Alice Springs community playing growing role in energy system

The Alice Springs Future Grid project in Australia’s Northern Territory is investigating renewables scale up in a small remote community.

In the first progress report from the project, which launched in January 2020, the importance of community engagement in such a technology oriented project is highlighted.

Moreover, due consideration needs to be paid to how to involve the community in such a project, with strong community buy-in essential for its long term goals to be met.

The Alice Spring Future Grid is a three-year project to address barriers to the growth of renewable energy penetration in the local electricity network, which serves approximately 30,000 people in communities stretching over 100km from the town.

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Alice Springs currently has approximately 10% renewable energy generation but faces system strength issues to scale up to the Northern Territory’s 50% renewable target by 2030.

The project, which has received support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), is aimed to demonstrate solar and storage in a microgrid and virtual power plant and to deliver a roadmap to 2030. As part of the project, the viability of wind also will be investigated.

The first report, essentially covering the first year of the project, notes a consistent enthusiasm of Alice Springs residents for rooftop solar. A briefing document or ‘energy for dummies’ type of publication could help with terminology alignment and ease of communication, it suggests.

The report notes among other points that consideration needs to be paid on how to measure real, meaningful change for the community and help it reach the 2030 renewable energy target.

From a project perspective some outstanding issues include how to strike a balance between the ability to deliver community-level impact whilst also conducting science and research.

Another is how best to showcase the benefits of renewable energy to remote communities and provide a real-world illustration of how new and emerging energy technologies can deliver positive change for individuals and the community as a whole.

The project is being led by Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy, a flagship project of Desert Knowledge Australia, a Northern Territory government initiative focussed on sustainable development in that region.

“Alice Springs has a strong history of community buy-in and engagement with solar,” comments Intyalheme General Manager Tristan Simons.

“Combined with our 300 sunny days a year, we believe Alice Springs is at the forefront of the energy transition, and is the optimal location to test a series of interventions on a large scale.”