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Australia’s first big grid-connected solar-storage plant pioneers ‘islanding’

The remote town of Lakeland will be solely powered by solar and batteries for several hours at a time. Credit: ARENA

The first large-scale solar and battery storage project to be connected to the grid in Australia has started providing power to 3,000 homes and businesses in Far North Queensland (FNQ) while forming a test case for deliberate 'islanding'.

Conergy’s AU$42.5 million (US$33.6 million) project includes a 10.8MW(AC) solar farm with more than 40,000 solar panels alongside a 1.4MW / 5.3MWh lithium-ion battery.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) provided AU$17.4 million in funding for the Lakeland Solar and Storage project on the Cape York Peninsula, near Cooktown, 240 kilometres north-west of Cairns.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said: “The ambitious project by Conergy has helped to show the importance of combining storage technologies with large-scale solar. Lakeland is a demonstration for how integrated solar and batteries can together deliver dispatchable supply feeding electricity into the grid when it is needed, whether or not the sun is available at that moment.

“It will also be a test case for deliberate ‘islanding’, where a section of the grid continues to provide power while disconnected from the main grid.  This capability will increase the reliability of local supply and pave the way for other fringe of the grid locations.”

For this testing, the remote town of Lakeland will be solely powered by solar and batteries for several hours at a time as a form of protection against blackouts. The town acts as gateway for tourists exploring Indiginous culture and the Cape York Peninsula.

In a blog, ARENA noted: "By proving this innovative approach is technically and economically viable, the Lakeland Solar & Storage Project will pave the way for more combined solar and storage facilities could be built alongside other remote grid-connected communities to provide reliable power to households as well as businesses. This service would be particularly valued by business operations that rely on a guaranteed source of power."

Christopher West, managing director of Conergy, said: “Now that the renewable market is steadily growing more confidence due to important projects like this and investor support, prices for solar and storage are coming down significantly as demand for this collocated technology increases.”

News for large-scale solar-plus-storage projects in the country has come in thick and fast over the last year, but this is the first such project to come online. Tesla’s widely documented 100MW / 129MWh grid-supporting battery system in South Australia was co-located with a wind plant by French developer Neoen, not a PV plant.

Local firm Windlab is also constructing a utility-scale wind, solar and energy storage hybrid project to be connected to the national grid near Hughenden in northwest Queensland. The park includes 43MW of wind, 15MW of solar on single-axis trackers, and two lithium-ion batteries. 

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