Hybrid solar solutions promise affordable energy: First the outback, next the grid

Solar hybrid plants are tipped as the next big thing in large-scale solar in Australia. With utilities unlikely to commission major solar farms on the main grid – mostly due to overcapacity and an interest in protecting existing fossil fuel generators – the most likely developments are likely to take place off-grid or in remote areas.

This is where solar-hybrid systems can play a significant role, delivering a major reduction in costs and logistics problems by reducing the amount of diesel or gas needed at a remote location.

However, remote projects such as mine sites don’t often have a long enough “project” life to justify the installation of a solar plant – which might have a 15-25 year return on investment, compared to 5-10 years for a mine.

Hence the interest in a hybrid solar-diesel power system that could constructed off-site, and would be stackable, storable and quick to set up or break down.

Construction company Laing O’Rourke has won $461,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to develop the concept.

“The permanent and long-term nature of solar installations is currently a giant barrier to their use off-grid, particularly in mining operations,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht in a media statement on Wednesday.

“A portable hybrid system, constructed off-site and easily transportable, could be a real game changer for off-grid locations in Australia and beyond.”

Frischknecht also pointed to the potential such an energy solution could offer for export and use in emergency situations; as well as offering a cheaper, more cost-effective energy source that would “unshackle off-grid locations” from their reliance on trucked-in diesel.

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd