1 GW renewable energy program launched in South Australia

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Heavy industry continues its transition to cheap renewable energy Down Under, with the launch of a much-anticipated 1 GW dispatchable renewable energy program by U.K. steel billionaire, Sanjeev Gupta.   

SIMEC Zen Energy, a unit of the Gupta group’s commodity conglomerate GFG Alliance, has announced the first of many renewable energy projects planned for the South Australian industrial town of Whyalla – the 280 MW Cultana Solar Farm.

The program was launched at an official ceremony attended by South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, Whyalla Mayor, Lyn Breuer, and SIMEC Zen Energy Chairman, Sanjeev Gupta.

Addressing the ceremony, Gupta expressed belief that there is a great future for energy‐intensive industries in Australia, noting that the 1 GW program launch is the first step in GFG leading the country’s industrial transition to more competitive energy.

“Today’s event is symbolic of our desire to develop and invest in new‐generation energy assets that will bring down Australia’s electricity prices to competitive levels again, as well as our commitment to local and regional Australia,” Gupta said.

Other projects within the program include: Cogeneration at GFG’s Whyalla Primary Steel plant using waste gas; trailblazing pumped hydro projects at GFG’s Middleback Ranges mining operations; and the world’s largest lithium‐ion battery (120 MW/140 MWh), which would surpass the 110 MW/ 129 MWh Tesla battery at the Hornsdale Power Reserve in terms of size.

“All of these projects will not only improve reliability and greatly reduce the cost of electricity in our own operations, they will also provide competitive sources of power for other industrial and commercial users, while at the same time playing a key role in the market’s transition towards renewables,” Gupta said.

Last year, Australian zinc metals producer, Sun Metals heralded the industrial sector’s shift to renewable energy with a landmark 125 MW solar project at its zinc refinery in Northern Queensland. The project, which at the time marked the biggest intervention in Australia by a major energy user to source some of its electricity needs from renewable energy, opened earlier this week.

This was followed by a few major power purchase deals in the heavy industry and manufacturing, such as Australia’s largest solar PPA – Bluescope Steel deal with ESCO Pacific to cover 20% of its electricity requirements over seven years from NSW’s Finley Solar Project, and Australian brewer Cartlon United Breweries’ a 12-year PPA with BayWa to purchase 74,000 MWh a year from the 112 MW Karadoc solar farm in Mildura.

But, SIMEC Zen’s solar ambitions top them all. So far, the company has inked a 15-year PPA with Victoria’s 100 MW Numurkah Solar Farm to support firm retail supply contracts to commercial and industrial customers in Victoria, including the Melbourne-based Laverton steelworks. It has also started developing its own large-scale solar projects.

The 250 MW Cultana Solar Farm boasts an 600 GWh of energy generation per year – enough to power almost 100,000 average homes – drawn from 780,000 solar panels.

SIMEC Zen expects to get development approval in the fourth quarter of this year, with construction commencing in the first quarter of 2019.

The company confirmed that its second solar project under the program in the vicinity of the Cultana Solar Farm is already in development, noting that the two project will make one of Australia’s largest solar farms. According to Gupta,  even larger projects will follow in other states.

“All of these projects will not only improve reliability and greatly reduce the cost of electricity in our own operations, they will also provide competitive sources of power for other industrial and commercial users, while at the same time playing a key role in the market’s transition towards renewables,” he said, noting that transition will, however, take time and renewable power must be phased in carefully.

GFG Alliance bought South Australia’s Whyalla steelworks last year and then acquired a majority stake in Australia’s energy company Zen Energy to form a joint venture under the name SIMEC Zen Energy. The 1 GW renewable energy program was first announced last October.