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Revolutionising the energy network, one LED light at a time

Could something as simple as switching to LED lighting help to drive the transition to renewables?

Sydney electricity distributor Ausgrid says it can, receiving $1 million from ARENA to work with households and businesses to become more energy efficient and install solar panels.

ARENA’s funding will expand the Power2U program to 15 suburbs across Sydney, including Bankstown, Alexandria, Glebe and Pyrmont. The City of Sydney is chipping in an additional $750,000, bringing the project’s total budget to $3.5 million.

The project falls under ARENA’s work to improve energy productivity – an investment priority that aims to support projects that manage demand as the transition to renewables accelerates.

Targeting people in the community that have been slow to adopt renewables and are hard to reach, the program aims to reduce the need to replace ageing electricity infrastructure. This will be achieved by lowering demand on the grid, with a particular focus on permanently curbing energy use during the day.

What kind of impact can efficient devices and LED lights have, in conjunction with rooftop solar panels?

Ausgrid CEO Richard Gross says Power2U will help to reduce energy use, while making the grid more sustainable and providing hip pocket relief.

“Our network has the second lowest rate of solar take-up by customers due to the high number of apartments and businesses in our footprint,” Gross said.

“This project could realise a solution that would possibly increase the number of solar installations on apartment buildings and leased commercial properties.”

Ausgrid will install rooftop solar panels as part of the Power2U program

For a growing country like Australia, there are a spectrum of opportunities to make better use of the energy we generate. Global energy transition experts the International Energy Agency say the importance of improving efficiency cannot be underestimated – they believe it will be a vital element of the transition to renewables, if we have any hope of meeting global emission reduction targets.

The numbers show how important it will be to do more with less across the energy network. Data from Australia’s Bureau of Statistics shows that our population has grown by 3.75 million people in the last decade, and we are the only country in the developed world to have enjoyed uninterrupted economic growth for 27 consecutive years.

Despite the rising population and increased reliance on digital technology, Australia’s energy demand has been in decline since 2009.

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s March forecast predicts that demand is likely to remain relatively flat for the next twenty years. Despite our growing population, AEMO expect that residential demand will actually fall, thanks largely to new energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar.

The story is similar with energy demand from business. AEMO predict this will also remain flat, partly because of advances in energy efficiency, but also due to weakening demand for energy from the manufacturing sector.

How does this help with the transition to renewables? Reducing demand by enhancing productively will help to make the switch an energy system underpinned by renewables cheaper, easier and faster. In practice, using energy more efficiently could allow investments in expensive and unnecessary infrastructure to be delayed, or avoided altogether. Using energy more wisely could reduce peaks in demand, smoothing usage across the day.

One home shifting to efficient light globes won’t make a noticeable difference at a network scale, but everybody working together across a city or state can put a dent in demand, particularly when efficiency measures are partnered with solar panels. Reductions in demand for grid electricity as a result of the growth of rooftop solar are already apparent, according to AEMO.


ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the scheme will show the potential for efficiency technology to be combined with renewables to reduce energy costs and reduce load on network infrastructure.

“The project will provide Ausgrid and other distribution network service providers around Australia greater confidence in the ability of renewable and efficiency solutions to offset network expenditure, which has traditionally been very difficult to address with demand management.

“Ausgrid’s program will encourage greater uptake of low emission technologies and solutions, reduce energy costs for participating consumers and reduce demand on Sydney’s grid,” he said.

Schools set to shine with solar in 2019

In the Northern Territory, schools look to be set for a renewable energy revolution when they go back this year.

Last month, the Northern Territory Government embarked on a $5 million project to put solar PV on up to 25 schools, which is expected to cut energy bills by as much as 40 per cent.

Solar PV installed on a school building

Schools are ideally suited to solar energy, as their energy usage is highest during school hours during the day when the sun is shining. Unlike households where demand spikes as people get home in the evenings, demand for energy in schools drops off when class finishes in the afternoon.

The first round of the program has already allocated $1.5 million to kick off the planning process at the first ten schools. Eight are expected to be completed by the end of the financial year, with a further six scheduled for the second round in 2019/2020 and five more in 2020/2021.

The schools have been selected based on their energy consumption, with priority given to the highest users. Government primary and secondary schools are among the 19 included in the initial announcement.

