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Australia’s Northern Territory pushes clean energy future

On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) recently announced $2.17 million to support the Alice Springs Future Grid Project. The two-year project will focus on addressing barriers to further renewable energy penetration in the local electricity network.

Currently, Alice Springs has approximately 10 per cent renewable energy generation and faces a unique challenge in overcoming system strength issues to serve approximately 30,000 people, with communities stretching as far as 130km from the town. The $9.3 million project will address technical, regulatory, social and economic challenges with energy transition in the town’s isolated grid through a series of sub-projects including:

  • A large-scale battery system
  • A residential battery trial for up to 50 customers, with batteries aggregated and controlled to provide voltage support to the network
  • Tariff reforms to investigate the commercial and other incentives required to encourage a change in consumer behaviour to facilitate higher uptake of household batteries with rooftop solar
  • A roadmap for how the Alice Springs electricity grid could operate with 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

Alice Springs Future Grid is led by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy, a flagship project of a demonstration facility for a range of solar technologies operating in the arid conditions of Alice Springs, supported by the Northern Territory Government. ARENA’s funding is provided through the Desert Knowledge Research Institute.

Alice Springs Future Grid is governed by a steering committee that includes Power and Water Corporation and Territory Generation, along with representatives from ARENA and the Northern Territory Government.

The ARENA funding will complement the $3.19 million in funding the solar energy equipment supplier received as part of the Australian Government’s $50 million Regional and Remote Communities Microgrid Fund. The CEO of ARENA stated that this project would provide much-needed support to help the town overcome challenges, and transition towards renewable energy solutions.

The project will lead to the development of a tangible roadmap for increased renewable energy adoption in Alice Springs. The lessons learned will also contribute to the broader Northern Territory and other remote Australian microgrid communities, he noted.

The General Manager of the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy stated that Alice Springs Future Grid takes a unique approach to a multi-faceted challenge, in a rapidly-changing environment. Alice Springs is ‘small enough to manage but big enough to matter’ and the institute is confident the project will not only help secure a clean and reliable energy future for the town, but the knowledge generated will have a positive flow-on effect, well beyond the other isolated electricity networks in the Northern Territory.

Pursuing renewable energy for the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory (NT) Government aims to achieve 50% renewable energy by 2030. The Territory Government’s renewable energy target is 50% of electricity consumed in 2030 from grid-connected installations, including from rooftop photovoltaic (PV) generation and all Aboriginal communities supplied by Indigenous Essential Services.

The government recognises the role energy, including renewable energy, plays as a driver of economic development and jobs growth; and has established the Office of Sustainable Energy within the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation.

One of the key roles of the new office is coordinating energy policy and the implementation of renewables to advance the government’s Roadmap to Renewable policy and the government’s least-cost implementation plan.

The government is undertaking detailed technical, economic and financial analysis and modelling to support implementation that ensures a reliable, secure and least cost (for consumers and taxpayers) electricity supply for the NT as it progresses towards the 50% renewable energy target.

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