The challenge of going solar in Alice Springs comes down to the wire(s)

Alice Springs residents would pay to invest in solar farms.Independent solar group RePower Alice Springs.

As it attempts to go more solar, Alice Springs is the site of a storm brewing between a community solar group and the Northern Territory Government-owned power company.

On one hand, RePower Alice Springs wants to install shared rooftop solar power and a co-owned battery system on suburban households. On the other, NT government-owned Power Water Corporation (PWC) controls the poles and wires connecting every home and business in the desert town.

And RePower’s spokesman Tim Brand says that – unlike Alice households – PWC isn’t keen on sharing power.

Lost in transmission: the fight for Alice’s solar suburb

Northern Territory communities like Alice Springs will benefit from the government's solar power scheme.

RePower Alice Springs says power company is blocking access to the city’s poles and wires.

Brand insists RePower is being blocked from using its own transmission lines to create the solar nano-grid. Under NEM rules, the group would need to register as a private electricity provider to run cables between buildings.

This, he says, makes establishing a solar nano-grid in Alice Spring financially untenable.

RePower has set a goal of 100 per cent solar power for Alice Springs by 2030. A recent survey by the group found 80 per cent of Alice Springs residents would pay to establish solar farms to lower energy prices.

“It is very expensive to set yourself up under all these rules,” Brand says. “You can do it but it would cost you millions just to run one cable.”

The group has contacted PWC’s Remote Services Division regarding transmission lines in Alice Springs, but to no avail. However, the company’s website maintains they are supporting renewables, including solar energy, wherever they can.

“To date we got absolutely zero back from them. Over the next month, we’ll try to find out why. It’s anti-competitive, anti-commercial,” Brand says.

Solar stoush highlights importance of network links in remote regions

RePower Alice Springs wants to decouple from PWC’s network for several reasons. Then, by creating a decentralised nano-grid whereby households share solar energy, they hope to minimise line losses in transmission. In addition, a shared battery system would offset the need for gas generation on cloudy days.

A recent analysis by Australia’s Energy Market Operator (AEMO) also showed that improving network links in regional Australia would boost investment in renewable sources of energy.

Regional areas would benefit most from increased investment in transmission infrastructure to support solar, wind and storage, the report found.