The challenge of integrating renewable energy into the Alice Springs electricity grid has been highlighted to experts all over Australia, in a recent webinar.
The Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy was invited by Engineers Australia to deliver a presentation outlining how Alice Springs is positioned to demonstrate what a future grid could look like.
Intyalheme General Manager Sara Johnston was joined by electrical engineer Clare Paynter for the presentation, which was viewed by about 500 experts; some in the room in Newcastle, and others logged in to the live stream.
Viewers were given an insight into Alice Springs’ long history in solar energy expertise. That expertise is now being leveraged to address the fact the town’s power system is at saturation point, with regard to the integration of renewable energy.
“By funding Intyalheme, the Northern Territory Government recognised that no single energy sector participant can innovate across the entire system, and drive the change needed to transition to a power system with 50 per cent renewables,” Ms Johnston said.
Despite strong community endorsement and investment interest in Alice Springs, there is currently a lack of business incentive for developing more large-scale solar. In its current form, the grid is facing technical constraints that limit how effective solar can be. The fraction of energy production met by renewables in Alice Springs stands at eight per cent, and will remain there until changes are made.
“Power systems are very important pieces of infrastructure and you can’t make changes without rigorous testing,” said Ms Paynter, who works for Alice Springs-based technical consultancy firm, Ekistica.
Stability and strength in the system is provided by a certain amount of gas generation. Changing the system to meet the trend towards renewables is a long-term technical challenge.
“You have to be really confident that the services provided by the gas machine will be provided by something else like a battery, without any compromises in security,” Ms Paynter said.
Major players in the NT energy sector are already working to address these challenges, and funding is being sought for a large-scale collaborative project involving experts from right across Australia.
Lessons learnt about how to integrate more renewables into the Alice Springs power system, will be applicable to the National Energy Market. It has been acknowledged by industry leaders that Alice Springs is small enough to manage, but big enough to matter.