Gippsland Water’s latest $3 million project sees the utility switching on more than 2,000 solar panels at its largest wastewater treatment plant, the Gippsland Water Factory in Morwell.
The site treats 20 million litres of wastewater from nine towns and major industries each day, servicing the needs of more than 48,000 customers and 300 local businesses. The latest solar panel installation was another important step towards the organisation’s target of being fully powered by renewable energy by 2025.
Now that the system is installed and running, Gippsland Water is in the unique position of having three types of renewable energy powering the water factory. The site was already powered in part by a biogas co-generation engine, which uses gases produced from the wastewater treatment process to generate power, as well as a hydroelectric generator, which captures energy from water.
This mix of renewable energy sources reduces the organisation’s electricity costs, saving almost a million dollars every year, keeping downward pressure on Gippsland Water’s customers’ bills. Gippsland Water uses a dedicated and purpose-built control system to manage the combination of the three renewable generators on a daily basis.
Why this site for a large-scale solar project?
The Gippsland Water Factory is Gippsland Water’s most energy intensive facility to operate, making up about 35 per cent of the organisation’s total electricity consumption. This makes it an obvious target for large-scale renewable energy projects.
The site was also a good option for a solar installation because it didn’t require preparation. This meant that a ground mounted installation was straightforward and easier to execute.
Gippsland Water found promising results when it researched how the site’s existing hydroelectric generator and biogas generator could work together with a solar installation. These insights, combined with assessments of the organisation’s energy generation opportunities and consideration of renewable and financial returnon-investment, indicated that the project had strong potential to bring multiple benefits.
Research and consultation
Working within construction environmental management plans and environmental and cultural heritage studies enabled Gippsland Water to manage the risks to the environment and heritage values of the area, ensuring that the project had minimal environmental impact.
Once the research phase was complete, Gippsland Water embarked on a consultation phase before progressing the project. The consultation involved meeting with and providing information to direct neighbors of the property, as well as early engagement with stakeholders including the local council, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.
A great result
The new solar system produces enough energy at its peak capacity to completely power the site, which is capable of consuming 2,000kW of electricity at any time. With the new solar installation, the total generation capacity of the site reaches 3,040kW, which is comprised of:
- 1,125kW produced by an embedded diesel generator
- 330kW via the biogas generator
- 385kW from the hydroelectric generator
- 1,200kW generated via the solar system
By using the biogas generator, hydro generator and solar system at the same time, the Gippsland Water Factory can potentially generate more than 1,000kW of excess energy to go back into the grid.
In times of critically high demand in the grid, the site’s diesel generator can be turned on by the Australian network operator as a back-up.
The Gippsland Water Factory is the organisation’s seventh site to be powered by solar, with systems already installed at the Warragul, Traralgon and Tyers water treatment plants, Warragul and Moe wastewater treatment plants, and the Traralgon office.
While the planning process was extensive and detailed, the outcomes are significant. Coordinating energy generation technologies is complex and takes a lot of careful planning to ensure that everything is operating smoothly.
Network protection requirements were onerous for this project because the energy generation capacity exceeds 1,500kW. Gippsland Water had to learn about controlled tripping with other network protection equipment, which gives the distributed network provider control over electricity generation at the site.
This meant that Gippsland Water had to understand the impact it would have on site operation and electricity generation if the network tripped, and make sure the site would continue to have reliable energy sources at all times.
Gippsland Water has already seen the benefits of this learning process in subsequent projects and is keen to openly share its experience and learnings with others in the sector.
For more information on Gippsland Water’s renewable energy sources, visit www.gippswater.com.au/climate-change.