King Island lighthouse
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Isolated communities are often overlooked in the renewable energy conversation, but in order to meet net zero targets, off-grid communities need to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Hydro Tasmania’s recent addition of a $1.5M solar farm to its King Island Renewable Integration Project has become a blueprint for bringing renewable energy to isolated off-grid communities.

Sitting in the waters of the Bass Strait, roughly halfway between Victoria and Tasmania, King Island is one of Tasmania’s most picturesque destinations. It’s a place governed by the wind, sun and the sea. These powerful natural elements not only make King Island unlike anywhere else in Australia – but power the island itself.

There’s no connection to mainland electricity supply on the island and until the late 1990s this meant that the community relied entirely on diesel generators to keep the lights on. Now, as a result of Hydro Tasmania’s efforts, the majority of King Island’s energy needs are being met by renewable wind and solar – something the island has in abundance.

Running on renewables

In partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), and consulting company, Entura, Hydro Tasmania delivered the King Island Renewable Integration Project (KIREIP) in 2013. A world-leading, hybrid off grid power system that now supplies 65 per cent of King Island’s energy needs from renewable sources.

The system uses as much of the available renewable energy as possible, backed up by diesel generators if required, to provide stable and reliable power around the clock. It’s able to meet the needs of an entire community, more than 1,600 people, as well as business and industrial customers.

This system works by bringing together a range of renewable technologies, including 2.45MW of wind generation and 1.5MW of solar PV, two 1MVA flywheels, a 3MW/1.5 MWh battery, and a 1.5MW dynamic resistor, all managed through an advanced hybrid control system.

When there is enough wind and solar to meet demand, diesel generation can be switched off, and switched back on as needed. This process is entirely automated delivering significant diesel savings, and ensures that rapid and unpredictable changes in sun or wind conditions do not interrupt power supply.

It was the first system of its kind to achieve extended continuous periods of zero-diesel or 100 per cent renewable energy generation at a megawatt scale, successfully overcoming daily peaks in demand, a world record at the time for a grid of this scale.

In 2013, the KIREIP was awarded the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA) Innovation Award, and the United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award in 2014. Hydro Tasmania’s CEO, Ian Brooksbank, said the KIREIP has had a profound impact on King Island’s energy production.

“Over the past ten years, we’ve slashed diesel consumption on King Island by 50 per cent. That saves 2.1 million litres of diesel and cuts carbon emissions by 5,700t a year,” Mr Brooksbank said.

The next big step forward

Ten years on in 2023, the island’s hybrid-power system took another leap forward with the completion of a new $3.35 million, 1.5MW solar farm comprised of 5,000 panels.

“The new solar farm will save an additional 300,000L in diesel and 800t in carbon emissions annually and deliver even greater reliability in electricity supply for local homes and businesses. “This type of hybrid, renewable energy system is also a model for the national electricity market.

How we integrate wind, solar and storage, while reducing fossil fuels and maintaining grid stability, is an important lesson as the nation transitions to renewable energy,” Mr Brooksbank said. Isolated off-grid communities like King Island are often forgotten, or left out, of the renewable energy conversation, but all across the world off-grid communities are attempting to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Hydro Tasmania is working to further refine and commercialise this world-first approach, making the energy system more transportable and modular, streamlining logistics, transport and construction, enabling it to be deployed faster in more locations.

Mr Brooksbank said that lessons from the KIREIP have already been incorporated into other projects, such as the Flinders Island Hybrid Energy Hub and Rottnest Island Water and Renewable Energy Nexus projects. “King Island has become a renewable energy blueprint for isolated off-grid communities in Australia and around the world and it continues to lead the way.”

The KIREIP also highlights the importance of community engagement and support for the renewable energy transition to be successful. King Island residents were instrumental in the planning and execution of the project.

Local involvement not only ensures that the project aligns with the community’s needs but also serves as a testament to the broader social acceptance and enthusiasm necessary for a successful transition to renewable energy.

The journey towards net zero

The King Island solar farm development also supports Hydro Tasmania’s broader journey towards net zero. As one of Australia’s largest generators of renewable energy, Hydro Tasmania is also already one of the lowest emitters in the energy sector – at just 0.1 per cent of Australia’s biggest carbon emitter. But the team are striving to do more.

Renewable energy has never been more critical to a sustainable future as Australia and the world seek to reduce emissions to combat climate change.

As a business, Hydro Tasmania has committed to an ambitious plan and achievable path to net zero scope one and two emissions by 2025. This action plan is redefining the way we generate, distribute and consume electricity, so we can address the impacts of climate change and help keep our planet healthy for future generations.

To learn more about Hydro Tasmania’s journey towards net zero, visit www.hydro.com.au/sustainability/towardsnetzero. Or, to follow the real-time performance of the King Island Renewable Integration Project head to www.hydro.com.au/clean-energy/hybrid-energy-solutions/success-stories/king-island

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