Green Energy Solutions

Solar Power Australia

According to the Clean Energy Council, more than one in ten households is generating electricity from rooftop solar panels. As of January 2013, installed capacity of solar PV (photovoltaic, the standard panels) was a whisker short of 2,500 MW, with an average system size of 3.5 kW. Householders and businesses alike cite concerns about the rising cost of energy as a major reason for investing in solar units.

The so-called feed-in-tariffs have had an effect similar to the previous system of solar credits. A feed in tariff (FiT) is a payment made to households who sell or “feed” back electricity into the grid; most solar systems feed some electricity back into the grid each day. From around 2006, state governments introduced premium FiTs for most typical household solar systems. As the name implies, these schemes paid those households a premium for all the electricity they sold back to the grid – some as much as three times the retail price of electricity. This was to encourage households to install solar panels. FiT schemes were funded by local distribution businesses and costs were passed on to all other consumers through higher electricity tariffs.

Recent research (May 2013) from the Energy Supply Association of Australia paints a picture of a typical customer in central Sydney: “This customer installs a 4kW solar system on their roof and uses much of the energy that the solar panels generate, greatly reducing the net amount of electricity they take from the grid… this customer’s contribution to network costs falls from a total of $1,093 to just $447, a drop of 59 per cent.”

Clearly, there are still considerable savings to be made by anyone who can afford to install a solar energy system – to say nothing of the environmental impact of reducing overall energy generation costs. Brett Sutherland knows this very well – his company, Solar Power Australia, is one of the biggest and longest-established in the country and although it specialises in supplying systems to its New South Wales home state, it has a division shipping online sales throughout the country and backing these sales up with installation and maintenance capabilities as well. “We currently do more industrial and commercial work than domestic, but we still have a good, solid domestic market – mainly grid-feed houses but also properties in remote areas,” explains Brett.

The company also has a flourishing business supplying the mining industry with solutions to run a wide variety of remote equipment such as communications facilities in areas where it would be expensive, impractical and time-consuming to lay cable. Lighting systems such as LED (and a lot of induction lighting too) can be solar-powered; so can gatehouses, security cameras and a whole host of other industrial applications. Invensys’ communications, safety and control equipment along the Bonaparte gas pipeline in the Northern Territory; remote transportable power systems on trailers for radio and GPS navigation networks for Modular Mining Systems (MMSI); and vandal-proofed installations to power 53 interstate railway signal sites in NSW and Queensland for ARTC and Ansaldo are typical of Solar Power Australia’s industrial applications.

These tend to be less vulnerable to the whims of governments, says Brett. “The household market varies so much depending on government policy. It can be going really well and one day there is some sort of change and it all slows down, so it’s less reliable.”

However, he points out that the end of the solar credit multiplier does not mean the end of solar as good value, as some of the media seem to suggest. “People tend to think it’s now a bad investment but it’s not.” For instance, the systems have come down tremendously in cost. “They are probably now half the price they were a few years ago and if you are putting in a net system you are still offsetting power so you are getting a really good return.” Subsidies are no longer needed to make solar PV affordable or economically viable, says Brett. “The way it is presented or marketed, many people think, ‘there is no point any more in getting it, it’s all over’ – but that is not the case at all.”

One aspect of the price drop has been global oversupply of PV panels, combined with subsidies meted out by the China authorities to its own industry, which have led to what (if you are a manufacturer) has been called a ‘collapse’ of the price of these items even at a time when their reliability and durability have been rising. Given that it is impractical to manufacture the panels locally in Australia, this is a good thing for consumers here, although Solar Power Australia uses mainly Korean-sourced panels which Brett regards as superior in quality.

With more than 13 years of experience in this sector, the company feels confident it can advise on what a household or a business needs. “We have a good handle on how it all works and make sure our systems are reliable,” says Brett. And Solar Power Australia is insistent that customers select the correct equipment. “That way, they get a good working system that does what they want it to do. Otherwise it gives solar a bad name and they get frustrated.”

Brett explains that there is a lot of interest in solar-powered lighting, one of the new technologies being Induction lighting luminaires that offer many features which make it an attractive proposition for lighting large spaces such as warehouses or undercover car parks. Solar Power Australia designs, supplies and installs these systems to meet individual requirements. Benefits of induction lighting include up to 100,000 hour rated life, meaning fewer lamp replacements (ideal for hard to reach areas). The lamps supply a crisp white light with high colour rendering – no colour shift over lamp life. Instant hot and cold start-up and re-strike are coupled with reduced energy and maintenance costs, while there is no variation in light output over a wide range of temperatures and voltage fluctuations. The company installs a considerable amount of LED street lighting (and solar powered lights for bus shelters, etc using vandal resistant solar modules) for Councils too.

Storage is primarily achieved using deep-storage batteries – predominantly lead-acid, which is cheaper initially and reliable or, increasingly, lithium which has a higher initial cost but greater longevity – meaning a lot more cycles – and which can be discharged to a higher percentage of its capacity without losing its edge.

In industrial applications, Solar Power Australia can offer packaged pre-engineered systems (with full manufacturer’s warranties) or alternatively can design a system particular to a specific requirement. Installing renewable energy generating capacity to offset electricity consumption is “a smart business decision in terms of insulating your business from escalating electricity costs and demonstrates your business’s commitment to contributing to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target for the year 2020.” Brett suggests, though, that many who opt for solar are still doing it for the convenience factor more than for the good of the environment, which tends to still be regarded as a sort of incidental advantage.

“When Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and bonus RECs (Solar Credits), feed-in tariffs, reduced electricity consumption and a reduced carbon footprint for your business are considered together, the business case for installing a renewable energy system is compelling.” Among successful projects of which the company is proud are: an 18.4 kW grid-connect system at Bond University at Robina, Queensland; an experimental battery-connected grid-feed hybrid system at CSIRO in Newcastle; and the lighting system at Newcastle harbour’s Stockton breakwall that acts as a navigation aid to ships at night.

Solar Power Australia is now finalising a project to race an electrically powered (solar, of course) car in an upcoming series, pitting it against conventional gasoline-fuelled race cars which turn out to be less powerful though lighter. The project aims to showcase the potential of solar power with a race car that is entirely ‘green’. It will generate a lot of interest, says Brett.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 20, 2018, 5:29 AM AEST