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Australian water utility deployed 350,000 PV panels across 33 sites

State-owned utility SA Water has completed an extensive solar project in South Australia, with more than 350,000 PV panels installed at 33 water treatment plants and pump stations.

From pv magazine Australia

SA Water, which serves millions of South Australians and is one of the state’s biggest electricity users, has completed the commissioning of 367,769 solar PV panels across its network, as part of its AUD 300 million ($232.7 million) Zero Cost Energy Future project. 

In 2017, SA Water announced plans to reduce its net electricity costs to zero. Given that the water utility spent around AUD 86 million last year on electricity, the ambition was immense. With more than 350 kilometers of pipeline to travel, drinking water in South Australia has to journey a long way from source to water treatment to tap. That journey is now powered by the sun, saving both money and emissions.

With construction complete on all 33 sites and connection complete on 24 of those, SA Water and its partners are now finalizing connections on the remaining nine sites and integrating the vast arrays into Australia’s National Electricity Market.

The Zero Cost Energy Future project also involves 34 MWh of energy storage. 

“Where battery storage is deployed it is energised as part of the site commissioning process, with some storage now online and some to continue being brought online,” a spokesperson for SA Water told pv magazine Australia. Such additions will continue until SA Water reaches its target generation of 242 GWh of energy per annum, the person added.

In January, pv magazine reported that half a million solar panels would be needed to reach this target. However, SA Water said this month that through efficiencies in design, it was able to achieve its target with a smaller number of solar panels across a smaller physical footprint (a mere 367,769 panels, to be precise).

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As part of its project, SA Water has deployed the world’s largest fully moveable solar array at the Happy Valley Reservoir, which provides drinking water of more than 40% of SA Water customers across metropolitan Adelaide. The portable array, which powers the Happy Valley Water Treatment Plant, includes 30,000 modules installed on a 12-hectare site adjacent to the reservoir and generates around 17 GWh of solar energy per year.

“With the ability to generate almost double the energy needs of the nearby Happy Valley Water Treatment Plant, on-site battery storage will complement the solar panels allowing energy to be stored and also released back to the market,” said South Australian Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs. “At Happy Valley the local community was heavily involved in the planning for this site so the the solar panel project is visually sympathetic to the natural environment.”

Nicola Murphy, SA Water’s senior manager for the Zero Cost Energy Future project, said the project, including the energy storage aspect, will reduce the utility’s reliance on a “volatile grid” and ensure the performance of its assets.

“Just like how thousands of South Australians use solar panels at home, we’re capitalizing on some of our physical assets to work harder for us while still performing their vital functions of delivering trusted water and wastewater services,” Murphy said. “We can also create an added revenue stream by selling any excess solar energy back to the national grid, where it can be used across Australia.”

The project created 250 jobs during construction and will generate enough renewable power for 50,000 homes. Of course, the planned renewable-energy-powered water system also flows into South Australia’s overall intention, declared in 2015, to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“This solar initiative was created by our own people, and clearly demonstrates South Australians leading the way to integrate renewable energy and proactively reduce the impacts of climate change,” Murphy said.´

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Source: pv magazine