How predicting clouds will make solar cheaper

An Australian-first solar energy project that uses Cloud Predictive Technology (CPT) to anticipate solar energy output has been launched in Karratha, WA, with $2.3 million in support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The project to supply 1MW of solar energy to the Karratha Airport was developed by the Webster Power Company (WPC) and is being overseen by renewable energy development company SunEdison Australia.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project could also lead to a rise in the number of renewable energy projects in the North West of Australia and beyond.

“It will be the first time cloud predictive technology has been used on a solar PV installation of this size connected to a network,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“Because clouds can lead to a sudden drop in solar output, commercial solar power generation on a smaller network usually has costly storage requirements to ‘smooth out’ supply into the grid. Employing CPT reduces the need for this buffer, meaning solar generation can be installed and operated more cheaply.”

At the project’s groundbreaking ceremony at Karratha Airport yesterday, WPC Managing Director David Webster said it was the culmination of a significant effort by a number of industry participants including Horizon Power, CPS National, MPower, and ARENA.

“The project promises to answer questions about how solar generation projects can be made cheaper and more efficient with the use of CPT.  It will reduce or eliminate energy storage requirements,” Mr Webster said.

“SunEdison Australia, part of one of the world’s largest and most significant renewable energy companies, has been a crucial supporter of the project and will be its long term owner and operator.

“It will ultimately open up the remote regional market to new opportunities as the cost of generation continues to decrease.   Communities that are currently off-grid and operating mostly on diesel powered generators, will have access to cheaper, cleaner and more efficient electricity.”

Mr Frischknecht said the Karratha Airport project received funding because of its alignment with ARENA’s twin objectives of working to reduce the cost and increase the use of renewable energy in Australia.

The project will be connected to the North West Interconnected System (NWIS), Horizon Power’s network servicing Western Australia’s Pilbara mining region.

Mr Frischknecht said that while customers on the NWIS experience high electricity prices and the Pilbara region had excellent solar resources, development of renewable projects had been affected by high storage requirements stipulated by the network operator.

“Battery storage can help smooth out energy output and is becoming cheaper as technology advances. However, it is currently a major expense for new projects in the region,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“This project is aiming to satisfy network requirements with fewer batteries by enhancing storage effectiveness with cloud prediction, potentially opening the door for more renewable energy projects in the region.”

The Karratha Airport initiative is one of 232 projects supported to date by ARENA, of which 110 involve solar photovoltaic technology.

About Webster Power Company

Webster Power Company (WPC) is a renewable energy development company established by its Managing Director, David Webster. David has actively participated in the development of infrastructure projects across many sectors, and has played a major role in small scale renewable power generation projects around Australia. Each of the power projects has either avoided the continuing use, or reduced the output of carbon emissions. WPC’s key business objective is to continue the development of off-grid renewable projects where the cost of energy to remote communities can be reduced and the elimination of carbon emissions from power generation can be achieved in the long term.

About SunEdison Australia

SunEdison Australia was established in 2006 and is part of SunEdison’s Inc., a global renewable energy company founded and based in the United States. SunEdison develops and operates commercial renewable energy projects, including solar power plants and wind energy plants around the world. It also manufactures a range of products associated with solar energy production, such as high purity polysilicon and solar modules.

ARENA Media contact

Ben Hart – 0410 028 899
media@arena.gov.au