Alice Springs shines as a solar test tube for Australia and the world

Reflecting on great achievements in solar technology and renewable energy ‘firsts’ around the world, a small Outback town of just over 28,000 people usually doesn’t spring to mind.

Alice Springs' success as a Solar City, built over the last five years, has been captured in a report released today Alice Solar City: 2008-2013.

The iconic central Australian town has punched above its weight in solar resourcefulness and built a national and international reputation for its efforts. Whilst the Alice Solar City project officially finished in June this year, it has not only created answers to the town’s own energy resource issues, but also some of those that face the rest of the world.

Rex Mooney is the chief executive officer of the Alice Springs Town Council, which is the lead proponent in the Alice Solar City project, and he says the town has proven it can be a leader in this field.

“Alice Springs is not only small enough to be able to innovate and experiment in the field of renewables and energy efficiency, but it can provide a relevant insight for the national and international solar markets.”

As one of seven Solar Cities taking part in the Australian Government’s Solar Cities Program, Alice Springs’ story is unique because it was headed and delivered by a single local government authority.

“From the very beginning, the Alice Springs Town Council led the development of a funding bid in response to a community ground swell to become a Solar City,” says Mr Mooney.

“The town has a history of people working together at a grass-roots level to achieve great things and Council was pleased to provide more than roads, rates and rubbish by committing to a project that benefits the whole community.”

“With its residential and commercial solar and energy efficiency programs, as well as five large-scale iconic solar installations, Alice Solar City has operated in a real-life situation involving the whole community, contained within boundaries on an isolated electricity grid,” he says.

“It’s a bit like being a test tube example for other communities around the world to learn from.”

More than 30% of Alice Springs residents and over 200 commercial organisations undertook energy efficiency audits and measures to reduce their energy use. These initiatives combined with five large-scale solar projects means Alice Springs is annually saving just over 12 million kWh of energy and more than 9000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (refer below for ASC highlights).

“At a time of great turbulence and uncertainty within energy policy in Australia, Alice Springs serves as a salient reminder of what can be achieved through active cooperation and partnerships between industry, government and the community,” says Mr Mooney.

“The question is not whether remote areas such as Alice Springs are relevant to mainstream energy policy, but whether policymakers and the industry are willing to come and learn from us. We’d love to share our solar city journey with the nation and the world.”

 “Alice Springs now produces up to 10% of daytime energy use from solar and over 3% of annual consumption. This was ten times the national average in 2011, but while this level has dipped over the last two years we will continue to keep developing as a Solar City.”

“Through the Solar City experience Alice Springs exceeds expectations in solar energy – its combination of being a relatively small town, operating in a highly regulated and isolated environment, and existing in an extremely challenging and variable climate, means the changes we implement can be seen relatively quickly in the community.”

“Alice Springs may be a country town in the centre of Australia but we are sufficiently large enough to be a microcosm of the complexities of daily living and that cause and effect of engaging with the community to make changes and about being smarter with their energy use provides a real-life example for others to follow.”

“In reality we are not really small at all. In the field of solar energy we loom large and can offer a great deal of insight and experience for the bigger energy markets.”

Rex Mooney says securing funding to extend the solar project is going to be tricky because there is a lack of investment in renewable or energy efficiency projects generally.

“After such a dedicated community driven project, it is true to say Alice Springs needs some regrouping and recovery time, but we cannot waver too long and lose the momentum and traction of the scheme.”

The Solar Cities Program’s aim was to create a new energy future for Australia by trialing solar technologies with cost reflective pricing, energy efficiency measures and metering technologies.

“Alice Springs has taken a bit of a blow with the end of the Alice Solar City project, but we will prevail to lead the solar energy community and enhance Alice Springs’ reputation as a Solar City.

Visit www.alicesolarcity.com.au/research-and-reports to download the final summary report and detailed reports on the outcomes and learnings of the project's 5 years of operation"

Ends….

Further enquiries: Laurelle Halford, 0417 222 211 or laurelle@creativeterritory.com

 

About Alice Solar City‚Ä®

The Alice Springs Solar City Consortium was led by the Alice Springs Town Council and included support from the Northern Territory Government, Power and Water Corporation, Tangentyere Council, the Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce and the Arid Lands Environment Centre. Funding sources included the Australian Government, the Northern Territory Government, Power and Water Corporation, and Alice Springs Town Council. 

 

Highlights – Alice Springs as a Solar City:

  • Many of Alice Springs’ large scale solar installations broke new ground either nationally or internationally at the time of commissioning, including the 305kW system at the Crowne Plaza Hotel – the largest building mounted solar power system in Australia at the time of installation in 2009.

 

  • In a first for the southern hemisphere, the scale and technical advances of the 235kW tracking system installed in in 2010 at the Alice Springs Airport incorporated innovative SolFocus technology to concentrate the sun’s energy.

 

  • The Alice Springs Airport was the first airport in Australia to be powered by a large-scale solar power station. With plans for more solar in the future, the airport management is inspired to be the first airport in the world that is powered 100% by solar energy.

 

  • The 1MW Uterne Solar Power Station, commissioned in 2011 and acquired by Australian solar giant Epuron in 2012, is the largest tracking solar power station in Australia, and there are future plans for expansion of this site.  At the time of Epuron’s acquisition, the Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA) was Australia’s first financial institution to finance a solar power project of this size.

 

  • The town has proven its relevance internationally with significant private sector investment in facilities such as the Uterne Solar Power Station and the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre, a demonstration facility showcasing more than 20 solar technologies from around the world.

 

  • Whilst not a direct Alice Solar City initiative, the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre evolved as part of the ground swell to develop Alice Springs’ reputation as a centre of solar excellence and leadership. Solar technicians in Alice Springs also train at this facility.
     
  •  Alice Springs attracts interest and visits from solar and renewable experts and governments from around the world who are keen to learn about the impact of renewable technology on a community.