The $5 million solar schools program is part of the government’s Roadmap to Renewables plan.

Making the announcement, Territory Minister for Renewables and Essential Services Dale Wakefield said the government is working towards a power system with more solar and less gas.

But it isn’t expected to be all plain sailing. In late 2018 ARENA hosted an A-Lab in Alice Springs to workshop ways to accommodate all the incoming renewable energy into a grid that is already straining with just eight per cent renewable penetration.

Themed “small enough to manage, big enough to matter”, Alice Springs was identified as a test case to overcome challenges facing the National Electricity Market  as more distributed energy and more renewables come online in the grid.


Territorians aren’t the only ones looking at how renewable energy could help ease energy costs and reduce demand on the grid for schools.

Western Sydney-based HIVVE have developed an innovative way to provide the benefits of solar to schools using solar powered portable classrooms.

With $368,000 in funding from ARENA in late 2017, the start-up has installed state-of-the-art modular relocatable classrooms, powered by rooftop solar PV and battery storage.

In November, the third HIVVE classroom was officially opened at Bracken Ridge High School in Brisbane’s northern suburbs.

Unlike their first two classrooms – located at Dapto High and St Christopher’s Primary in NSW – the newest relocatable will operate entirely off-grid. With energy generated on the roof of the classroom stored in a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery, the system is able to generate 7600 KWh of electricity beyond its own requirements.

The excess energy will be utilised across other school buildings with a behind the meter connection, reducing the school’s overall reliance on grid power.

When the Bracken Ridge portable was launched, HIVVE co-founder Richard Doyle said solar power has an energy profile perfectly matched to the demands of a school day.

He sees an opportunity for their technology to be rolled out widely, with the management system able to be retro-fitted to existing school buildings and relocatable classrooms.

While the Territory are focussed on solar energy to power schools, the potential for HIVVE portables to be equipped with batteries to run off grid can avoid the need for schools to pay significant upfront connection costs as schools expand or are redeveloped.

HIVVE believe their renewably powered classrooms could help to meet a NSW Government pledge to spend $500 million installing air conditioning at 1000 schools, without draining the grid.

Doyle said their system could have particular value given “many schools on the Eastern seaboard are currently at capacity on grid connection.”

Alice Springs – a testbed for the future energy market?

The central Australian town of Alice Springs inspires many images. There are the surrounding attractions of the rugged MacDonnell Ranges, the mystical shapes of the Devils Marbles and the majesty of Uluru, and the thrill of outback adventures among remote communities.

To those within the energy sector, Alice Springs represents an unique opportunity and one that could be of great significance to the National Energy Market.

With a population of 25,000 and a mix of residential households, commerce, industries and an airport, the town has an electrical grid that is of a size and complexity that makes it an ideal testing ground for ideas that could lead to a successful transition to a clean energy future.

Alice Springs. Image: Tourism NT

Along with the rest of the Northern Territory, it faces the daunting challenge set by the Territory government’s pledge that 50 percent of the power supply would be sourced from renewables by 2030.

With this in mind, 50 industry representatives from across the Northern Territory and the country, came together in Alice Springs at the latest ARENA A-Lab workshop to examine the local grid and discuss ways for how this could be achieved. The gathering was co-hosted by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy.

The theme that Alice Springs was “small enough to manage, big enough to matter” pointed towards the town’s position as a test case for challenges that would be faced in the wider market as greater levels of renewables were fed into the system.

“It is a system that has a lot of the characteristics of many places in the NEM itself, and also the broader Australian system, but it’s at that scale where you really can test and trial and innovate and a scale that’s meaningful but not too cost prohibitive,” said A-Lab’s project lead Phil Cohn, an investment director in ARENA’s Business Development and Transactions team.

“Really importantly you’ve got government and community buy-in for progressively driving on renewable energy as well. That mix of the scale and the physical characteristics alongside the community buy-in make it a great place to trial new ways of working the grid.

“Alice Springs has this history of being a bit of a leading light nationally. They were a solar city a decade ago and they’re wanting to retake that initiative … to show how you can run a grid with high penetration renewables.”

Need for innovation

Intyalheme general manager Sara Johnson said renewables penetration in Alice Springs stood at eight percent, while for the Territory it was only four percent, although that would be doubled by the recent commitments to solar farms around Darwin.

