Interview: “Reutilise and repurpose the land”, solar farming builds momentum in SA

Share

pv magazine Australia: Late last month the announcement was made that Yates Electrical Services had hit the 50 solar project milestone in South Australia, as a part of the Redmud Green Energy (RGE) project. What’s been the key to this success?

Mark Yates: The transition to renewables is a global change, I think the lack of understanding of a new industry is generally the biggest challenge, once it is socially accepted and understood peoples’ opinions begin to change. If you can provide a solid business case this also assists in peoples’ decisions to invest and proceed in solar farming.

How do you go about convincing landowners to become solar generators? 

I guess building our own ground mounted farm initially was a good test site and indicator that we could deliver the turn key project but also understood the financials behind the farm.  Being able to present existing projects as demonstrative of our capability made much simpler for clients to invest in our projects. Initially, we commenced with some joint ventures with land owners, however once clients understood the process we found they were opting to move forward on their own for their second and third farms. 

RGE encourages farmers to have a rethink in terms of traditional farming practices and branch out into a new market – energy. What are the community impacts in rural South Australia and can such an impact be replicated? 

Growing up in a small regional farming community you get to experience good and bad cycles in farming. There is always a heavy dependance on water in irrigated farming communities, in times of drought it can leave farms heavily exposed. In some instances farmers have actually sold off their water entitlements and removed themselves from farming altogether. 

In our community this left a number of parcels of baron land, and hence it was one of the main drivers for our business to introduce solar farming – to reutilise and repurpose the land.  This saw the introduction of new markets to our area, not only did it generate regional job opportunities but it assisted farmers in diversifying their farming practise – ultimately mitigating the risk and sole dependence on water.

RGE projects are designed to export the generated energy into the grid. How do you do that, particularly given we’ve seen regulators becoming increasingly cautious when it comes to grid feed in from renewable projects? 

We have been involved in construction of a number of large scale renewable projects for more than 10 years now. This ultimately provided us a good base to start. Understanding the Council and Local Distribution Networks process has been no easy task, and we’ve broken a lot of ice along the way. 

What solar component companies does RGE work with? 

We have established supply chains from overseas suppliers and provide all of our services in house, from design, procurement, construction, commissioning and now the energy retailing back into the wholesale market through our small generation aggregator licence with AEMO. 

Do you have plans to expand interstate?

At this stage we will focus on South Australia. Once there is no more network capacity left we will look to branch into other states.

Innovative companies like Planet Ark Power have developed technologies that can manage voltage distribution of excess solar energy to the grid. What do technologies like this mean for RGE in terms of a potential future in which the company won’t be limited to high voltage capacity areas?

In South Australia, SA Power Networks control the distribution network, once you understand what they require it’s easy. However, we are starting to notice additional requirements from the network where SCADA and Reactive Power Control is required. I feel no-one has the complete solution and there is some learning to be done by everyone.

You describe the projects you develop as being a “battery-ready solution”. What partnerships does RGE have in the storage industry, how do you see the storage industry evolving in Australia? 

Yeah, all of the sites are battery ready. We have placed the order for a Tesla PowerPack 2 and are anticipating the addition of this battery to one of our sites in Q3 this year. Once we have ironed out the bugs we will look to replicate this across all of our sites. Ultimately we anticipate the wholesale price of energy will flatten to zero or possibly even negative, hence the reason we are looking to add storage so we can collect the solar generated during the middle of the day and provide it back to the network in peak times when the demand and prices are greater.

Beyond storage, what’s next for RGE? 

We have recently lodged our market customer application with the AER [Australian Energy Regulator], which will allow us to onboard end customers directly. We will look to utilise our PV generation assets to provide direct off-take agreements with local business that consume energy in our community, allowing the wealth, jobs and revenue to circulate and promote within the local community.

Interview by Blake Matich