On Magnetic Island, just off the coast from Townsville in Queensland, Australia, there is plenty to do. In fact it is where we met and held Barney the koala, swam at beautiful beaches and took in fabulous vistas on the Forts hike where we saw a koala in the wild. What we did not expect as we were walking around was to come across a $30 million solar experiment that hopes to reduce carbon emissions on this beautiful island by 50,000 tonnes.
As we were walking up Horseshoe Bay Road on our way to the Forts hike we walked by the sign below.
With peaked curiosity we walked over to see what this was all about. Unfortunately, when we tried to find our way in, all of the doors were locked. Just as we were about to give up and head out a woman came around the corner and introduced herself as Julie. We mentioned that we were hoping to learn more about the project and while she did not have the keys to the building with her, she called someone to swing by with a set so that we could have a look around inside.
The Solar City project is a consortium of the Australian and Queensland governments in partnership with private industry led by Ergon Energy, the local utility. The focus of the project is to invest in renewable energy sources and capacity while working with residents of Magnetic Island to improve energy and water efficiency in their homes. Water efficiency is critical on Magnetic Island as all fresh water has to be piped over from the mainland and this process is very energy intensive.
Ergon Energy leads the consortium and has responsibility for the delivery of the project. Julie, our guide at the center, was an Ergon employee. One of the key aspects to the project is the goal to install one megawatt of photovoltaic (PV) capacity on the homes of Magnetic Island at no cost to the residents. At first I was very intrigued by this. The utility company is willing to pay for and install PV panels on its customers roofs? The catch is that the resident does not derive any direct economic benefit from the PV panels. They do get the benefit of being the first consumer able to use the renewable electricity generated by the panels (excess then flows into the grid), but they do not receive a reduced electric rate or any compensation for letting Ergon Energy use their roof space. While symbols are important in getting people to adopt more environmentally sustainable products and services, I was curious as to how many people would be willing to offer up their roofs for PV panel installation with no direct economic benefit. The Kyocera Australia PV panels on the roof of the Solar City building were not the most attractive. However, Julie informed us that they are ahead of schedule on residential installations to meet their one megawatt goal.
What do you think? If your local utility offered free PV panels, but no direct economic benefit to you, would the “doing the right thing” feeling be enough to let them install panels on your roof?
Townsville: Queensland Solar City Facts
Approximately $30 million
Project time frame
2007 – 2013 (approximately)
Australian Government contribution
Up to $15 million
Approximately $15 million (including $5 million from the Queensland Government through the Department of Mines and Energy)
Magnetic Island, Rocky Springs, Riverway and a Townsville CBD commercial building. The whole project is supported and enhanced by the Townsville City Council’s Citisolar community capacity building and education program.
Magnetic Island Solar Suburb
A solar energy and efficiency trial on Magnetic Island will be the focus of the Townsville: Queensland Solar City project. Ergon Energy considers Magnetic Island to be an ideal trial location because of its clear physical demographic and electricity network boundaries. This supports a robust measurement and monitoring program.
Ergon Energy will be able to measure the impact of the trial on the island’s energy consumption through the installation of:
- up to 500 solar PV systems (approximately one megawatt of solar power) across selected residential and business premises, at no cost to the owner; and
- smart meters and in-house energy displays in up to 1700 premises to give householders and business owners more information about the use and cost of their electricity.
When fully implemented, it is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced (from the combined Townsville: Queensland Solar City initiatives) by about 50,000 tonnes – the same benefit as taking 1,700 cars off the road for the seven years.
- national and possibly international recognition of the initiative and the city involved;
- more environmentally friendly power for customers involved in the program at no additional cost;
- potential for customers involved in the energy efficiency element to improve their comfort levels, reduce their power consumption and therefore their bills and their environmental impact;
- active support for Townsville City Council’s Citisolar Program, therefore making the region a more attractive place to live, work and visit;
- increased awareness across Queensland and Australia of renewable energy options; and
- an opportunity for Ergon Energy to develop business models that may ultimately support solar generation on a much larger scale.
Ergon Energy leads the consortium and has responsibility for the delivery of the project.
Other consortium members are:
- Townsville City Council
- Delfin Lend Lease
- Honeycombes Property Group
- Cafalo Pty Ltd
The Queensland Government, through the Department of Mines and Energy has contributed $5 million to the project.
Key supporters are:
- Ampy Metering (smart meter supplier)
- Kyocera Australia (solar PV supplier)
- Thuringowa City Council
- Townsville Port Authority
- Townsville Enterprise Limited
- James Cook University
- Centre for Excellence in Tropical Design (Sustainability and Innovation)