“It’s a really ambitious target particularly when you consider the physical challenge they have in terms of the grid configuration,” Cohn said.

“It’s actually a series of relatively small individual grids, there’s a Darwin-Katherine system, the Alice Springs system and a lot of isolated micro-grids and communities, and they’ve set themselves a target to hit 50 percent by 2030.”

Another challenge faced by the Territory’s energy sector was is the limited diversity of renewable resources available, with solar currently the only viable option. Rebecca Mills, general manager of major projects at Territory Generation said without alternative energies, – such as wind and hydro – achieving the target would be reliant on “oversizing solar systems” and storing the energy which was currently a costly process.

So how can the Northern Territory hit its 50 percent target?

“We’ve undertaken some modelling that really shows the first 30 percent will be reasonably achievable as long as some of the network constraints [can be] dealt with, but that’s really just matching supply and demand during the day-time hours.

“It’s possible but it will be challenging.”

Jim McKay, Power and Water Corporation’s chief engineer of power services, said it was good to have an ambitious target, but a number of issues must be resolved with the Alice Springs stand-alone grid before it could be achieved and “not being connected to other jurisdictions, these problems come upon us pretty quickly”.

ARENA’s Phil Cohn at A-Lab

For example, Alice Springs’ grid needs to find new ways to stabilise and smooth frequency fluctuations from variable solar generation.

“Some of the challenges that places like South Australia are facing now, in regards to inertia, we’ve always had underlying in our network and with the advent of additional PV those problems have to be resolved before we’re able to achieve the really high levels of penetration,” McKay said.

“We won’t be able to reach the target (particularly in Alice Springs), without some innovative thinking.”

“We’re not inter-connected and we can’t rely on other people to help support the network or get by when the sun’s not shining or those sort of things.

“We have to find solutions from start to finish completely within our boundaries.”

However, Intyalheme general manager Sara Johnston said the local industry players were committed to reaching the target and working through these challenges.

“Everyone’s really engaged and onboard and wants to be part of the solution,” she said.

A-Lab workshops

Sara Johnston said Intyalheme was established by the NT government to promote collaborative solutions. It was, in a sense, a recognition that the target would not be reached through individual stakeholders pursuing their own agendas.

It is a philosophy that has a natural synergy with ARENA’s A-Lab mission to create cross-sector partnerships and innovative projects to transform Australia towards a clean energy future.

The A-Lab workshop was held over two days. The participants, which included senior industry representatives, toured key power system locations on the first day before they participated in a workshop designed to identify pathways to the desired future of 2030.

The participants developed proposals and designed pitches that were presented to an expert panel, known as the ‘Dolphin Tank’ (a friendly ‘shark tank’), that included the Northern Territory Minister for Renewables and Essential Services, the Hon Dale Wakefield, MLA. The intention is for Intyalheme and ARENA to work with the participants to fully develop and put the selected ideas into action.

“You go from a group of people who don’t know each other and facilitate conversations about the key questions, issues, barriers and opportunities around the future shape of the energy system in the Northern Territory, and then converge on specific project opportunities to help us realise that future,” Phil Cohn said.


“That culminated in the pitch presentations with the real intent for both Intyalheme and ARENA to take a look at those ideas and work with those key stakeholders to potentially take some of those forward to implementation.”

Rebecca Mills said the A-Lab sessions demonstrated that everyone was on a similar path.

“We have some different views about how to get there but it’s good to have those discussions and have the likes of ARENA and Intaylheme, who can focus on bringing it altogether over the next couple of years or putting into place an action plan for us,” she said.

The ideas that were pitched included:

  • New ways of forecasting the impact that clouds will have on PV production through the entire grid, and balancing that impact by matching it against flexible loads.
  • Using waste-to-energy technology at a water and sewerage treatment plant that would generate energy but also treat water that could be used for agriculture. This would be particularly valuable in Alice Springs which has a limited water supply.
  • Using solar power to create hydrogen which can be stored in the existing gas network.
  • Exploring ways for the large transient workforce and low income and rental communities to access solar energy by buying a share of a community-owned solar farm that also uses battery storage.

