From Holdens to home batteries: sonnen helps recharge workforce

Adam Williams began his first full-time job as an apprentice toolmaker at Holden’s Elizabeth factory at the age of 19. Fast forward more than two decades and instead of cars coming off the production line it’s home battery systems.

After almost two decades working at Holden in various roles including leadership and management positions, Adam is still in the manufacturing game and is back under the same roof of the historic car-making site.

He now leads manufacturing operations at sonnen, a global home battery giant that has set up in the old Holden factory, now rebadged as Lionsgate Business Park and home to a small handful of other hi-tech manufacturing businesses.

“Ironically, my very first day at Holden was in this building that sonnen is setting up in,” says Adam, Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador for the trade and investment sector.

“Holden was a big part of my life, it taught me a lot and gave me a big insight into business, lead processes, safety and culture, which are all invaluable to manufacturing outside of auto.”

sonnen Australia’s manufacturing manager Adam Williams is Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador. Photo by JKTP.

The former manufacturing plant in Adelaide’s north has remained relatively disused since the last of Holden’s Elizabeth employees officially clocked off for the last time in November 2017, closing a near-century old chapter of Australian car-making history.

But investment by Melbourne-based Pelligra Group in the site has seen advanced manufacturing tenants including sonnen move in and establish presences here in SA.

Founded in Germany in 2010, sonnen produces the sonnenBatterie, a hi-tech energy system that stores and adjusts household usage of solar power.

All but two of the current 50 employees at sonnen’s Australian HQ are ex-Holden workers, and Adam says their auto-manufacturing skills have been transferrable into the new industry.

“When you’ve been doing something for so long, you never quite know if your skills will be relevant in a different industry, but I quickly found the philosophies and mentality around manufacturing and business were very transferrable,” he says.

“Our employees bring many skills in terms of understanding continuous improvement, they understand safety, advanced manufacturing and lean manufacturing.”

The first employees at sonnen’s Adelaide factory when it opened in 2018.

Adam left Holden in 2015, two years after General Motors officially announced it would eventually close the Elizabeth plant. He went on to spend three years at medical x-ray manufacturer and start-up Micro X based at the Tonsley Innovation District, another old car factory once home to Mitsubishi.

Upon hearing the news of sonnen’s plans to invest in SA, Adam researched the home battery maker and was drawn to the opportunity to be a part of a global company with high manufacturing volumes of about 10,000 home battery systems a year.

“To see this site reborn is really exciting, it’s going to be good for the state and good for the northern area of Adelaide,” he says.

“I love manufacturing and the philosophy behind it, what it brings to the state and the economy. Even though I left Holden, it’s an industry I want to stay in.”

The sonnenBatteries work by controlling how the battery stores and releases solar power into the home. The system can isolate itself from the electricity grid during blackouts, allowing a household to use its own stored energy until the power comes back on.

In Germany, thousands of homes are already connected to a ‘virtual power plant’ – a sonnenCommunity – where power is shared between households, resulting in no need for a conventional energy provider.

Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, left, and Premier Steven Marshall congratulate Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann at the sonnen launch in Adelaide in 2018.

“That is the goal here as well,” Adam says. “The more people we have on batteries, the less demand on the grid.”

sonnen was the first vendor to be accredited to SA’s Home Battery Scheme, a $100 million government initiative allowing households to install solar panels and a storage battery at a reduced cost.

But it wasn’t the scheme that motivated sonnen to set up in SA, says head of Asia Pacific and managing director of sonnen Australia Nathan Dunn, but rather the state’s advanced manufacturing capabilities.

“The ready pool of talent in SA will allow us to tap into future demand for sonnenBatteries and allow us to scale our operations within SA,”  Nathan says.

“Another reason we have chosen to establish a presence in SA is the significant local ecosystem of suppliers that we can partner with to acquire components needed for the manufacturing of sonnenBatteries locally.

“Our goal is to ultimately increase the level of Australian sourced components to build a battery that is fully made in SA.”

