SA Water is a step closer to realising its goal of zero net electricity costs by 2020, with four vendors shortlisted to help with the roll-out of 159MW of distributed solar generation across its operations.

Four shortlisted vendors pre-qualified through a public Expression of Interest process in early 2018, have been invited to participate in a Request for Solution process, with contracts to be awarded in coming months.

At a total of 159MW, SA Water’s combined existing, in-train and committed distributed solar generation capacity will exceed that of many large-scale commercial solar projects.

The integration of around 34MW hours of storage is also on the way to help manage demand and neutralise the utility’s electricity and network costs, which reached $55 million for 220GW hours in 2016/17.

SA Water Chief Executive, Roch Cheroux, said the company’s solar generation capacity will be equivalent to the power needs of 50,000 average South Australian homes.

“The emission reduction figures are big too – equivalent to planting more than 220,000 trees per year, or removing 32,000 cars from the road per year, every year of operation,” Mr Cheroux said.

“The rate of return makes this an obvious investment to help deliver low and stable prices for our customers, but it will also demonstrate the way renewable generation can be integrated at utility scale, and help the transition to a low-carbon future.

“Our water and wastewater treatment and pumping operations provide 1.7 million people across South Australia with safe, clean drinking water, every day, but are very energy intensive and make us one of the biggest energy users in the state.

“We’ll always need to use electricity, but we can be smart in our approach to managing it.”

Over the next two years the successful vendors will work with SA Water to deploy rooftop and ground-based solar arrays at 93 of its sites across the state, creating an estimated 250 jobs during construction.

Mr Cheroux said that big goals are only achieved with even bigger commitment.

“We’ve set ourselves an unashamedly ambitious target, but this kind of innovative thinking can shake up traditional models and deliver sustainable savings – and we’re backing ourselves to deliver it,” Mr Cheroux said.

“Through a range of energy initiatives like biogas and hydroelectric generation, and trading as a market participant, we’ve already cut more than $3 million a year from our electricity bills since 2013, so I know we can do this.”

The electricity SA Water generates and exports to the market will offset the cost of electricity it draws from the grid and network charges, to achieve the zero net outcome.

“We recently installed a small trial system at our Crystal Brook depot with 100 kilowatt of panels and a 50 kilowatt hour battery, providing energy for the site and reducing our draw from the grid by 30 per cent.”

Construction has also begun on an additional 5MW of solar photovoltaic arrays at metropolitan water and wastewater treatment plants, including a 1.5MW system at the Hope Valley precinct, where the generation will facilitate a trial of next-generation 120kWh mechanical flywheel storage system.

Floating solar panels and a range of chemical and thermal energy storage devices are among other innovative technologies to be trialled in SA Water’s energy management program.

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