UNSW signs offsite solar PPA for 100% of its electricity needs

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In what could become a trailblazing offsite solar power purchase agreement in Australia, UNSW has signed a contract to purchase a large part of the power from the Sunraysia Solar Farm, currently being developed by China’s Maoneng. The 15-year PPA will cover 100% of the university’s electricity demand, totalling 124,000 MWh per annum.

The PPA was signed between the UNSW, Maoneng and utility Origin Energy – with the latter agreeing to a three-year “firming contract”, which will ensure electricity supply to the university if the solar output falls short. The firming supply contract is three years in duration.

“The Solar PPA arrangement will allow UNSW to secure carbon emission-free electricity supplies at a cost which is economically and environmentally attractive when compared to fossil fuel-sourced supplies,” said UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs. “Over the past six months, UNSW has collaborated with our contract partners Maoneng and Origin to develop a Solar PPA model that leads the way in renewable energy procurement.”

UNSW claims that its offsite PPA with Maoneng along with the Origin firming contract is the first of its kind in Australia.

The Sunraysia project is scheduled to begin construction in the coming months, and set to be completed in Q2 2019. It is located approximately 17km south of the town of Balranald, in southern New South Wales.

Law firm Norton Rose Fullbright was a legal adviser on the PPA structure, with Energy Action providing energy market analysis.

“The PPA market has been extremely dynamic in the last 12 months and deals like UNSW’s have been critical in driving real change in the way universities and other users procure energy,” said Kelly Davies, Senior Consultant at Norton Rose Fullbright.

Offsite solar PPAs emerged as a major development in the U.S. marketplace as early as 2016. In that year, GTM Research found that over 800 MW of offsite PV PPAs were signed in the U.S., primarily by Fortune 500 companies that are large energy consumers or have aggressive renewable energy targets.

The UNSW deal indicates that with the volume of large scale solar being in developed in Australia picking up, the trend to offsite solar energy procurement could become well established in Australia. The PPAs will allow developers to move forward with greater certainty and access low-cost finance.

“We are seeing a strong trend amongst corporate energy users turning to PPAs as a way to hedge against future pricing movements and to meet their green energy objectives,” said Energy Action CEO Ivan Slavich.

As a part of the deal, UNSW will provide an annual $10,000 scholarship for students attending the Barlanald Central School to study at the university. It will also host webinars at the school about renewables.

In December, the UNSW community was rocked by the untimely death of pioneering UNSW solar researcher Stuart Wenham of skin cancer.