Nathan says the goal is to produce sonnenBatteries to meet the needs of Australian customers before the company looks towards export opportunities into New Zealand, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Read more:

· German battery giant to create 430 manufacturing jobs for SA

· Why energy giant sonnen chose to invest in SA

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Why energy giant Sonnen chose to invest in SA

Global energy storage giant Sonnen is producing its first Australian assembled batteries at the former Holden factory in Elizabeth as its workforce builds to some 150 within months.

Operations and finance managing director Marc Sheldon believes South Australia is the ideal place for the German-headquartered company to work toward producing 10,000 batteries a year to meet demand in Australia and the neighbouring Asia Pacific region.

“The energy market as it exists in SA is unique, it is more advanced than any OECD country in its transition to renewable energy,” Marc says.

This, he says, gives the Sonnen company the opportunity to address challenges and be prepared for a market it expects to develop rapidly throughout the region in the next few years.

It also means Sonnen has established itself in a state where it has access to highly skilled workers and companies with a “can do” attitude.

Sonnen’s operations and finance managing director Marc Sheldon, left, Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann and managing director for Australia and Asia Pacific Nathan Dunn.

Marc says more than 50 local employees are already on the production line and almost all of them are ex-Holden staff – while another more than 100 are working as installers through the supply chain.

The company is well on the way to creating about 430 new jobs in the state within 18 months, he says, as outlined when the new Liberal State Government announced earlier this year that Sonnen would be moving into the repurposed Holden factory.

“What we do is advanced manufacturing in the purest sense, we leverage the innate capabilities in the market itself,” Marc says.

“We’ve indicated before that one of the key challenges for us when we are choosing a site is around availability of talent and availability of staff to fill those roles, what we’ve now really found is lots of well educated, well trained staff.”

Sonnen is supporting the new $100 million Home Battery Scheme announced by the State Government in September that provides a subsidy of up to $6000 per household to install home battery systems.

From October, 40,000 South Australian households have had access to the scheme designed to reduce electricity costs and demand on the network, in turn delivering lower power prices for all South Australians.

Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann, far left, shows Premier Steven Marshall, and Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, far right, Sonnen systems at the company’s official launch in SA.

The $100 million in State Government subsidies was also matched with $100 million in finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to provide low-interest loans for the balance of the battery and new solar if required.

When the scheme was announced, Premier Steven Marshall said priority was being given to qualified system providers who commit to installing approved battery systems that are manufactured or assembled in SA.

Sonnen was the first provider to be afforded the nine-week priority period – meaning their products were exclusively available to households – with additional brands available after the nine-week period.

The company describes its world-leading sonnenBatterie as a high-tech energy storage system that automatically adjusts the energy usage in a household in combination with solar panels to provide clean, renewable energy.

“There’s a reason why we’re going to SA, we’re quite impressed with what the government has been able to put together since its election and the feeling we’ve received from people in SA is really good, there’s a can-do attitude,” Marc says.

“Businesses we meet with say we can do that right now or let’s sit down and see how we can make that happen … that makes us quite happy looking at the future.”

Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, left, and Premier Steven Marshall congratulate Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann, on the company’s establishment in Adelaide.

Sonnen will use Adelaide as its Australian headquarters and shipping centre for the Asian region, and Marc says the first SA assembled batteries to be exported will head to New Zealand in January.

The company aims to assemble and manufacture 50,000 energy storage systems at the site over the next five years, after its plans to establish the battery production plant in Adelaide were initially announced in February 2018.

Manufacturing costs are also now proving to be positive from the initial cost projected in pre-planning as Marc says there already had been an increase in productivity per head by 30% as the process was streamlined.

Sonnen has also appointed a new Australian managing director Nathan Dunn to support growth with Marc, who has worked for Sonnen for the past three years, saying there was much potential in SA.

“I think in South Australia everything is moving in the right direction and a lot of very interesting developments are happening right now that will benefit the state,” he adds.

