The Role of Renewable Energy in Powering Remote South Australian Towns

The growing renewable energy sector has far more to offer than just “green power”. It creates jobs, makes electric grids more resilient and expands energy access in developing nations. It also helps reduce energy bills for consumers too.

William Creek, an outback mining town famous for its opals, has made a significant leap from diesel generation to solar with battery storage. The move has slashed the town’s energy costs without any capital outlay.

Coober Pedy

The Australian outback town of Coober Pedy is best known for its opal mines and otherworldly landscape. It was also the setting for Mel Gibson and Tina Turner’s 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But this infamous desert outpost is now grabbing headlines for something quite different. The iconic opal mining town has transformed itself into a renewable energy township, thanks to a multi-million dollar solar and wind project backed by battery storage technology.

The new hybrid power plant in Coober Pedy is a partnership between the District Council of Coober Pedy, energy company Energy Developments Limited (EDL) and the South Australian Government. The plant is expected to replace roughly 70 percent of EDL’s diesel requirements, and has already delivered lower energy costs and more stable electricity for the community.

The hybrid plant uses 4MW of wind, 1MW of solar and a 500kWh battery, with the diesel power station acting as backup. It has been operating on 100% renewables for 97 hours, a world-leading penetration rate for isolated microgrids. EDL has even set up a live dashboard showing the town’s renewable energy usage.

For many people living in remote communities, having an uninterrupted source of energy is vital for their livelihoods and well-being. In addition, many towns in Australia are aiming to cut their dependence on fossil fuels and move to a cleaner energy future.

However, there is a growing concern that the current renewables boom in Australia is not benefiting all parts of the country. In a recent speech, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg spoke about the need to expand the National Electricity Market (NEM) and ensure a better deal for regional communities.

A report by engineering firm Resonant Solutions has found that a $192 million contract for a new hybrid renewable energy system in the South Australian outback town of Coober pedy cost almost double what it should have. Deputy State Liberal Leader Vickie Chapman has called for the deal to be investigated, drawing parallels with the controversial Gillman land purchase and questioning whether the State Government had done enough to get the most competitive price for the project.

Port Augusta

The regional hub of Port Augusta is the gateway to the outback. It is positioned on the edge of Spencer Gulf and is known as ‘the crossroads of Australia’, with major roads from Sydney to Adelaide and the Ghan passing through. The city is a vibrant community with plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants, as well as accommodation options. In recent years it has taken steps to become a green energy town, with the closure of its coal-fired power station in 2016. Locals are looking at renewable options such as solar thermal and wind.

The city has a warm desert climate, with summers being hot and dry and winters mild. In addition to its thriving economy, the region is home to an abundance of natural resources. The region’s rich history dates back thousands of years. Originally inhabited by the Nukunu Aboriginal people, it was later explored and settled by Europeans.

In the early days, Port Augusta served as a supply depot for nearby pastoral stations. The area’s rich soil and abundant rainfall meant that it was an ideal location for the production of wheat, cattle, and wool. In the 1850s, the Spencer Gulf Railway was built, allowing Port Augusta to become an important transport centre. It became a key shipping point for freight to north, south, east and west Australia. Today, the city is home to the historic Pichi Richi heritage railway, where passengers can enjoy a trip through the picturesque landscapes of Quorn and Port Augusta on a restored steam train.

One of the biggest challenges for remote communities is the high cost of electricity. In Coober Pedy, for example, electricity tariffs spiked from 20c/kWh to 70c/kWh over the course of a few years, with no public consultation. It was this frustration that drove locals to begin their own energy project, a plan to switch entirely to solar generation and turn the town into a powerhouse.

In addition to switching to solar, the project will include a battery storage system, which is expected to offset peaks in demand. The battery will also be used to charge electric vehicles, and will eventually be made available for other community members to use. Similar projects are underway on Kangaroo Island and King Island, which are also looking to make the transition to renewable energy.

Kangaroo Island

Just as Australia’s first hardy settlers faced a choice when they arrived on Kangaroo Island in 1836, the current community is now facing a similar dilemma when it comes to powering their homes. The question is whether to spend millions upgrading and replacing aging undersea cables connecting them to the mainland, or invest in new technologies that offer independence, greater security of supply, local jobs and clean energy.

A study by University of Technology Sydney, supported by ARENA, shows it is possible for Kangaroo Island to produce its own renewable energy and become fully off grid. It is also possible to do so at the same cost as a cable replacement. But SAPN, the island’s electricity network provider, is unlikely to take up the option unless significant third-party leadership, such as from the SA government and the Kangaroo Island Council, steps in to reduce barriers that stop networks from investing in innovative non-network solutions.

Located a short ferry ride from Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is a secluded paradise with spectacular scenery, wildlife and pristine beaches. Whether you’re strolling the winding streets of Penneshaw or Parndana, spotting sea lions in the ocean, koalas in a eucalyptus tree or exploring rocky coastlines, this beautiful island has something for everyone.

Visitors can also visit one of Australia’s first boutique distilleries, where a range of handcrafted gin and vodkas are infused with fresh, locally grown botanicals. Or sample some of the region’s finest produce from cellar doors dotted throughout the island.

But for many, the biggest attraction of Kangaroo Island is its natural environment. Over 40 percent of the island is a combination of National Parks, Conservation Parks and Wilderness Protection Areas. During the autumn months, it is possible to spot rare species such as Rosenberg’s goanna and tiger snakes. With its natural beauty, thriving agriculture, pristine beaches and gourmet food, Kangaroo Island is one of the country’s supreme scenic spots. It’s an ideal spot for anyone looking to relax, unwind and soak up the views with a loved one or a group of friends.

King Island

The beautiful and remote King Island is located off the northern Tasmanian coast and lies halfway between Melbourne and Hobart. It is the largest of the New Year group of islands in Bass Strait and is home to a number of heritage-listed buildings.

The island is famous for its fresh produce and seafood. Visitors can enjoy the local delicacies at restaurants in Grassy, Currie and Naracoopa. The island also has a rich maritime history, with the King Island Maritime Trail Shipwrecks and Safe Havens telling stories of heart-breaking disasters and heroic rescues in Bass Strait.

Renewable energy is an increasingly important resource for remote areas like King Island. It offers a clean and sustainable alternative to non-renewable fossil fuels and can be used in electricity generation, space heating and cooling, transportation, and many other applications. It is a key enabler of achieving global climate change mitigation goals and can help to reduce energy costs for households and businesses.

There are a number of different renewable energy sources that can be used to generate electricity, including wind power, solar power, hydroelectric (including tidal) energy, and bioenergy (organic matter burned as a fuel). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, wind and solar energy require essentially no water to operate, but coal mining can pollute drinking water sources, and thermal power plants withdraw and consume water for cooling.

However, some renewable energy technologies are less sustainable than others. For example, large hydroelectric dams can divert and restrict natural flows of water, which can harm wildlife and impact the quality of drinking water in downstream communities. On the other hand, biomass, which is derived from organic matter such as crops and waste wood, can be a sustainable source of energy when harvested responsibly.

Renewable energy is growing rapidly, driven by strong policy support and sharp cost reductions for technologies such as solar photovoltaics and wind power. The rapid expansion of renewable energy is enabling the transition to a low carbon economy and helping to keep average global temperatures below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.