Solar ‘tsunami’ coming in Australia as NSW accelerates approvals
The Berejiklian government has approved 11 large-scale solar energy plants in the past 12 months, clearing the way for NSW to join a "tsunami" of new renewable energy capacity across the nation.
The 170-megawatt Finley Solar Project in the Riverina, which will include half a million solar panels, is the first to get approval in 2018.
The 10 to get the go-ahead in 2017 doubled the number in the previous year, and alone supported 1800 construction jobs, Planning Minister Anthony Roberts said.
Those 10 "collectively reduce carbon emissions by over 2.5 million tonnes, which is equivalent to taking around 800,000 cars off the road", he said.
NSW had more renewable generation capacity under construction than any other state, Energy Minister Don Harwin said.
“These projects will ensure our energy security and with many more in the pipeline, NSW is in a stronger position than other states," he said.
Energy security remains a contentious issue in Australia, with the Turnbull government's proposed National Energy Guarantee yet to secure sign-on by states and territories unsure about the fine detail.
John Grimes, chief executive of the Smart Energy Council, a group promoting solar energy and storage, described the acceleration of solar approvals in NSW as "fantastic".
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The Coalition-led state government was "one conservative group that's not working against renewables, and that's got to be good thing", Mr Grimes said.
In 2017, large-scale and roof-top solar added about 1.3 gigawatts nationally, a record for the industry.
On current trends, roof-top panels could alone add 1.4 GW of new capacity this year, with solar farms soaring by 2.5-3.5 GW, the Smart Energy Council estimates.
Together the 2018 tally may come close to doubling existing capacity in a single year as firms rush to supply the Renewable Energy Target that has to be filled by 2020.
"We're about to get this giant, enormous tsunami, and nobody knows about it," Mr Grimes said. "Wind [energy] used to be big and solar was small – now solar's big, and wind is small."
Officials in various approval agencies are struggling to keep up with approvals as companies flood them with applications, he said.
"With some of the best sunshine anywhere in the world and lots of good locations available, it is not surprising that NSW is up there with Queensland as one of the national frontrunners for new large-scale solar power projects," Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said.
At present, Queensland is ahead of NSW in terms of projects with finance or under construction, although the two states have similar numbers of approved ventures.
Renewable energy projects to be built under the Renewable Energy Target in the next couple of years add up to more power than the original Snowy Hydro project, which took a quarter of a century to complete, Mr Thornton said.
Solar projects can typically be developed, approved and built faster than wind ventures.
"And with the cost of new solar power continuing to plunge, they can also be built for a very competitive price which is substantially lower than either new coal or new gas," Mr Thornton said.
An example of other states' development includes a plan by Tilt Renewables to spend almost $500 million to integrate two projects – a solar farm and battery venture, and a 300-megawatt, pumped hydro storage project in a disused quarry – with its wind farm interests in South Australia.
Tilt's $90 million Snowtown North solar and storage project includes a 180,000-panel farm with 44-MW capacity and a 26 MW-hour battery. It is forecast to have an operational life of around 25 years and offset around 85,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent.
“By combining wind energy – with typically an evening peak at this site – and solar energy with a daytime peak, the two assets can combine to better match daily electricity demands," Tilt chief executive Deion Campbell said, adding that "with the battery reducing the effect of short-term variability from the two renewable generation technologies”.
One area where NSW is a relative laggard is the penetration of rooftop solar, with roughly half the 30 per cent rate of South Australia and Queensland. "There's a lot of ground to make up," Mr Grimes said.
Beyond the big solar farms, though, is a jump in demand from companies looking to install smaller systems – such as between 400 kilowatt to 10 MW capacity – without power purchase agreements to offset the output.
"They are doing it to offset their own electricity use" and to get price certainty, Mr Grimes said.