Header image: The Sonnen Adelaide team. Photo by Danielle Marie.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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More jobs as Canadian battery maker flicks the switch in SA

Up to 200 new jobs will be created over the next three years as a Canadian energy storage firms invests in South Australia’s booming battery sector.

Eguana Technologies will invest $12 million in assembling and manufacturing its cutting edge Evolve home energy storage system in Adelaide.

The global innovator is the latest company to invest in the state’s battery sector, with German energy storage giant Sonnen and Chinese battery manufacturer Alpha-ESS also establishing an SA presence.

The three companies are approved suppliers under the state’s Home Battery Scheme that allows 40,000 households to access up to $6000 in subsidies and low-interest loans to pay for the installation of home batteries and solar.

Until December 31, households can purchase subsidised batteries from Sonnen, Alpha-ESS or Eguana Technologies. Under an agreement with the State Government, the priority period awards system providers who install batteries manufactured or assembled here in SA.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway says he’s pleased to welcome Eguana as the latest international company to invest in SA and commit to manufacturing and assembling their batteries in Adelaide.

“Based in Calgary, Eguana Technologies designs and manufactures high performance residential and commercial storage systems, so to be able to bring their skills and technology to SA is a significant win,” he says.

“Since we announced the Home Battery Scheme, we’ve had fantastic global leaders such as Eguana knocking on our door to be a part of the largest rollout of home batteries in the world.”

Eguana has 20 years of experience in delivering grid edge power electronics for fuel cells, photovoltaics and batteries from its manufacturing facilities in Europe and North America.

Eguana Technologies chief technology officer Brent Harris says the announcement confirms SA as a world leader in the use of solar and battery technology.

“The requirement for smart batteries is the first of its kind and the Evolve product was designed to support sophisticated programs that go beyond basic backup power and reducing consumption,” he says.

“We have already begun establishing our manufacturing capabilities in SA and look forward to providing choice to SA energy storage customers.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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German battery giant to create 430 manufacturing jobs for SA

A German energy storage giant has chosen the former Holden car factory in Adelaide’s northern suburbs as the centre of its Australian operations.

Sonnen will assemble and manufacture 50,000 energy storage systems at the site over the next five years, creating about 430 manufacturing and installation jobs for South Australia.

The company’s plans to establish a battery production plant in Adelaide were initially announced in February 2018, when the location was still under consideration.

Sonnen will set up its Australian headquarters at the former Holden manufacturing plant and begin assembling its world-leading home battery technology.

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ridgway says the new manufacturing centre will become sonnen’s central shipping facility for Australia and the Asia and South Pacific region.

“The State Liberal Government is delighted that sonnen has decided to make Adelaide the centre of its Australian operations and the jobs that will deliver for South Australians,” he says.

“Manufacturing has been a key foundation of SA’s economy for decades and this is set to continue on the back of leading companies like sonnen establishing an advanced manufacturing presence in our state.”

The State Government says the rollout of the battery systems combined with rooftop solar is expected to “provide significant savings to household electricity bills”.

The sonnen news follows the State Government’s announcement of its $100m Home Battery Scheme.

The scheme is set to provide 40,000 SA households with access to grants up to $6000 to pay for the installation of home battery systems.

Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann says SA has a new reputation for being the centre of energy policy in Australia.

“We are very excited to begin manufacturing in SA for the Australian and export markets and anticipate Australia will become the world’s number one market for energy storage systems,” he says.

Sonnen runs a virtual power plant in Germany, where thousands of households are connected with a photovoltaic system (PV) and storage system, forming the decentralised sonnenCommunity.

“As the sonnenBatterie can charge and discharge up to three times a day, it is ideal once battery numbers reach a certain level, to form a virtual power plant capable of supplying energy to the grid on days of high demand,” Christoph says.

“50,000 storage systems will be able to draw down energy stored in the batteries to supply up to 150 megawatts of electricity to the grid, which is the equivalent of a gas-fired peaking power station.”