Sara Johnston said Intyalheme has already began early planning on a project based on the ideas of the A-Lab sessions that would include a suite of actions over the next three to four years.

Oil and gas giant embraces renewable energy

In a sign of the times, oil and gas giant Santos has begun the process of transitioning its fleet of beam pumps to run on renewable energy.

The unlikely alliance will see Santos convert 56 of its crude oil pumps to run on solar PV and battery storage systems in the Cooper Basin – a remote resources vein running from north-east South Australia across the border into Queensland.

The sun drenched, off-grid location is a perfect match for solar, proven by
a pilot solar beam pump that has operated continually since August. The success of the trial has shown that the renewable energy can withstand the harsh desert environment and paved the way for the rollout of new solar pumps.

The solar array powering the pilot pump

Santos say the project will reduce emissions and waste from the oil production process. Converting the pumps to solar is predicted to save 140 barrels of oil every day and lay the foundations for Australia’s second-largest oil and gas producer to swap a further 151 Cooper Basin pumps to run on renewables.

With a total of 3.2 MW of solar PV to be installed across the remote pump sites, the $16 million project will deploy battery storage at each location to supply the oil pumps with 100 per cent renewable energy.

Santos Managing Director and CEO Kevin Gallagher said renewable energy will reduce costs by cutting fuel consumption and eliminating the need to transport fuel to remote wells.

“Our own consumption of fuel in the Cooper Basin is equivalent to about five per cent of east coast domestic gas demand, so if we can extend our use of renewables across our operations, we can also free up more natural gas for sale, which is a good way to put downward pressure on gas prices,” Kevin Gallagher said.

The rollout of solar pumps is ARENA’s first off-grid application of renewables in the oil and gas industry. Aiming to prove the reliability of renewables for this type of operation, the project could provide a blueprint for other resources companies to follow.

ARENA is providing $4.3 million towards the project, which ARENA CEO Darren MIller says will complement ARENA’s previous work with the resource sector.

“Assisting the resources sector in turning to renewable alternatives is something we’re extremely proud of,” Darren Miller said.

“Santos will be ARENA’s first off-grid project with the oil and gas industry, building upon our previous support for implementing renewable energy at mining operations around Australia, reducing reliance on diesel and oil,” he said.

Delivering renewable energy to remote communities and mines to replace diesel was one of the first ARENA initiatives, launched soon after the agency’s inception in 2012.

In 2014, ARENA supported Rio Tinto to build a 6.7MW solar farm at remote bauxite operation in Weipa, Queensland. The first example of renewables powering an off-grid mining operation, the project has helped to insulate the mining giant from fluctuations in diesel prices.

In 2016, a solar-diesel hybrid system was commissioned at Sandfire’s Degrussa Copper Mine, utilising a solar-hybrid system backed up by battery storage. Saving about five million litres of diesel every year, the world-leading project has led the way for other mining companies to embrace renewables.

Creating a secure supply of energy is emerging as a key motivator for resources companies like Sandfire and Rio Tinto to embrace renewables. Providing a buffer from the fluctuating cost of grid power or diesel, without the risks of network outages or practical realities like flooded roads in the wet season, renewables are taking off in a sector where cost is king.

Integrating renewable energy into the oil and gas industry

Australian oil and gas company Santos will begin converting the pumps on their oil wells  to solar and battery power, as part of an Australian-first trial that will reduce emissions from oil production.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has today announced $4.2 million in funding to Santos to convert 56 remote crude oil beam pumps to solar and batteries after a successful Australian first pilot installation.

Solar PV – totalling 3.2 MW – and batteries will be installed at the 56 oil wells across the Cooper Basin in South Australia and Queensland to supply each site with 100 per cent renewable energy.

The trial is the next step towards commercialising the technology by providing adequate scale needed to achieve supply chain and execution synergies, and allowing the trial multiple suppliers to reduce unit costs.

The $16 million project will be ARENA’s first off-grid project with the oil and gas industry, and ARENA’s first off-grid project that involves switching to 100 per cent renewables.

If the ARENA-funded trial is successful, Santos will look to convert an additional 151 pumps across the Cooper Basin to solar and batteries. By converting all 208 sites, this would save 140 barrels of oil a day currently used to fuel the pumps.

The project could see increased confidence that renewable energy provides the reliability required for resources applications and see other companies follow suit.

