WA Solar Power: a template for the future of energy in Australia

WA leads the way for solar power adoption

WA leads the way for solar power adoption

A recent study underlining the popularity of rooftop solar in WA has given Australians a glimpse into the country’s solar-driven energy future. For a survey conducted by Curtin University that has everyone talking is the one that shows power generated from rooftop solar systems in the state’s South-West Interconnected System (SWIS) produce as much energy as the state’s largest power station.

“We are in the extraordinary position of saying that Perth [SWIS] now has rooftop solar as the largest supplier of electricity, it’s the biggest power station in WA,” said Curtin University sustainability professor Peter Newman to the ABC AM program.

He added that the area currently has 20 percent coverage of solar panels, though this was just the beginning.

“It’s nearly 500 megawatts and it’s growing rapidly, by 2020 we could have half of Perth’s [SWIS] households with rooftop solar.”

Covering an area of the state’s area from Kalbarri north of Perth to Ravensthorpe in the state’s south (including the Perth metropolitan area) SWIS is perhaps a microcosm of the rest of Australia, making the findings all the more relevant for the future.

Is W.A. the innovation state when it comes to renewable energy? Certainly there’s evidence to suggest this is the case. The Curtin findings dovetail with the intriguing rollout of a $6.7 million pilot study conducted by the W.A. government.

Alkimos Beach, in Perth’s northern suburbs, will derive energy from rooftop solar power combined with a 1.1MW storage battery. The project will allow residents to store their solar energy, then access it by night through battery storage. The Australia-first trial of battery storage of solar power on a large scale will be developed by government-owned provider Synergy with state and federal funding.

“Some day this will be the norm,” Dr Nahan was quoted as saying by the West Australian newspaper in a November 2015 report.

Earlier in the year, when he announced the trial project, Dr Nahan was more substantial in outlining his vision for a W.A. renewable energy and storage future.

“Energy storage technology is the next innovation in energy markets and will affect the design and operation of future energy infrastructure in new communities,” he said.

“Harnessing storage technology and effecting lasting changes in how energy is used, puts the Liberal National Government in a strong position to reduce capital and operational costs and provide services that benefit consumers and whole communities.”

This March 2015 statement sounds a world away from the sort of negative rhetoric we’ve heard from so many Australian administrations, federal and state, particularly those of the conservative persuasion.

There probably isn’t much argument from even the most rabid fossil fuel fan that rooftop solar in Western Australia has a key role to play in the state’s energy future (and present). However with the game-changing introduction of battery storage — and an apparent willingness by elements of the W.A. government to support renewables — the state could be a renewables leader and a template for the rest of the country. Do you agree?

Comments

  1. Roy F. Regions says

    Certainly WA started really well!

    In recent years, the state’s financial problems have meant reduced commitment to solar electricity. There was even a threatened breach of contract with families who had signed-on for ten-year tariff rebates… until we responded with a warning that we’d launch a class action against the state.

    Our tenants continue to benefit from the SES we installed on rentals, when interest rates fell. Several have no power bills. Since we erected panels on homes in two regional suburbs, we’ve been delighted to note many more homes in many streets erecting panels. Battery storage will be the next step.

    But there _have_ been some disappointing ‘clawbacks’ nonetheless. As a school administrator, I started fund-raising after-hours two decades ago, to equip our local primary school with solar electricity panels. We eventually reached over 7kW… and the state then introduced a 5kW limit, effectively reducing our tariff rebate to a pittance. We were perceived as _competitors_ with the state-owned energy utility(!)

    Dr Nahan is a breath-of-fresh-air in a party which has long needed restorative oxygen. There’s hope that, despite WA’s current woeful financial state, the LNP will recognise that poles-and-wire technology is archaic and dangerous. Recently our state government has promised to introduce underground power to our southwest towns affected by recent bush fires. We’ve been pleading for this sensible, safer initiative for well over a decade… .

    • Thanks Roy,

      That’s an interesting comment from the ground. How do you perceive the future in renewables in W.A.? Will people like Dr Nahan and their vision prevail?

      Rich

      • With a state election due in just over a year, it would be foolhardy not to build on WA’s success(es) in renewable energy, Rich. That might sound a little cynical, but let’s consider the options:

        1.) There are a huge number of WA residents who picked up the state government’s initial generous tariff rebate offer. It’s true that initial rebates were encouraging… and the initiative went well over-budget. Later failed clawbacks, breaking faith with voters who signed-up-for-solar, were followed by the introduction of parking fees at rail stations. Sadly, our state government has twice reneged on public transport promises, post-election. I’m therefore a little cautious about any pre-election promises… .

        2.) The RAC’s introduction of an ‘electric highway’ south of Perth is a promising step into the future. Will the state government step-up, once it has proved itself in future years?

        3.) Dr Nahan’s promised underground power for communities devastated by bushfire is a logical initiative, given the massive lo$$ of poles-and-wire south of Perth. For years, south-west families have argued that this nineteenth-century technology is horse-and-cart stuff. We’re regularly disconnected during storms and fallen wires are known to frequently cause bushfires in rural areas. The amount spent on advertising this safety threat seems ludicrous… .

        4.) Referring to the Alkimos Beach project as ‘the future norm’, Nahan correctly identifies an important state priority… but the LNP remains predictably metrocentric unless goaded. Nearly half a billion allocated to Betty’s Jetty, with Perth stadia another metro focus. And remember, our state is suffering a major deficit. No wonder institutions like schools were punished for exceeding the arbitrary 5kW limit imposed on tariff rebates… _after_ the fact.

        In conclusion, I remain an optimist. We really needed someone with a few clues to take on the state treasurer’s role after the financial debacle blew out. Maybe Mike Nahan can redirect some of the focus back to common-sense renewable energy, bury more wire-and-wood, and restore some certainty to provision of more reliable energy in WA.

        • …and further to my comments, above…

          Right now, with the extended heatwave we’re experiencing in the west, our power provider cannot cope with the increased demand… .

          This state-owned utility is indeed fortunate that so many West Aussies accepted the ten-year solar tariff deal, or our electricity needs could not be met during the day. Bad enough we suffer these prolonged, intermittent power outages at night. Local industry would be outraged by these continual outages during work days… .

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