Header image: sonnen, Facebook.

I Choose SA for Advanced Manufacturing stories are made possible by City of Salisbury:

Industry in focus: Advanced Manufacturing

Throughout the month of September, the state’s advanced manufacturing industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

As SA transforms away from traditional manufacturing processes, innovative and sophisticated products and services are taking their place, creating new jobs and investment opportunities for the state. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Solar River Project to create hundreds of jobs for Goyder region

Hundreds of South Australian jobs will be created and thousands of homes powered with the construction of a $450m solar power project near Robertstown in the Mid North.

Stage one construction of one of the state’s largest solar power ventures – Solar River Project – will begin in 2019 featuring a 200mW solar photovoltaic (PV) array and 120mW battery.

The first stage also includes a 35km-long transmission line to the national grid, delivering power to at least 90,000 Australian homes.

The man behind the project is passionate South Australian Jason May and business partner Richard Winter, who is a lawyer based in Perth.

Jason says Solar River Project will help “disrupt” the energy sector by delivering cheaper electricity and push SA’s renewable energy status.

Managing director Jason May.

“It’s certainly the start of something very big in the energy sector for SA,” he says.

“We’ve been chipping away at it, photovoltaics have been a little bit expensive but they’re coming down. There is a boom in the energy sector at the moment.”

Jason says about 350 jobs will be created during the two years of construction, including a further 20-50 permanent positions throughout the 25-year life of the facility, by way of engineering roles and project managers.

“The contractor has agreed to source as much of that (construction jobs) locally as they can, so that means everything from labourers to plant operators will come from that whole region,” he says.

Stage two construction will commence in the fourth quarter of 2019 and will include an additional 200mW with a 150mWh battery.

Jason says the State Government’s proposed electricity interconnector with NSW could unlock potential for future stages of Solar River to supply power to 450,000 homes across the country.

“That (interconnector) is very exciting for the industry, but also the region because it unlocks 1200mW of connection … billions of dollars’ worth of investment will go ahead as a result of that interconnector,” he says.

Jason has more than 35 years working in the energy sector, both nationally and internationally.

The layout of the solar PV array.

He says the idea for a renewables project had been on his mind since 2002, a time when he was working as a senior project manager at ElectraNet.

Jason met Richard Winter in Sydney about a decade ago when the pair was working on renewable projects at bank Investec.

They became mates, eventually travelling to the Mid North and following Goyder’s Line until they found the perfect location for a solar farm that was close to the national grid.

Solar River Project is being run out of the University of Adelaide’s ThincLab on North Terrace by a team of 40 people including university graduates.

Jason says price points on photovoltaics and large battery systems have dropped dramatically in the past two years, making large scale solar projects more feasible.

“When you think what resources does SA have … we have tonnes of solar and tonnes of wind, let’s build plants here that harness that energy, connect to the grid and sell that to the eastern seaboard,” he says.

Solar River Project is privately funded through a mix of national and international investment and has received state development approval and backing from the Goyder Council.

A smoking ceremony was held on the Solar River site in January 2018. The solar project developers have collaborated with local Indigenous groups.

Jason has also worked closely with local Indigenous groups, establishing a Ngadjuri National Aboriginal Corporation Heritage Agreement and a regional heritage fund with the Goyder Council.

Local flora and fauna protection programs will also go ahead, as will sponsorship of local sporting teams and facilities.

The May family name is well-known in SA, with Jason’s forebears Frederick and Alfred May founding engineering and manufacturing firm May Brothers & Co in Gawler in 1885.

Frederick is remembered as a “mechanical genius” and one of Australia’s greatest engineers, with a plaque installed in his honour on North Terrace in Adelaide.

Jason went on to reinstate the May Brothers name and has since led a number of energy projects.

He says SA’s big renewable ventures such as Tesla’s big battery in the Mid North has put the global spotlight on the state.