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project would complement ARENA’s previous work with the resource sector, and could also have broader applications in remote areas.

“Assisting the resources sector in turning to renewable alternatives is something we’re extremely proud of,” Mr Miller said.

“Santos will be ARENA’s first off-grid project with the oil and gas industry, building upon our previous support for implementing renewable energy at remote operations around Australia.

ARENA has previously supported a solar farm at Weipa and a solar and battery project at the Degrussa Copper and Gold Mine, and has funded a range of other off-grid projects.

“The project paves the way for Santos to convert further crude oil engine beam pumps in the Cooper Basin area, resulting in a significant part of their operations run entirely on renewables and providing a broader opportunity and test case for deployment to thousands of other sites in the Australian oil and gas sector as well as in other sectors in remote areas,” he said.

Santos Managing Director and CEO Kevin Gallagher said this Australian-first idea came from the company’s Energy Solutions team, which is dedicated to finding innovative ways to reduce Santos’ carbon footprint and prepare the business for a lower carbon future.

“The solar beam pumps will reduce emissions and waste from oil production with 140 barrels more per day saved,” Mr Gallagher said.

“Our own consumption of fuel in the Cooper Basin is equivalent to about 5 per cent of East Coast domestic gas demand so if we can extend our use of renewables to our gas operations, we can also free up more natural gas for sale, which is a good way to put downward pressure on gas prices.”

“The solar beam pump is also a perfect demonstration of Santos’ strategy to become Australia’s safest, lowest cost onshore operator in action,” Mr Gallagher said.

“Renewables will help reduce costs over time not only by reducing our fuel consumption, but also by eliminating the costs of transporting fuel by road over long distances to the oil wells.”

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

Download this media release (PDF 117KB)

Rooftop solar passes two million milestone

Australia’s renewable energy sector has passed another milestone, with new Clean Energy Regulator data showing more than two million households have installed rooftop solar.

The milestone has been reached just five and a half years after Australia passed the one million mark, with predictions that installations will ramp up on the back of new state-based schemes supporting household solar and storage.

This year has already eclipsed 2017 for total numbers of solar systems installed, as consumers embrace renewable energy to take control of power bills. The rise in solar comes as panels become more affordable than ever before – modelling shows the upfront cost of an installation can now be repaid within five years in all Australian capital cities.

Solar roof

Queensland leads all states for solar uptake, where 30 per cent of all households have made the leap to save money and soften their environmental impact. The new data shows that more than 2.3 GW of solar capacity has been installed across nearly 600,000 Queensland rooftops, with Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Caloundra and Toowoomba holding four of the top five places on the national solar leaderboard.

South Australia’s solar uptake is also strong, with almost one third of all homes making the leap and installing rooftop systems. Penetration in Victoria and New South Wales is lower in comparison, where just 15 per cent of households have installed solar panels to date.

The latest figures are based on an analysis of Clean Energy Regulator data undertaken by the the Clean Energy Council, with support from solar energy consultants Sunwiz.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton said homes with rooftop solar are saving on average of about $540 per year on their electricity bills.

“An average of six panels per minute are being installed in Australia, with the Australian Energy Market Operator estimating an average of 10-20 panels per minute if large-scale solar projects are factored in,” he said.

“Along the way a new industry has been created – thousands of sparkies have specialised in solar power, and it’s hard to find a group of people with as much passion for what they do,” he said.

As Australia passes the latest solar milestone, work is underway to prepare for the increasingly distributed energy future.

The Distributed Energy Integration Program was recently launched to find ways to maximise the value of customers’ DER for all energy users.

Under the new initiative, ARENA will collaborate with government agencies, market authorities, industry and consumers associations to ensure the energy system works for everybody as it undergoes its greatest transformation to date.

Redesigning the electricity network won’t be easy. As solar soars, electric vehicles become a mainstream option, smart appliances take off, and new efficiency and demand management technology takes off, the energy system of the future will be unrecognisable from today.

With predictions that up to 45 per cent of electricity will be supplied by behind the meter assets by 2050, there is no time to waste finding ways to integrate all the distributed energy resources into the grid.

