As the largest isolated off-grid solar program in Aboriginal communities, the Solar Energy Transformation Program (SETuP) is a world-first.

Power and Water has been incorporating solar energy technology into our business for the past twenty years. Now, we’re building on that experience through the delivery of SETuP and transforming the way we supply energy to remote communities with hybrid solar/diesel power generation becoming an integral focus.

SETuP has seen the rollout of 10 megawatts (MW) of solar to benefit 25 communities serviced by our subsidiary, Indigenous Essential Services. The solar arrays generate enough power for about 1750 remote houses, reducing reliance on diesel fuel.

The $59 million program is co-funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It includes $27.5 million financed through the Northern Territory Government.

In most communities, the solar array is built in a dedicated compound.

Power from the solar panels is fed into the local grid, without the use of battery storage. The existing diesel generation at the powerhouse continues to run but allows the solar to take up a large portion of daytime load while the sun is shining.

As a result, the diesel generators will do less work, resulting in 15 per cent fuel savings.

As part of SETuP, we also installed a 1MW solar facility and a 2MWh battery at the Daly River Power Station to allow clean energy production to meet 50 per cent of the community’s annual electricity needs.

This project provides Daly River, including the community of Nauiyu, an even greater amount of solar contribution through the storage of solar power. The battery system provides 100 per cent of electricity demand during the day, allowing the diesel generators to be turned off.

The construction of SETuP supported a number of jobs across the Territory and included a focus on maximising opportunities for local enterprises and Aboriginal employment.

Some additional benefits from the program over its 25-year design life include:

  • improved local air quality
  • reduced long haul transport
  • upskilling of Essential Service Operators
  • fewer trucks entering communities
  • reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • protection from diesel price escalation
  • 94 million litres of diesel savings over the life of the program
  • 10 MW of solar capacity across 25 communities
  • opportunities for Aboriginal employment and Aboriginal-owned companies throughout the
  • program rollout.

The 25 communities under the program are:
  1. Apatula (Finke)
  2. Areyonga
  3. Arlparra
  4. Atitjere (Hart’s Range)
  5. Bulman
  6. Daly River (photovoltaic - PV)
  7. Galiwinku (Elcho Island)
  8. Gapuwiyak (Lake Evella)
  9. Gunbalanya (Oenpelli)
  10. Kaltukatjara (Docker River)
  11. Kintore
  12. Lajamanu
  13. Maningrida
  14. Milingimbi
  15. Milyakburra
  16. Minjilang (Croker Island)
  17. Minyerri (Hodgson Downs)
  18. Mt Liebig
  19. Ngukurr
  20. Nyirripi
  21. Ramingining
  22. Titjikala (Maryvale)
  23. Warruwi (Goulburn Island)
  24. Wurrumiyanga (Bathurst Island)
  25. Yuendumu

Solar SETuP- Solar Energy Transformation Program Overview

Solar SETuP (Solar Energy Transformation Program) – Daly River Solar Array and Energy Storage System

What’s next?

We’re continuing to work to capitalise on the lessons learned from SETuP and participate in knowledge-sharing activities.

The experience gained from the SETuP rollout has resulted in additional solar arrays being incorporated into other remote sites where we deliver services, such as Timber Creek and Borroloola.

We will continue to assess a range of renewable and low emission energy source options and embed these lessons into future energy supply plans.

Frequently asked questions

The Solar Energy Transformation Program (SETuP) is a $59 million program, which is integrating 10MW of solar with existing power stations in remote communities. SETuP is jointly funded by ARENA and the Northern Territory Government.

The communities benefiting from Solar SETuP already produce power through diesel generators. The size and growth of a community dictates how many generators are in the powerhouse, but there are typically three of increasing size.

In order to add solar to the power generation, the solar farm is connected to the powerhouse and all electricity from the solar farm and the generator is controlled from the powerhouse. The system self-regulates, so that when solar power is available, it can be accessed.

There is built in protection in the system so that the diesel generators can be called upon when cloud cover passes over the panels, or when solar is not otherwise available, such as at night. The reliability of power in the community will remain the same.

Yes. In a community ‘network’, there is a fixed amount of power that can be generated through rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. That amount varies depending on how much has already been installed. In some communities, the amount of available rooftop PV has already been installed. Refer to our website for further information about available PV in communities.

If the amount of rooftop PV installed is greater than the limit, it can create instability in the grid and subsequent blackouts. This is because the load on the power system can change rapidly. For example: if a cloud moves quickly over the community and all solar generation stops at once, and then the cloud rapidly moves again, the rapid change in load can cause the grid to shut down.

We approve private solar in communities on a ‘first come, first served’ basis in communities that still have available capacity.

The price of power, or tariff, is set by the Northern Territory Government and this won’t change.

Savings on diesel use from SETuP will assist in covering the ongoing costs of the arrays, and remaining savings are reinvested into remote service delivery. This project serves as a hedge against rising diesel prices.

Solar panels work by absorbing the sun’s light and heat. As we tilt the panels to make the most of the sun, we also assess the reflected glare to ensure pilots are not distracted by our arrays as they fly in and out of the community. The panels are glass, so touching them in the full heat of the day would just feel like having your hand on the windscreen of your car.

Some communities in the tropics have high annual rainfall and the panels will be consequently ‘washed’ during the wet. Other communities have low annual rainfall and are known to be dusty.  We have modelled for a small loss of efficiency in the system due to dust build-up on the panel surface. That loss is not significant in the scheme of overall generation.

Additionally, as the central Australian communities generally rely on ground water for their water source, there is the ‘hard water’ factor to consider. Just as the mineral content can build up in your kettle, the build-up on panels if they were washed with ‘hard’ water would, over time, reduce their efficiency more than the dust. Dust gets washed away, but lime scale doesn’t.

Resources

The project was supported by the Australian Government through ARENA, to make renewable energy technologies more affordable and increase the amount used in Australia.

We are committed to sharing our knowledge for the benefit of other communities.  We have developed a comprehensive handbook and ASIM model tool about solar/diesel power generation in remote communities.

Solar Diesel Mini-Grid Handbook

The Handbook has been developed to provide information about key technical, design, implementation and operational considerations for solar/diesel hybrid mini-grid systems in remote Australia, with a particular focus on the NT context.

ASIM

ASIM is a flexible open-source modelling tool that has been developed to simulate solar/diesel power system operation and conduct analysis of its technical and financial performance.

The ASIM model tool and supporting user documentation are available for download:

  • ASIM Configuration Guide PDF - 1.7 MB
    Outlines more detailed simulation options and examples.
  • ASIM GitHub Download Guide PDF - 245.1 KB
    Outlines how to access ASIM via the GitHub webpage.
  • ASIM Quick Start Manual PDF - 799.0 KB
    Outlines how to run a simple ASIM simulation to enable a new user get started with ASIM relatively quickly.
  • ASIM Reference Manual PDF - 1.1 MB
    Presents information on how the model is configured, including parameter lists and definitions and control methods and explains how various model functions work.

More information about SETuP is also available in ARENA's Knowledge Bank.