Hybrid technologiesProject NT Solar Energy Transformation Program
This report is a first look at the integration of PV and Diesel Power Stations in Power and Water Corporations remote communities.
Each year Power and Water Corporation’s (Power and Water) subsidiary Indigenous Essential Services (IES) supplies more than 100 GWh of energy to 72 indigenous communities spread throughout some of the most remote regions of the Northern Territory. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, these are classified as being Remote Australia or Very Remote Australia, highlighting the distance to reach major population centres in the country.
Due to their small scale and extreme distances from existing transmission networks, these communities are serviced by autonomous diesel generator power stations, and the reliance on diesel fuel makes delivery of reliable, sustainable, and affordable electricity especially challenging. One of the most remote (in terms of distance) of these communities is Kaltukatjara (Docker River), located in the far South-Western corner of the Northern Territory, home to between 300 and 400 Anangu. To supply power at Kaltukatjara, 60,000 litres of diesel fuel is transported every eight weeks from Darwin, over more than 2,000 kilometres of highways and dirt tracks.
While the potential to displace fuel usage by integrating solar PV installations in these communities is well understood, historically such installations have been limited to annual Renewable Energy Fractions (REFs) of less than 5%, due to the relatively high cost of PV at the time and limited industry experience with ensuring a reliable supply during cloud events.
The Northern Territory Solar Energy Transformation Program (NT SETuP), funded by the Northern Territory Government, with the support of Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), seeks to overcome some of these challenges, and push the frontier of possibilities towards significantly higher REFs.
The program is a staged installation of 10 MW of solar photovoltaic systems (PV) across twenty-five sites, servicing 27 communities. Of these, twenty-four sites aim to achieve approximately 15% total diesel fuel displacement, while the remaining community, Daly River, is the subject of a high penetration pilot project, and is achieving up to 50% diesel fuel displacement through the use of a grid forming battery installation. The overall project will lead to lower operational costs (especially the purchase of diesel fuel), a reduced exposure to diesel market price risk, and a lower frequency of diesel refuelling trips, which is an important consideration for many top-end communities which can become inaccessible for months at a time during the wet season.
Beyond the immediate benefits of diesel fuel displacement at the twenty-five sites, the NT SETuP project aims to bring about transformational changes to Power and Water’s approach to remote power station design and operation through new integration and control techniques, workforce reskilling, supply chain development for PV components and the generation of a wealth of data and other learnings about the operation of remote hybrid systems. The transformational aspects of NT SETuP are significant, which includes upskilling of Essential Services Operators (ESOs) who perform the day-to-day maintenance of the diesel power stations and now also perform maintenance on the PV systems.