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Sewage pumping station cleans up with sodium batteries

Sydney Water’s Bondi sewage pumping station will soon store renewable energy in sodium-ion battery packs, trialling the cheaper alternative to the traditional lithium-ion batteries.

The project will repower the picturesque Bondi plan with a renewable energy generation system, which includes 6 kW of solar panels, a temporary lithium-ion battery and an energy management system.

The recently commissioned Smart Sodium Storage Project has received $2.7 million from ARENA towards a $10.6 million total cost, which will fund the development of the new battery technology and demonstrate how it can be used to store renewable energy.

The project is being led by energy storage researchers from the University of Wollongong, in collaboration with Sydney Water and battery storage manufacturers in China.

Professor Shi Xue Dou, director of the University of Wollongong’s Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials, said the Smart Sodium Storage Project was translating their research into real-world benefits.

“Sodium-ion batteries are a potential game-changer because the materials are much more abundant than those for traditional lithium-ion batteries,” Professor Shi Xue Dou said.

He said this will help reduce the cost of the raw sodium-ion materials “as well as reducing reliance on scarce, expensive lithium.”

The scarcity of lithium makes it expensive, with predictions that its price will rise higher as global demand for battery storage continues to rise.

“Critically, this project will deliver commercial-scale and ready-for-manufacture sodium-ion battery technology.”

Professor Dou says sodium-ion batteries will allow “lower-cost distributed renewable energy supply to become a reality.”

Sydney Water will test the system with lithium-ion batteries before switching to sodium-ion within a year, when the first batches arrive from the manufacturer in China.


As one of the two elements present in ordinary salt, supplies of sodium are plentiful and easily accessible. That makes the raw ingredients for sodium-ion batteries a lot cheaper than lithium alternatives.

With potential to perform similarly to other batteries on the market today, the new sodium batteries can be stacked together to meet storage requirements.

Project leader Professor Shi Xue Dou in the laboratory. IMAGE: University of Wollongong

The trade off is size. Smaller and lighter lithium-ion batteries will remain well-suited to mobile phones and EVs where size and weight are critical, but the new technology could emerge as a good fit for household and industrial applications.

To make their sodium-powered vision a reality, the researchers from the University of Wollongong have partnered with leading Chinese battery manufacturers to develop the individual 5 kWh sodium-ion battery packs.


With large volumes of wastewater and sewerage moved daily and highly intermittent and impulse heavy loads, the Bondi pumping station is the perfect place to test the new batteries.

Generating approximately 8,000 kWh of energy each year, the new system will exceed the needs of the Bondi pumping station and has the potential to send surplus power back to the grid. Given Sydney Water’s network includes more than 780 pumping stations, there is potential to scale the trial up in future.

Inside the Bondi water treatment plant. Image: University of Wollongong

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the agency is working hard to deliver secure and reliable renewable energy, which battery technology helps to make possible.

“Thanks to the contribution of world-leading researchers from the University of Wollongong, these relatively inexpensive and reliable sodium-ion batteries aren’t too far off.” Darren Miller said.

Mr Miller said sodium-ion storage allows variable renewable energy to be dispatchable, as well as potentially reducing our reliance on lithium.

“This is just one example of an Australian innovation that could accelerate the transition to renewables. At ARENA we are always excited to support this type of R&D,” he said.

US trailblazing Mayor inspires Australian councils

Lancaster in Southern California has an impressive claim to fame.

Located just one hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, the city has become the first in the world to reach net zero emissions, now producing more energy than it consumes.

The ambitious target was set back in 2014 by the local council, who saw an opportunity to take advantage of their 280 sunny days each year.

Installing panels on seemingly any flat surface which didn’t move, almost every municipal building now has solar, as well as all 25 schools and even the local minor-league baseball diamond. Any electricity bought by the town comes from solar farms that have been built locally.

Solar panels at Miller Elementary School in Lancaster

Transitioning a town home to 170,000 people onto renewables was no mean feat.

Bringing his experience to Australia, the three-time Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris recently attended the City Power Partnership summit in Kiama, on the New South Wales south coast.

Established by the Climate Council, the City Power Partnership helps Australian towns and cities make the change to clean energy.

The gathering of representatives from councils around the country was designed to inspire the type of renewable energy ambition like that seen in the City of Lancaster.

