all the ducks in a line for a “collaborative action” or at least be part of the conversation: “No one entity can implement it,” says Mr Frearson.

Included need to be the consumers, people investing in their own rooftop systems, private sector companies owning solar farms, retailers, the government owned Territory Generation and PowerWater with both their networks and their system control, the NT Utilities Commission, the Australia Energy Regulator and Market Operator, external technical advisers and experts, management and distribution of community photo voltaic (PV) including excess amounts in the grid.

This has been an issue under examination in Alice Springs for some years although many other locations are also dealing with it.

Judging by the two executive summaries and the media release today, no advice nor consideration is given for groups of private people who may wish to do their own thing, saying good-bye to the government grid, linking together in small groups their rooftop panels and batteries.

The next moves will require more money.

How much? Well, the optimisation result in table No 1 puts the range of net present costs (the sum of the discounted benefits of an option less the sum of its discounted costs, all discounted to the same base date) between $155.8m and $216.9m. No recommendation is given for one option or another.

Some recommendations are in play already: Bringing inverters up to the right standards; designing grid forming batteries; protection systems upgrades during disruptions; more interacting engagement with residential, commercial and industrial photo-voltaic (PV) systems users; management and distribution of PV with a proactive program of community engagement to deal with periods of very low demand; emergency responses; how to deal with excess amounts of renewables in the grid.

The report boasts that the “Alice Springs power system has the opportunity to be on the leading edge of this global transformation” to renewables.

Anthony Seipolt, of Cadency Consulting, has provided comment to the News in the past. We provided him with the two executives summaries (not the full report nor the the techno-economic modelling report). We asked: “How much in this report is new and is making a fresh contribution to the needed knowledge – here and in the world?”

Mr Seipolt said: “The report and supporting analysis seems to be very specifically focussed on The Alice. I don’t see it as breaking a lot of new ground, and neither should it.

“The report is focussed on the specific circumstances of The Alice and how to manage these as the energy sector undergoes an enormous transition.

“I couldn’t see what the assumptions around EV (electric vehicles) uptake were, and whether this included V2G (vehicles that can feed back into the grid).

“It is possible that EV uptake in The Alice would be lower due to the distances involved and the current lack of charging infrastructure.

“In other states, this is emerging as a critical area as it leads to increasing maximum demand, or being able to actively manage peaks far better.”

PHOTO at top: Workers on the report (from left): Chaitanya Meshram, Barbara Clifford, Janette Elliott, Jimmy Cocking, Paul Rodden, Mr Frearson and Parveen Sangha in front of a solar collector at the precinct of Desert Knowledge which oversaw the preparation of the report. Photos from the report.


  1. Desert Knowledge was funded $12.5m for holistic research with the deliverable of a roadmap to identify the optimal pathways and timelines for achieving the Northern Territory’s target of 50% renewable energy by 2030.
    Desert Knowledge spent the money and concluded that “options must be chosen” but give us more money (urgently) and we may tell you which ones.
    The report begs the question of why they were funded in the first place and whether additional funding should be provided?
    $12.5m is a lot of money to spend on a project that has been replicated elsewhere for much less and could have funded many practical projects.
    It would be helpful for Desert Knowledge to detail the expenditure to provide reassurance that a “holistic” feeding frenzy did not take place.


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