Every day in the world of renewables brings the announcement of some fantastic project or advancement, followed soon afterwards by something even more spectacular.
The pursuit of efficiency is an obsession, and the queue of busy bodies working on new solutions to the age-old problems of cutting emissions and costs is very, very long.
Not all of them will get through, but the Australian Technologies Competition draws many into the light so that they may get a little closer to commercialisation.
The two categories in the competition that attract the attention of the renewables sector are New Energy and, to a large extent, Smart Cities. This year’s winner and runners-up were announced at the All-Energy conference in Melbourne in October.
Smart meters are only as smart as the data fed into them, and the Wattwatchers monitoring device aims to hit the spot for metering and control technology suited to behind-the-meter unregulated energy applications. “There is now a whole lot more activity behind the utility meter,” says Wattwatchers director communications and community networks Murray Hogarth.
Accurate data that is independent of the billing meter will be valuable as consumers shift towards smart systems where energy use can be monitored in real-time and optimised. “We’re providing utility-grade data but in real time and independently of utility billing systems and manufacturer’s systems,” Hogarth says. “The internet of things has arrived and the main food source is real-time data. Independent data empowers consumers.”
The 3G meters can be fitted to distribution boards to monitor circuits and communicate data to the cloud, for use in a software application such as Solar Analytics (as an example). The company is working on adding load control functions to the technology.
RUNNER-UP: MAKO Turbines
Lunar panels are yet to hit the market but another way to tap the moon’s energy is to run a turbine off tidal flows. That’s what MAKO Turbines has done, with a unit it’s trialling in the tidal estuary of the Tamar River, Tasmania. The turbine is just as effectively driven by rivers, canals and ocean currents. “It’s very flexible,” says MAKO managing director Douglas Hurt, who acknowledges input from the Australian Maritime College.
Turbine size will vary depending on use, with a 1m-diameter sweep suitable for canals and rivers, medium-sized turbines for islands or reefs and very large units possibly feeding grids, “particularly in North Asia”. One or two units are sufficient to meet the needs of a farm or household, he says, or arrays may extend along canal networks and replace diesel generation in island locations. “We’re working with a partner to install a network in Miyagi prefecture in Northern Japan.”
Depending on the flow rate, he expects output between 1 and 2kW, “for inexpensive turbines designed to be mass produced”.
In tidal areas the units are hung from platforms to keep maintenance costs down. For unidirectional flows, including tailraces of hydro dams, they’ll be mounted.
THIRD PLACE: SunSHIFT
The ambition of SunSHIFT’s large-scale solar plant offering is to make solar as modular and moveable as a diesel generator, says general manager Will Rayward-Smith. “Too many people are locked out of clean and affordable power,” he says, listing mines, remote communities and emerging markets struggling to attract investment. “Typically those people are locked into dirty and expensive diesel power.”
Modular moveable units cut the risk of assets being stranded, he says. “If your off-taker stops paying you, you can pick up your system and take it elsewhere.”
A 1MW SunSHIFT system might fit into about thirty 20-foot shipping containers, he estimates, and fit on five three-trailer trucks. The company, which has benefited from two ARENA grants and is a subsidiary of Laing O’Rourke, ran a demonstration project last year at a construction worker village in remote Queensland and Rayward-Smith is looking at jobs across South America and sub-Saharan Africa, all on the 5-10MW scale.
There is about 60GW of diesel generation around the world, predicted to rise to 100GW by 2024. If SunSHIFT could take just 10% of that it would represent a market of about $25 billion, he says. “We’re ready to deliver, but we’ll always be refining the system.”
The plants use SunPower panels and ABB integration controls, with a battery partner under negotiation.
SunSHIFT also took the People’s Choice Award.