Kiama Mayor Mark Honey said his council decided to support the Cities Power Partnership “in the spirit of taking coordinated and positive actions to leave the planet in a better place for our children and grandchildren.”


Drawing delegates from inner-city, suburban, regional and rural councils, Parkes Mayor Ken Keith received the City Power Partnership Ambassador award at the summit.

Famous for its annual Elvis festival, Parkes is fast building a reputation as a solar champion.

One of 12 projects funded through ARENA’s large-scale solar funding round, construction of the the 55 MW Parkes Solar Farm was completed in early 2018. Home to 206,000 solar panels, the farm produces enough electricity to power 21,000 homes.

Known as a passionate advocate of renewables – and part-time Elvis impersonator – Cr Keith said he was overwhelmed to receive the award.

“Parkes was one of the founding member councils of the CPP, and I am delighted to see that it is going from strength to strength,” Mayor Keith said.

“It has been incredible to see the kind of work that is being done by other councils around the country. To be recognised amongst such a competitive field certainly is humbling,” he said.

Since 2011, Parkes Shire Council has installed 610 kW of solar power on Council assets, with more work underway to promote renewable energy and reduce their carbon footprint, while also cutting energy bills.


As well as becoming the world’s first net zero emission city, Lancaster’s renewable revolution has left a sustainable and lasting solar industry.

Estimated to employ more than 1000 people, the solar boom has helped the city to recover from the global financial crisis, which hit particularly hard locally. Employment rose as high as 17 per cent locally during 2009, but has now dropped below 6 per cent.

Chinese electric vehicle and battery manufacturer BYD have opened two local plants, one of which recently tripled in size to occupy a footprint of 450,000 square feet.

For communities around Australia grappling the the transition to renewable energy, Mayor Rex Parris and the City of Lancaster provide a strong lead to follow.

Other award winners at the City Power Partnership Summit included:

Renewable Energy Achievement Award
Solar my School – Three Council Program from Randwick, Waverley & Woollahra Councils (New South Wales)

Energy Efficiency Achievement
Newcastle Museum Energy upgrade – The City of Newcastle (New South Wales)

Sustainable Transport Achievement Award
Transition to Zero Emissions Vehicles Action Plan 2018-21 – ACT Government

Community Engagement Achievement Award
Floating solar farm – Lismore City Council (New South Wales)

Knowledge Sharing Award
South East NSW Councils buddy group (New South Wales)

Top marks for new off-grid solar classroom

The school bells have rung and class has started in Australia’s first 100 per cent solar and battery powered relocatable classroom.

Building on the success of Hivve’s first two solar portables installed at Dapto High and Sydney’s St Christopher’s Primary, a third renewable energy powered classroom has opened at Bracken Ridge High School in suburban Brisbane.

Unlike the first two solar Hivves, the newest classroom will be entirely powered by solar and batteries and won’t be connected to the electricity grid.

Hivve co-founder Richard Doyle said taking the solar classrooms off-grid was “an absolute no-brainer.”

“Demountables are often put in as a temporary solution and remain permanently. The Hivve has been designed to replace that model in a sustainable and smart way,” Richard Doyle said.

Faced with a bill of more than $35,000 for a grid connection, the decision was made to install a Tesla powerwall and only connect the classroom to the school to share excess solar power produced on-site. Based on data gathered from the two Hivves, it’s expected that Bracken Ridge High’s new high-tech portable will produce enough energy to power two additional classrooms.

With an energy profile perfectly matched to the demands of a school day, Doyle said the solar setup is pushed hard to “maintain a temperature of between 20-24 degrees during the school day.”

He sees an opportunity for their technology to be rolled out widely following a pledge from the New South Wales Government to spend $500 million installing air conditioning in 1,000 schools.

“We’re collecting performance data for these buildings to show how Hivve can deliver that with no impact on the grid,” he said.

Doyle says the model is also well-suited for use in remote communities.

ARENA has provided nearly $370,000 to the three classroom pilot program which Hivve developed in collaboration with Tesla. ARENA CEO Darren Miller says the program opens the door for more Australian schools to switch to renewables.

“Demand for energy at schools occurs during the school day, when the sun is shining. There is a great opportunity to power classrooms via solar, backed up by battery storage,” Darren Miller said.

