SA Water has awarded a framework agreement contract for up to $304 million to South Australian company Enerven, to deploy about 154MW of new solar generation and 34MWh of energy storage, across around 70 of its sites over the next 18 months.

The investment in more than 500,000 solar panels is expected to deliver a return on investment in six years and help SA Water achieve zero net electricity costs from 2020.

SA Water chief executive Roch Cheroux said neutralising large operating costs like electricity – which reached $62 million in 2017-18 – will help deliver low and stable prices for customers.

SA Water chief executive Roch Cheroux and senior manager procurement Nicola Murphy at the utility’s Glenelg site.

“Our bigger picture is a zero cost energy future, where we regain control over one of our single largest operational expenses. There’s no doubt our ambitious goal will be a stretch, but we won’t lose sight of it,” Cheroux said.

“We provide 1.7 million people across South Australia with safe, clean drinking water and reliable sewerage services, every day, and the water and wastewater treatment and pumping operations behind this are very energy intensive and make us one of the biggest electricity users in the state.”

Enerven general manager Richard Amato said SA Water’s energy initiative is an exciting example of South Australia leading the transition to a renewable energy future.

“We’re relishing the opportunity to be part of a world class program like this, helping a forward-thinking company like SA Water harness renewable technology to deliver benefits for its customers and the environment,” Amato said.

Enerven is a wholly-owned subsidiary of SA Power Networks, headquartered in Adelaide. Tonsley-based SAGE Automation will deliver control and monitoring systems.

Installation of the new solar arrays will take priority, with energy storage devices to follow after the results of trials with traditional and thermal devices have determined the most suitable technology combinations.

This investment will increase the total of SA Water’s solar generation capacity to about 160MW and complement existing energy initiatives like biogas and hydroelectric generation.

Following an initial $10 million investment in December 2017, the construction of 6MW of solar at SA Water’s Glenelg, Hope Valley and Christies Beach facilities is nearing completion, and will connect to the National Electricity Market in coming months.