Tonsley Innovation District in Adelaide: Home to Australia’s Largest Rooftop Arrays

Ten years ago, the South Australian government purchased the former manufacturing plant of Mitsubishi located in the south of Adelaide. Now, its plans to turn the area into a climate-smart precinct housing research and education institution, industry, manufacturing and residents under the banner of the Tonsley Innovation District are already coming to life. 

CleanPeak Energy, the company responsible for the precinct’s energy scheme, announced the “practical completion” of stage two solar expansion. 

The 4.83 MW rooftop solar system is spread across the roof of Renewal SA. This doubles the capacity of the solar system, which initially had 2.34 MW solar panels installed when it was still a car manufacturing plant. 

With this new expansion, it can now generate 7,000 MWh of energy every year. On LinkedIn, CleanPeak Founder Phillip Graham stated, “Our next project at Tensely is delivery of our 3.3 MWh battery which we expect will be online for summer.”

The expansion brought in 80 pallets of solar panels that were airlifted onto the site’s roofline back in May. Once the system is complete, it will fit 13,000 panels, 34 inverters and over 15,000 metres of electrical cables. Soon enough, it will allow the district to be supplied with 100 per cent renewable energy. 

The Tonsley Solar Project

The Tonsley Innovation District hosts many businesses and organisations with representation from clean tech and renewable energy sectors. Some of the companies located in Tonsley are Tesla and CleanPeak Energy. It is also where the Flinders University School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics is located, as well as TAFE SA. 

CleanPeak Energy is committed to installing a 10-Megawatt battery at Tonsley to absorb surplus solar energy that can be used outside the solar window. According to Murphy, “Once finished, the integrated solar and battery system will allow the world-class Tonsley Innovation District to be supplied by 100 per cent renewable energy.” 

Tonsley was the first Urban Renewal project in the country that was awarded a 6 Star Green Star accreditation rated by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). The award shows its commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction and peak energy management. 

CleanPeak Energy subsidiaries are the primary utility providers for electricity, natural gas, thermal energy, and non-drinking water, which is a part of a 50-year Development Agreement with Renewal SA. 

CleanPeak Energy is one of the leading multi-utility providers in the country. They provide the energy-embedded networks that supply the following to homes and businesses in the precinct: 

  • Solar power: At least 30 per cent of all energy consumed in the precinct will be generated from a rooftop solar system mounted on the roof of MAB and TAFE.
  • Embedded electrical network: All electricity customers will connect to the registered embedded electrical network, creating load diversity. In turn, this will allow for a more efficient network, leading to savings and better network reliability. 
  • Natural gas network: There will be a natural gas distribution network that will provide services to the residential community that is affordable and reliable. 
  • Non-drinking (recycled) water: Recycled water will be provided for non-drinking water purposes. It will be available for residents and business communities in the precinct. Through this, it can help reduce the costs of water, thus, increasing environmental sustainability. 

Residents, tenants and landowners in the precinct will enjoy the benefits of all these utilities. 

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Greener South Australia

Aside from the solar expansion in Tonsley, introducing the Hydrogen Park development in the district is also a huge step toward a greener future. Hydrogen may soon be the state’s greatest export. 

One of the best things about hydrogen is that it can be developed via renewable electricity and water. Indeed, it’s a simple process, but it has a huge impact on the environment. 

According to the acting head of strategy and innovation at the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group (AGIG), “Renewable gases such as hydrogen can be used in the same way as natural gas is today, but do not result in any additional carbon emissions to the atmosphere.”

Furthermore, hydrogen is important to the SA Government’s plan for the state’s renewable energy future. The plan is to deliver various outcomes for SA, such as lower business electricity prices and new jobs for South Australians. 

What is also compelling about hydrogen is its affordability, as it is 50 per cent cheaper compared to other decarbonisation options. In fact, there is already hydrogen blended with natural gas being supplied to 700 homes in Mitchell Park through the existing gas network.

AGIG aims to see a full conversion to renewable gas by 2050. It is also pursuing more projects that aim to blend ten per cent renewable hydrogen in SA and other regions. 

Thanks to SA’s abundance of water and wind, it’s the perfect place for hydrogen. On a sunny or windy day, the energy can easily be stored and used within the decarbonisation process.  

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