Rapidly growing populations and the rising popularity of solar is pushing transmission infrastructure to the limit, giving the new off-grid setup extra appeal.

“Many schools on the Eastern seaboard are currently at capacity on grid connection. This Australian-developed solution could help schools reduce costs and emissions, while also reducing reliance and demand on the grid,” he said.

“This solar-and-battery powered Hivve classroom at Bracken Ridge is both sustainable and self-sufficient as it powers itself while being completely off grid. The school avoids the significant upfront cost of grid connection while also saving on ongoing energy costs,” Mr Miller said.

Benefits being shared with existing buildings

According to Hivve, the oldest relocatable classroom in New South Wales was built in the 1960s.

The new modular portables have lessons from their old, poorly insulated and ugly forebears, designed for the long-term with the realisation that demountables are often put in as a temporary solution that remains permanently.

With each Hivve able to generate around 7600KWh of solar power every year in addition to its own requirements, the state of the art classrooms will reduce their host school’s reliance on grid power and bring down electricity bills.

Dapto High School’s Hivve

They can also help to create a healthy environment for learning by measuring CO2 levels and alerting teachers when air quality deteriorates. Fresh air can be introduced through the heating/cooling system, or by opening a window.

While the new Bracken Ridge Hivve won’t be connected to the grid, all of the excess solar energy it produces will be captured on-site with a behind the meter connection to other school buildings.

The ARENA funded pilot will run for 12 months and data collected will be used to demonstrate how renewable energy could power schools.

Solar and batteries powering Brisbane classroom

Brisbane high school students are being taught in Australia’s first solar and battery powered portable classroom, as a trial of renewable classrooms expands to Queensland.

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided approximately $370,000 to Hivve Technologies Pty Ltd to build three state-of-the-art pilot portable classrooms, including a prototype at Bracken Ridge State High School in Brisbane.

The Bracken Ridge portable classroom, developed in collaboration with Tesla, includes rooftop solar PV and a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery system that allows the classroom to operate 100 per cent off the electricity grid.

Hivve classrooms generate enough electricity to power themselves and a minimum of two other classrooms in a school, with excess power now able to be stored in the connected battery.

As part of the ARENA pilot, Hivve previously installed solar-powered classrooms in two NSW schools, St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Sydney’s south western suburb of Holsworthy and at Dapto High School in the Illawarra region.

Hivve classrooms feature energy efficient lighting, heating and air conditioning, and allow real-time monitoring of temperature, air quality, energy metering as well as solar generation, battery capacity to manage energy demand. An in-classroom dashboard provides real-time data that gives teachers control of the classroom environment.

A Tesla battery was also installed for six weeks at Dapto High School to test the potential for batteries to be incorporated into the classroom.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the successful Hiive trials in NSW and now Queensland open the door for more Australian schools to switch to renewable energy.

“This solar-and-battery powered Hivve classroom at Bracken Ridge is both sustainable and self-sufficient as it powers itself while being completely off grid. The school avoids the significant upfront cost of grid connection while also saving on ongoing energy costs.

“Demand for energy at schools occurs during the school day, when the sun is shining. As such, there is a great opportunity to power classrooms via solar, backed up by battery storage,” Mr Miller said.

“Many schools on the Eastern seaboard are currently at capacity on grid connection. This Australian-developed solution could help schools reduce costs and emissions, while also reducing reliance and demand on the grid,” he said.

Hivve CEO David Wrench said: “We are greatly encouraged by the robust trial results from the three schools operating with Hivve classrooms which confirms this Australian-developed technology has now made the transition from an idea to a commercial reality.

“The Hivve classroom concept has the potential to be a game changer in how our children are educated, providing a completely sustainable solution by powering all its own infrastructure – including air conditioning – while also feeding energy back into the school to run other classrooms.

“ARENA has been the perfect partner for this initiative demonstrating the innovative thinking around traditional energy challenges this Government has been bringing,” he said.

The ARENA-funded pilot will run for 12 months, with the accumulated performance data used to demonstrate how renewable energy could power schools and reduce schools’ energy costs, as part of ARENA’s focus on delivering secure, reliable and affordable electricity.

Following the success of the trial, Hivve are now expecting to roll out their classrooms in NSW and are in discussion with other states.

ARENA media contact:

0410 724 227 |

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