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Why Australia must make transmission infrastructure a centre of orbit for solar

Why Australia must make transmission infrastructure a centre of orbit for solar

    With a wave of large scale solar projects breaking ground in 2017, Australia’s solar star is most definitely on the rise. But while the volume of projects coming to market is encouraging, solar development experts from leading consultancy group RPS believe the nation must plan to expand its transmission infrastructure if Australia is to reach its solar potential.

    “RPS planners, surveyors, landscape architects and environmental specialists are working on dozens of solar farm proposals, particularly in North, Central, and South East Queensland. The pace of development is incredible, but if we want to achieve proposed renewable energy targets – such as the 50 per cent target proposed for Queensland by 2030 - we need to start thinking about a targeted expansion of the transmission network,” says RPS Urban Planning Technical Director, Mark Carter.

    “RPS has been working with producers to bring large scale solar projects online in areas like Collinsville in the Whitsundays – a place where transmission infrastructure capacity is already present as a legacy of the now-decommissioned Collinsville coal-fired power station.

    “Solar farm developments naturally pop up around these transmission ‘nodes’ but there will come a time when capacity in the network will be exhausted, thus preventing any new solar farms from being developed. It’s vital that we start planning for network expansion in areas of high solar yield now, so we can continue to increase capacity over the long term,” Carter explains.

    Queensland has recently committed $150 million for the development of a strategic transmission pathway in north-west areas of the state, subject to feasibility. RPS believes the expansion of electrical transmission infrastructure and projects to facilitate sustained expansion of large scale renewables should be a key focus for collaboration between the public and private sector. 

    “Transmission infrastructure planning is complex as it affects many landowners and can be subject to a wide range of planning schemes, regulations and conditions. These things take time to negotiate, so it’s important that we start a conversation now about the ‘low hanging fruit’ - areas where network expansion can create opportunities for solar development into the future.”

    Collaborating to identify geographic areas of focus will put organisations like RPS in a better position to work with stakeholders to address impediments to network expansion before they become a barrier to the solar industry’s growth.    

    “As consultants, it’s our job to ensure these projects are done right and that all of the necessary factors are considered to make them successful and sustainable. This includes consultation with local communities, strategies to make sure local ecosystems are protected, and facilitation of the important relationships between state-owned transmission network organisations and solar producers,” says Carter.

    RPS is currently working with solar producers on projects that could bring more than 2 GW of renewable energy on stream by 2020 in Queensland alone when approvals are fully developed. The industry is making good ground and achieving outcomes that will prove positive for the community, but unless stakeholders work together in a smart and directed way a time may come when the pace of development slows dramatically.

    “The renewables industry is still relatively new and at the end of the day we should be thinking about solar as a marathon, not a sprint. If Australia wants to run a successful solar race and be in it for the long haul, we need to slipstream off smart transmission infrastructure planning today.”

    Media Enquiries: Lauren Bonser on 07 3237 8899

    17 July 2017