An untapped renewable energy opportunity

In partnership with Prological, the University of Wollongong Sustainable Buildings Research Centre’s (UoW SBRC) new research (Master of Research – Engineering, completed by Craig Pickup) reveals shrinking ROI periods for renewable generation and storage will accelerate carbon reduction and provide cost savings for businesses in brownfield and greenfield environments.

The push towards sustainable energy in industry is happening, and its acceleration is imminent. Peter Jones, Founder and Managing Director at Prological, says that despite the overall trend in favour of sustainability technologies, sustainable grid projects in the news almost daily and the Australian residential market being very mature, the industrial sector remains ‘the unloved child’.   

The research we conducted in partnership with UoW SBRC looked at several energy generation and storage systems including solar PV, concentrated solar, water batteries integrated into building design, gravity batteries and wind. It became clear, that at present, within urban environments, solar is the primary generation option available.  

“We placed emphasis on economics from capital expenditure, OPEX [operating expenses] costs, replacement costs, determination of levelised cost of electricity (LOCE), simple and discounted payback, net present cost, and the future costs of renewable energy,” Craig says. “These elements combine to form a cost evaluation for a particular business, so they can more precisely determine their specific pathway to transition to renewable energy, with immediate opportunities and medium-term planning, stage-gated to meet their specific commercial requirements.” 

“We are analysing the economic side of the installation versus the cost of energy from the grid,” Craig says. “Over time the battery and installation costs associated with solar will decrease, and the cost of energy from the grid will increase. Through our research we can now inform a company what will be their optimal transitional investment and transition pathway.  

The goal of what is now one of the most advanced assessment tool available, after building on existing tools developed by universities in Europe and specifically California, is to allow a business to easily understand the financial costs and opportunities associated with investing in solar. Using national metering data from Australian Energy Regulator Smart meters, an entire year of metering is put into the analysis software.  

To capture a rounded view of the industry, the research looked at small to medium sized sites with 40 kilowatt systems, as well as larger 2500-kilowatt operations. Because industrial environments fluctuate in energy usage throughout the 24-hour cycle.  Craig says “different solar battery combinations can take advantage of excess solar generation for smaller operations. Batteries storing unused energy produced by the solar system for later use is helpful in some contexts where operations have medium to high energy demand counter to a solar systems energy production cycle.  

“You want to try and harness these variances using battery technology,” he says. “So, we also do an assessment based on the different battery chemistries as well as the maintenance and installation costs (over the life of the battery) to determine which year will be best for battery installation to optimise the solar generation.”  

“This is an under-researched and under-utilised area in Australia. Information is plentiful on the (large) grid scale systems and residential energy production is now quite mature, but for medium-scale facilities – solar is an opportunity, supplemented by correctly specified batteries at the right time” he adds. “Industrial sites offer the perfect opportunity to utilise solar-powered energy, as they feature large flat surface areas on their rooftops and the operating times of these types of businesses are often optimal to take advantage of the generation period of solar PV 

 Subsequent research has also shown that in some instances, with the industrial infrastructure being seen as a potential power station, the system can also power electric vehicles. In these cases, the higher energy system costs are offset by the saving in diesel. Further, the reduction in carbon by electrifying some transport tasks can be far superior to that of the operations themselves. This is not yet for everyone, but in some case studies the ROI on this can be as low as 3.5 years including the capital cost of otherwise expensive electric trucks.  

Prological now has have some of the most advanced sustainable energy assessment tools available. This combined with 25 years of consulting experience enables them to support your energy sustainability strategy. Prological are making a difference while creating advantage for those they work for.  

Australia’s energy generation mix by state 2021/22


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