SA Water unveils major solar and storage plans for 2020

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As one of the state’s largest electricity users, SA Water is seeking to effectively neutralize its electricity bills with the help of solar and storage. Over the course of 2020, the utility is planning to invest more than $300 million to install more than half a million solar panels and 34 MWh of energy storage at 35 sites across the country.

Since it provides around 1.7 million people across South Australia with drinking water and sewerage services every day, the water and wastewater treatment and pumping operations behind this are very energy intensive. Nationally, the Australian water industry consumes approximately 3,000 GWh of electricity annually, with SA Water accounting for almost one fifth of the total.

That being said, SA Water is seeking to reduce its huge electricity bills, which reached $55 million for 220 GWh in 2016-17 and $62 million in 2017-18. SA Water Senior Manager Zero Cost Energy Future Nicola Murphy said the panels will be installed over the next 12 months, to help neutralise electricity costs which reached nearly $83 million in 2018/19.

“We’re delivering initiatives to keep our operations as efficient as possible to help keep customers’ water prices as low and stable as possible,” said Murphy. “Large operational circuit breakers like this are essential to achieving savings and future price reductions.”

In December 2017, SA Water announced a goal of $0 net electricity costs by 2020 to be achieved with the help of solar. SA Water’s solar portfolio began taking shape with the installation of a pilot 100 kW PV and 50 kWh battery storage system at its Crystal Brook Depot, which was part of the company’s initial $10 million PV investment push, followed by the construction of 6 MW of solar at its Glenelg, Hope Valley and Christies Beach facilities.

The investment in more than 500,000 solar panels, which will be deployed primarily in regional areas across South Australia, will allow SA Water to generate and store energy on site to reduce its reliance on grid electricity and create a revenue stream from carefully timed sales back to the market.

“Locating generation behind the meter will improve our resilience to grid interruptions, significantly reduce our network charges and isolate our business from electricity market price volatility, in both the short and long-term,” said Murphy. “We’ll always need to use and buy some electricity, but we can be smart in our approach to managing it as we work towards a zero cost energy future.”

The rollout plans for 2020 corresponds to the tender released in 2018 to deploy approximately 154 MW of new solar PV generation and 34 MWh of energy storage. Last February, SA Water awarded a $304 million framework agreement contract to Adelaide-headquartered contractor Enerven to deliver the utility’s landmark solar+storage program.

The local outfit previously placed the winning bid in a tender held for Stage 1 ground-mounted solar installations across three sites as part of a 6 MW SA Water’s project, which includes coastal and floating solar PV plants.

In addition to significant cost savings, SA Water says the 2020 rollout will also result in a reduction of more than 89,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year – equivalent to planting seven million trees or keeping more than 32,000 cars off the road every year of operation.