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Utility repurposes oil refinery site for solar

SA Water will turn 14 hectares of land at the former ExxonMobil Port Stanvac oil refinery into a solar farm in pursuit of achieving its renewable energy goals.

The farm will produce renewable energy for the neighbouring Adelaide Desalination Plant using more than 35,000 solar photovoltaic panels.

SA Water Senior Manager of Zero Cost Energy Future Nicola Murphy said the project would help the utility transition to a low-carbon economy.

“The site will see a complete turnaround from facilitating a traditional energy source to housing renewable energy resources that will reduce our carbon emissions by 10,710 tonnes per year,” Murphy said.

“Located on the northeast corner of the former refinery precinct, this piece of land hadn’t actually been used for operational refinery activities, and geotechnical and environmental investigations confirmed it is suitable for our solar project.”

The two-metre-long and one-metre-wide solar panels are fitted to fixed-tilt racking systems on an east to west axis, and are expected to generate an average of 21 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity per year.

“Solar panels are already being installed on our existing land across the road at the Adelaide Desalination Plant and we’re hoping to start construction on this new site in mid-2020,” Murphy said.

“During high-production mode the combined solar generation and battery storage will offset around 50% of the plant’s energy costs, with the facility’s existing hydro turbines making additional smaller contributions.

“In times of higher rainfall when the plant operates in a lower production mode, the combined solar generation and battery storage will provide more energy than the facility requires and return the excess to the National Electricity Market.”

Murphy said the solar farm is one of many, with more than 500,000 solar panels to be installed across 37 SA Water sites across the state, which are expected to produce a combined 242 GWh of electricity, along with 34 megawatt hours of battery storage.

“The desalination process requires a significant amount of energy, so putting more focus on our own energy generation will reduce our overall draw on the local electricity grid, allowing us to better manage operating costs,” Murphy said. 

“We will still need to draw electricity from the grid, but we’ll offset those costs by storing and selling energy we produce at other times. Sustainability is at the core of this program: sustainably reducing our operational costs, and delivering positive environmental outcomes."

The Port Stanvac oil refinery site purchase is part of SA Water’s ambitious Zero Cost Energy Future initiative, which has already seen 130,000 solar panels installed at sites, including the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant and major pump stations along the Morgan to Whyalla Pipeline.

“This initiative was designed by our people, and is a clear demonstration of South Australians leading the way with the smarts and skills to strategically integrate renewable energy and storage within the longest water network in the country,” Murphy added.

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