“SA is the far most progressive out of all the states when you look at all the statistics coming out of AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator),” he says.

“Let’s step it up and take it to the next level.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Sky is the limit for renewables outfit ZEN Energy

Local solar designer Josh Buckton knows too well that South Australia is on the cusp of a renewables revolution.

As one of clean energy company ZEN Energy’s solar designers, the young electrician-by-trade has made a career out of Earth’s truest renewable resource – the sun.

Josh’s job is to liaise with ZEN team members on the design, layout, installation and pricing of residential and commercial solar systems.

“I undertake a complete design and review of everything from residential to large-scale multi-megawatt rooftop solar projects, attend site inspections and ensure everything is installed to the correct standards,” he says.

“We are installing a large amount of solar systems every week … with a growing number of them for business and industry, which is picking up at a rapid rate.”

ZEN Energy’s Josh Buckton designs everything from residential to large-scale multi-megawatt rooftop solar projects.

According to the Climate Council, 31% of SA households have adopted solar technology.

Solar and wind power are the main contributors to renewable energy generation, with SA now holding a 53% share in renewable electricity.

Josh’s solar story began with a four-year electrical apprenticeship and various stints across Adelaide, including installing light controls in the world-class new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

But with renewable energy beginning to deliver an explosion of jobs and a boost in economic prosperity, he noticed all signs were pointing towards a career in solar design.

“We have plenty of opportunities here … the renewable energy sector has gone pretty crazy and SA is becoming one of the world leaders in sustainable energy solutions,” he says.

Josh has been a part of the ZEN Energy squad since July 2017 and is based at the ZEN Energy headquarters in the Sustainable Industries Education Centre at Tonsley.

This year has provided much inspiration for employees at ZEN – SA’s fastest growing company and a world leader in renewable energy and storage solutions.

In September 2017, ZEN made headlines when British billionaire and Whyalla steelworks saviour Sanjeev Gupta bought a majority stake in the company.

The result was joint venture SIMEC ZEN Energy, which will improve energy security and drop power prices for both the steelworks and other large energy users in SA.

SIMEC ZEN Energy will supply the State Government with 80% of its electricity needs in 2018, rising to 100% of its needs in 2019.

ZEN Energy is also behind a $1 billion solar, battery, pumped hydro and demand management project, totalling over one gigawatt of generation.

It’s tipped to be the largest solar and power storage investment in the country.

Josh says the uptake of renewable energy is not only evident in these economy-driving projects, but at all levels.

He says more businesses are adopting solar technology with an increased interest in smart energy storage.

ZEN’s battery storage solutions include grid connect systems (connected to the electricity grid) in addition to standalone systems that will “take you off-grid completely”.

A typical solar system involves photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted to a roof, and an inverter that converts direct current electricity into alternating current power.

Power not used in the home or business is exported to the electricity grid, earning the owner a small credit from their electricity retailer.

Systems with battery storage involve the unused solar energy being stored for later use when the sun is not shining, or for businesses to decrease their demand charges through smart energy management.

With SA expected to reach a 50% renewable energy target by 2025 and a zero net emissions target by 2050, green energy solutions are tipped to rejuvenate jobs and bring back cash flow into regional SA.

ZEN Energy founder Richard Turner.

ZEN Energy founder Richard Turner told Brand South Australia’s recent I Choose SA for Industry event that all eyes are on SA’s renewable sector.

“This is what we’re calling the new industrial revolution,” he says.

“This is where the long term, sustainable jobs are going to come from.

“When we start harnessing what is the best renewable energy resource in the world, the shift in prosperity that is going to gravitate to this state will stun us all.”

Uniting Communities in the push for a carbon neutral Adelaide

South Australia’s largest service provider Uniting Communities is on the highway towards carbon neutrality.

The not-for-profit organisation has experienced a 35% reduction in carbon emissions and a $1.6m saving on energy and consumption costs in five years– and its shrinking carbon footprint won’t stop there.

