350,000+ solar panels installed by state water utility, marking completion of mammoth project


SA Water, which serves millions of South Australians and is one of the state’s biggest electricity users, has completed the commissioning of nothing less than 367,769 solar PV panels across its site network as part of its $300 million project, the Zero Cost Energy Future initiative. 

In 2017, SA Water announced its vision of getting to $0 net electricity costs. Given the water utility spent around $86 million last year on electricity, the ambition was immense. With more than 350 kilometres of pipeline to travel, drinking water in South Australia (SA) 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 finalising 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, regarding the storage rollout. Such additions will continue until SA Water reaches its target generation of 242 GWh of energy per annum, they added.

In January, pv magazine reported that half a million solar panels would be needed to attain this target, however SA Water said today 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).

Solar modules are installed at Happy Valley Reservoir in South Australia.

Image: SA Water

As part of its project, SA Water has deployed the world’s largest fully moveable solar array at its Happy Valley Reservoir, which provides the 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,” South Australia’s Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs, said. He has congratulated the project, saying it proves the state’s leadership in renewable energy (an undeniable fact).

“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,” Speirs added.

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

See more images and hear what Nicola Murphy has to say about installing solar arrays to power delivery of water via the Morgan-Whyalla pipeline.

“Just like how thousands of South Australians use solar panels at home, we’re capitalising 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 flows also 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 added.

This content is protected by copyright and may not be reused. If you want to cooperate with us and would like to reuse some of our content, please contact: editors@pv-magazine.com.