New South Wales to host Australia’s second floating solar installation

Posted 2 September 2016

Floating solarLismore will become the second Australian council to install floating solar panels at a wastewater facility, and it's using an unusual funding model to do so.

Suntrix Commercial has been contracted to construct the 99kW Ciel et Terre Hydrelio floating solar system at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant (ELSTP).

“It has been forecast to produce around 178MWh of electricity per year and reduce council's annual electricity bill by around $23,000,” said Council Environmental Strategies Officer Sharyn Hunnisett.

It will provide about 10% of on-site electricity at the treatment plant initially, but there are plans to expand quickly.

The move to floating solar came after the council committed to becoming self-sufficient in energy from renewables by 2023.

“When we conducted our feasibility study for the ELSTP we found there were considerable spatial constraints … and we literally could not fit a solar system on the land or roof space,” Hunnisett said.

“Being our highest energy-use site, we really needed to work out how to generate solar energy there.

“We realised there was a big pond out the back – an overflow pond – so we thought why not use that?”

The Hydrelio system to be installed by Suntrix has been described as similar to a Lego set in that it's modular, can be extended, configured into any shape and re-configured without tools or heavy machinery.

The project is not only pioneering in its use of technology, but also when it comes to funding.

Funding has come from investors in Lismore Community Solarfarm (East) Pty Ltd, a company set up specifically for the floating solar project.

“Community energy projects have been successfully operating internationally for many years … [but] the funding concept for this project is an Australian first,” Hunnisett said.

The council is borrowing funds from the community company and will repay the loan over seven years, paying slightly more interest than if it had borrowed from a bank.

“We could have installed the solar system using council funds or an external loan but this project is about more than the bottom line; it's about community partnerships and building a renewable energy future,” Hunnisett said.

“The interest is being paid back to community members so they're benefitting from council installing these large solar systems and it's helping to grow the renewable energy industry in our region.”

The 99kW plant is expected to be in production by the start of 2017.

To other utilities and councils considering floating solar, Hunnisett recommended giving new technology a go.

“We could have decided not to use solar at this site because we couldn't fit it,” she said.

“Or take that bit of a risk in spending more money, but being able to utilise some new technology and show some leadership which could really go towards growing new solar technologies in Australia.”

In 2015, South Australia’s Northern Area Council became Australia's first council to install floating solar, with stage one of a 4MW system installed on a wastewater facility reservoir in Jamestown.

To read more about the potential of floating solar, read the full feature in the latest digital edition of Current magazine.