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ANU Develops New Tool to Maximise Solar and Wind Potential

A new tool developed by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) shows the best locations around Australia that could be used to build new wind or solar farms. The ANU ‘heat maps’ project is aimed at farmers and landholders, who the researchers say is a crucial piece of the puzzle to help accelerate Australia’s solar and wind uptake and help the nation meet its renewable energy targets.

The researchers say the area between Goulburn and Lithgow in New South Wales is especially suitable for new clean energy sites because it is well-serviced by transmission lines and has good wind and solar resources. Tasmania has plenty of potential for new wind farms along the north coast and on the King and Flinders islands.

Professor Andrew Blakers, from the ANU College of Engineering, Computing and Cybernetics stated that in Victoria, the Yallourn district is attractive because of good wind potential and strong existing transmission into Melbourne, plus there is a need to replace local coal industry jobs. There’s also extensive wind potential west of Melbourne, he added.

South Australia has excellent wind and solar potential to the east of St Vincent and Spencer gulfs, while Queensland’s best wind and solar sites follow the coastal transmission lines north from Brisbane in areas such as Rockhampton and Mackay.  Perth, too, has an abundance of suitable solar and wind sites close to transmission lines that run from the north and the south of the city.

ANU PhD researcher Cheng Cheng, who was also involved in the study, said the project aims to empower landowners to approach developers directly and negotiate with them to build solar or wind farms on their property. He said that access to high-voltage transmission lines is essential for solar and wind farms and landholders in windy and sunny areas near existing infrastructure have a valuable economic opportunity.

The team’s heat maps were developed to enable collective bargaining with developers as well as assist solar and wind farm developers by reducing the complexity and time required to gain legal access and community acceptance.

If landowners or local councils can access information of this kind and collectively approach developers themselves, the speed of the development process could be increased. Currently, developers approaching individual landowners may face high rejection rates.

Landholders who host solar or wind farms have another drought-proof income source. This is beneficial for farmers, as crops can be grown underneath both solar and wind farms and animals can have access to shade. Professor Blakers noted that access to high-power transmission lines is the biggest constraint currently facing developers.

Typical power lines cross dozens to hundreds of properties and require complex negotiations with many people. In contrast, solar and wind farms generally fit on one or a few properties. That usually makes an access agreement much easier to negotiate. All the possible sites that have been identified are near existing and approved high-power transmission lines.

These maps show the relative cost of renewable energy on each 1,000m x 1,000m parcel of land for solar farms and 250m x 250m parcel for wind.

All land in Australia has been divided into different cost categories for solar and wind generation, ranging from Class A to Class E. Professor Blakers said Class A, B and C sites are strongly preferred.

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