The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has confirmed a deal that will kick-start a new $40 million solar farm in regional NSW, signing a major commitment to buy energy generated on site.
UTS has taken a revolutionary approach to energy management, in a deal that demonstrates the emerging commercial opportunities available to the renewable industry via direct links between renewable generators and users.
The commitment is via a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Walgett Solar Farm for the equivalent of half the university’s annual electricity demand. As well as allowing the solar farm to proceed, the agreement means UTS will benefit from a competitive fixed ongoing energy cost, with the potential for substantial savings over the life of the contract.
The 32 MW Walgett solar farm is being developed in stages by NSW-based renewable energy company Epuron, with construction expected to begin soon and first generation to commence in mid-2019.
“For our renewable projects to be able to attract finance and get built, it’s crucial to find suitable partners to become committed customers and provide certainty,” Epuron Director Martin Poole said. “With the UTS commitment to purchase our clean energy output, the Walgett Solar Farm can move ahead and we look forward to commencing construction in the coming months.”
UTS’s campus has grown substantially over the past decade, under a $1 billion-plus Campus Master Plan redevelopment that, among other things, has delivered two 5-star and one 6-star certified Green Star buildings.
UTS has been taking responsibility for the additional load that places on the electricity grid by looking for opportunities to power more buildings and facilities with clean and sustainable sources of energy.
In an Australian first, in 2015 UTS became the first large energy customer to contract directly for offsite solar. It has also been investing heavily in on-site solar on its campus. It has installed six solar systems on building rooftops and has plans for further solar development in 2019 and beyond.
“We are committed to finding sustainable solutions to reduce our environmental impact,” UTS Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs said. “But we don’t just want to create improvement for ourselves, we want to change whole systems to enable others to also improve their sustainability. UTS has spent the last couple of years researching and creating an effective energy model to help reduce emissions while also supporting the continued growth of the renewable energy sector.”
“We are proud of the systemic changes that we have made as this model can be adopted by other universities and organisations to create more sustainable solutions to energy usage.”
UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager Jonathan Prendergast said: “Walgett Solar Farm is a fantastic project. The area has high levels of sun exposure, even in winter, so it will generate consistently across the year.
“While much of Australia’s rooftop solar capacity is on houses, and therefore in population centres, projects like Walgett Solar Farm spread our solar capacity geographically, providing more consistent solar generation that’s less subject to local weather patterns.”
By entering into a long-term agreement, UTS will better manage its long-term energy costs and cap its exposure to price rises, Mr Prendergast said.
The Walgett Solar Farm will produce about 63,000 MWh a year of electricity once fully built, enough to power 9,600 NSW homes. Currently solar farms supply around 1 per cent of annual NSW electricity demand, with distributed rooftop solar providing an estimated 4 per cent annually on top of that.
“This is a long-term investment in the Walgett region,” Professor Brungs said. “UTS already has several regional initiatives, in terms of support, scholarships and research projects. We look forward to visiting Walgett and meeting with the community to further understand the opportunities for building partnerships.”