By Lana Guineay
Red earth, blazing sun, outback winds: Port Augusta is a uniquely ideal location to harness the power of the elements.
The regional centre has a growing reputation as a renewable energy powerhouse, and for renewables authority Catherine Way it comes as no surprise.
“Port Augusta is set up for big generation,” says Catherine, business development manager for DP Energy. “We couldn’t have designed it better.”
The Adelaide local is part of the SA team to launch DP Energy’s first Australian project – a $600m Port Augusta Renewable Energy Park.
Construction will commence in the second quarter of 2018, harnessing the location’s distinctive combination of wind and solar energy for what is set to become Australia’s largest hybrid renewable power station.
The ground-breaking facility is the latest project for Catherine’s extensive career in renewables.
After graduating in Environmental Management at Flinders University and Business Administration at the University of South Australia, she has played a formative role in the development of renewable energy in SA across the big three areas: industry, government, and not-for-profit.
At BHP Billiton, Catherine was responsible for energy and greenhouse gas management for the Olympic Dam Expansion; and for seven years she championed the renewable energy industry on behalf of the SA Government through RenewablesSA.
Whatever she’s working on, Catherine says she’s driven by helping make positive change and seeing ideas come to fruition.
“Working in this industry is perfect for me,” she says.
“I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, we need to do the right thing for the planet – working in this industry is perfect for the planet as well as an exciting industry right now.
“I love imagining what could be – and then making it happen.”
Once fully constructed, Catherine says the Port Augusta Renewable Energy Park will generate around 1000gW hours of clean renewable energy into the grid each year – about enough to power 200,000 homes and save 470,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
One of the largest hybrid renewable energy projects in the Southern Hemisphere, it will include 59 wind turbines and almost 400ha of solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays for a combined generation capacity of up to 375mW.
Located near the former Northern Power Station, the park will also boost jobs in the Port Augusta region, with the construction phase of Stage 1 expected to create 250 jobs, peaking at 600.
“It’s dear to our hearts to make sure local industry is used as much as possible,” says Catherine.
“In the current development phase we have a smaller team, including SA sub-contractors working on things such as geo-tech studies, topographical surveys, flying a drone around the site, flood modelling… then it moves into construction and engineering for the project, which will employ up to 600 in peak times.”
As well as being Australia’s largest hybrid renewable power station, the park will be one-of-a-kind for other reasons, Catherine says.
“The other unique thing is the wind resource, which makes this project really exciting,” she says.
“Ask any Port Augusta local and they’ll tell you – it gets blowy. But when the wind blows, it blows at different times to other places, it’s a thermally driven wind system, as well as a weather based wind system – which means there’s a daily wind profile that peaks around 6-7pm, when everyone gets home switches on their air conditioning.
“The desert-sea relationship at that location is what drives the diurnal or daily wind profile, so it’s quite different from other wind in SA, and we can take advantage of that.”
“If the daily wind profile peaks at 6-7pm then putting some solar in in the middle of the day evens out the generation. It capitalises on the connection to the grid and well matches the SA demand profile.
“The other good thing about Port Augusta is its very strong place in the grid, hooking into the highest voltage transmission lines.
Catherine says there will always be a place for renewable energy in the future, especially when storage becomes more mainsteam.
“Currently, renewable energy is cheaper to build than the fossil fuel power stations,” she says.
With Stage 1 in progress, Catherine says DP Energy is set to lodge a development application for Stage 2 to the State Planning Assessment Commission this week, which would incorporate battery storage, a large solar PV field, and a synchronous condenser.
“The idea is we’re building the power station of the future, to do all the things fossils fuelled power stations do, but using solar, wind, storage and a synchronous condenser instead.”