Uniting Communities is undertaking a $100m, multi-use development in Adelaide’s CBD – a project that, once up and running, is expected to further drive down emissions.

Offering specialist disability rental and respite accommodation, retirement living and community spaces, the U City project will also include the organisation’s new headquarters.

Leading the client team building the 20-storey development on the corner of Franklin and Pitt streets, is 30-year experienced civil engineer and project manager, Gary Neave.

Gary Neave presents to prospective residents of the U City building.

Gary was seconded in to oversee the design and construction interface from SA project management business ProManage.

He works with local development managers Trice and national builder Built in the delivery of this unique project.

Gary says U City, designed to the highest possible efficiency and sustainability rating, will have a 55kW rooftop solar system, helping cement Uniting Communities’ role as a leader in carbon neutral initiatives.

“The residential components of U City are designed to achieve a 7.5-star rating for the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme,” he says.

“We’ll have double glazing on windows, lighting that turns itself off when you’re not there, and a central air-conditioning plant rather than split systems.

“We are going to put an embedded energy distribution network in the building so … we will sell the power through to our tenants and residents and aim to deliver power notably cheaper than they would get on the market.

“We are reducing the emissions footprint as far as we can.”

U City will have a 50kW rooftop solar system and a raft of other carbon neutral initiatives.

Uniting Communities recently became the first SA organisation and the first registered Australian charity to be NCOS Certified Carbon Neutral.

It’s also the Adelaide City Council’s inaugural Carbon Neutral Adelaide Ambassador, in support of the push for Adelaide to become the world’s first carbon neutral city.

An agency of the Uniting Church, Uniting Communities not only has an environmental conscience, but a social one too.

Its 1500 employees and volunteers support 20,000 South Australians every year through programs, including Lifeline.

While its sole purpose is to provide vital services to people who need them most, carbon neutrality is a key part of the organisation’s identity and culture.

Five years ago Uniting Communities’ management board decided to adopt a suite of internal practices to push a carbon neutral initiative.

Uniting Communities chief executive Simon Schrapel, left, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, SA Climate Change Minister Ian Hunter and Uniting Communities board chair Susan King celebrate the carbon neutral certification.

This included a move towards a “paperless environment”, converting its transport fleet to hybrid vehicles and upgrading lighting and other appliances to LED.

Two of Uniting Communities’ aged care facilities – at Glenelg and Frewville – will have 100kW solar systems installed in 2018.

Uniting Communities is not Gary’s first dip into the world of green buildings and renewable energy projects.

Aside from personally leading two local $400m water infrastructure projects, the team at ProManage was also involved in delivering Sundrop Farms’ sustainable horticulture facility in Port Augusta.

The first of its kind in the world, the $200m facility produces more than 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes annually using solar power and seawater.

Gary says there’s no better place to gain support for large scale renewable energy projects than SA.

“There’s a lot of support in SA for something that’s out of the box in the renewable space,” he says.

“People are watching (SA) with a significant degree of interest … people are starting to take notice and being a part of that is not a bad place to be.”

How the Port Augusta community helped repower the town with solar

Port Augusta’s Lisa Lumsden was in the supermarket when news broke of the town securing a $650m solar thermal power plant – the biggest of its kind in the world.

The announcement of SolarRerserve’s Aurora Solar Energy Project came with the promise of 650 construction jobs, 50 ongoing positions and delivered an immediate boost in town prosperity.

“Everybody was congratulating one another,” says Lisa, a local councillor and former Repower Port Augusta chairperson.

“The community attitude shifted because we had a new future coming.”

The news of the 150mW solar thermal power plant came in August 2017, more than a year after Port Augusta’s northern coal-fired power station closed, marking the end of an era.

After a five-year push from community advocacy group Repower Port Augusta for a switch from coal to solar, the town was on track to becoming a renewable energy powerhouse.

The Repower Port Augusta Group with Premier Jay Weatherill, Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis and SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith during a tour of the community.

The Aurora Solar Energy Project, located 30km north of Port Augusta, incorporates eight hours (1100mW hours) of storage.

Construction is expected to start in the first quarter of 2018 and be completed by 2020.

It will involve a field of mirrors focusing sunlight onto a receiver at the top of a tower – the tallest of its kind in the world.

PHOTO: SolarReserve.

Liquid salt is pumped through the receiver where it’s heated to 565C before the salt is used to generate steam, drive a single turbine and generate electricity.

It’s designed to store between eight and 10 hours of energy, meaning it can operate when the sun is not shining.

Lisa says its widely recognised that the persistence and grit of the Repower Port Augusta Group helped secure the project.

The group advocated with both the Federal and State governments, held community forums with energy experts and worked with the local council, unions, businesses and environment groups nationwide.

The tower is the tallest of its kind in the world. PHOTO: SolarReserve.

“We were able to create a network of people around Australia to lobby for our town,” Lisa says.

“We want long-term jobs and we know that the coal-fired power station was going to close and that it wasn’t good for the environment.

“Our volunteers were putting in enormous hours and many sacrifices were going on behind the scenes.”

The Aurora Solar Energy Project is one of a handful of renewable energy projects in Port Augusta and expected to increase competition and lower power prices.

“The solar thermal plant will be the jewel in the crown but there are seven other projects under construction,” Lisa says.

“What we’ve got is quite incredible and the rest of the world will be watching.”

Current Repower Port Augusta chairperson Gary Rowbottom is a former Alinta Energy employee, having worked at the coal-fired power station for 17 years.

Repower Port Augusta chairperson Gary Rowbottom at a solar celebration event in September.

He watched the sun set on the Northern Power Station in 2016 but says the move away from coal was “crucial”.

“The cost of conventional (power) generation was going up, the cost of concentrating solar thermal down, and the convergenace of those relative costs reached a point where the gap was not much – with the benefit of no emissions and a reasonable number of jobs,” Gary says.

“I pushed the jobs line pretty hard myself, as that was a differentiating point from other forms of renewable energy, as was, in terms of scale, the amount of storage (mW hours/day) that concentrating solar thermal could provide.”

“There is no better place to build the solar thermal power plant than Port Augusta.”

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Riverland solar solution a saviour for growers

Riverland electrical contractor Mark Yates has put the power in the hands of the region’s food producers.

Redmud Green Energy, an offshoot of Mark’s core business Yates Electrical Services, is allowing landowners to turn vacant or unviable parcels of land into solar farms.

By selling the energy to the National Electricity Market (NEM), the result is a second income stream for farmers and a stronger local economy.

Launching two years ago, the innovative solar scheme has already thrown a lifeline to a number of Riverland grape and citrus growers suffering from high irrigation costs.

Mark Yates of Yates Electrical Services and Redmud Green Energy.

With experience working across electrical, high voltage and wind farm installations since launching Yates Electrical Services in 2004, Mark also knew that SA was in the midst of a “solar boom”.

He realised a way for farmers to generate a supplementary income by reactivating one acre land blocks into solar farms.

So he studied the NEM and installed a trial solar farm in Renmark before Redmud’s first commercial site was switched onto the national grid five years later.

An average 200kW Redmud site features about 800 solar panels mounted over a land footprint of about one acre.

The array produces about 330mW hours annually – enough to power 40 homes for 12 months.

A Redmud solar farm among the vines in the Riverland.

The energy is sold to the national electricity grid through the spot market, offering landholders an average 10% return on their investment per year.

Currently 14 200kW sites are currently operating across the Riverland, while a number of larger arrays are under development with backing from several overseas equity investors.

One of Redmud’s first customers was Renmark-born citrus and grape grower Sam Albanese, who replaced a block of under-producing vines with a solar farm.

Sam says the solar farm earned him a 15% return on investment in 2016 and cut his power bill by a third.

He says the solar farm requires very little maintenance, unlike vineyards, and is hoping to install a second one in early 2018.

“With the solar farm you don’t need to do anything but occasionally spray the weeds around it and that’s it,” he says.

“It makes good economic sense and it’s good for the environment, so it’s a win-win.”

Yates Electrical Services has a team of 35 employees, including five young apprentices.

Mark says the business has received interest interstate, but he plans to keep the focus on SA.

“We understand the market and the process here in SA to get the projects across the line,” he says.

“Our climate is perfect ­– SA is good for renewable resources and we have reasonably priced parcels of land.”

The solar farm offers farmers a secondary income stream by providing an average 10% return on their investment per year.

Mark says he plans for Redmud to diversify in the future, helping to drive down power bills and strengthen SA’s reputation for being a leader in renewable energy.

He says software is currently under development to allow Redmud energy to be sold directly to customers, instead of going through the energy retailer.

“We want to be able to sell electricity directly to the customer … it takes out the middle man,” Mark says.

“Energy is a staple of life and we think that it should be affordable, reliable and not monopolised.”

The electrician-by-trade says SA has a big future in renewable energy.

“Renewable energy has got significant momentum not just in Australia but worldwide,” he says.

“The writing is on the wall.”

Yates Electrical Services is based in Paringa, 5km from Renmark.

This I Choose SA for Industry story is made possible by sponsor, MinterEllison.

Solar thermal power plant secured for Port Augusta

By Andrew Spence

A 150MW solar thermal power plant will be built in South Australia by global company SolarReserve.

The Aurora Solar Energy Project located in Port Augusta, about 300km north of Adelaide, will incorporate eight hours of storage or 1100 megawatts-hours, allowing it to operate like a conventional coal or gas power station.

The $650m plant – the biggest of its kind in the world – will have a capacity of about 135MW under normal operating conditions with the ability to increase that output in favourable conditions.

It will be situated about 150km northwest of Jamestown, where Elon Musk will install the world’s largest Lithium-ion battery at Hornsdale Wind Farm.

The project will create create 650 local jobs during construction and 50 ongoing positions.

Aurora will deliver 495 gigawatt-hours of power annually – providing fully dispatchable baseload electricity to the network.

The plant will go ahead after SolarReserve was awarded a contract with the SA Government.

In September 2016 the State Government launched a tender process to procure 75 per cent of its long-term power supply in order to attract a new competitor into the electricity market, increasing competition and putting downward pressure on power prices.

The offer from SolarReserve was the lowest-cost option of the shortlisted bids with the Government paying no more than $78/MWh.

SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith says energy storage technology was an excellent fit for the SA electricity system and would create jobs and stimulate long-term economic development.

“Aurora will provide much needed capacity and firm energy delivery into the South Australian market to reduce price volatility,” he says.

SolarReserve will establish an Australian headquarters in Adelaide by the end of the year with construction of the Aurora plant on a vast pastoral station, pictured below, about 30km north of Port Augusta.


The project will use thousands of mirrors (heliostats) to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a central receiver on top of a tower.

The process heats molten salt, pumped to the top of the tower and flowing through the receiver, to 565 degrees Celsius.

The molten salt provides a stored heat source that is used to generate steam to drive a single turbine that generates electricity.

The facility can generate power at full load for up to eight hours after sunset.

The project is a big win for the Port Augusta community, which is still recovering from the closure of a major coal-fired power station in the town last year.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill says the Port Augusta story was a stark example of the transition of the SA economy.

“The Aurora Solar Energy Project will enhance South Australia’s reputation as a leader in clean, cheap renewable energy,” he says.

“This is a terrific result for the people of Port Augusta who have campaigned hard to deliver this outcome for their community.”

Australian Solar Council and Energy Storage Council chief executive John Grimes says the project is a huge win for SA, which has faced a difficult 12-months of power outages and electricity price increases.

“Solar thermal in Port Augusta means jobs for regional South Australia. It means zero emissions baseload power,” he says.