Melbourne is home to the world’s largest network of electric-powered trams, and a ground-breaking proposal intends to put more emphasis on the use of renewable solar energy to power them.
This public transport system’s current upgrade plan will aim to deliver the largest program of work so far to create a world-class transportation system where accessibility, reliability, capacity, safety and sustainability come to play.
The plan is said to come into fruition within the year, awaiting the impending approval from the Victorian Labour Government.
Previous approval had been stunted by the former Coalition Government. However this year a more positive feedback is expected by the Australian Solar Group, the company behind the bid.
The solar power source
According to RenewEconomy, the 70-million project is considered a ‘go’ along with the construction of 20 megawatt single-axis tracking solar plants in two strategic locations.
The final ‘go’ signal is imperative to ensure that the critical Power Purchase Agreement with Public Transport Victoria is upheld. Government-owned transport system PTV pays the electricity bills for the said trams.
The new project will be largely dependent on two solar farms, one in Mildura and another in Swan Hill. They are expected to generate an estimate of 80 gigawatt-hour of electricity per annum.
Coal vs Solar Power
The amount generated is the same amount of energy used by the tram network plying Melbourne, which basically takes away a huge portion of the current coal requirements.
Reports on whether this particular condition was considered in the Baillieu-Napthine government are still unclear.
As of this day, the decision on solar powered trams is still up in the air, but a communication cited in the Fairfax Newspapers from the former transport minister seemed to carry a sense of loyalty to the coal industry.
According to The Age, State Coalition Minister Terry Mulder had shown interest in the current sustainable and cleaner energy scheme, however, the project must also be “measured vis-à-vis brown coal and natural gas availability which has provided low-cost energy source for the entire public transport network in Victoria.”
Dave Holland, the company’s co-founder refuted this though in his recent interview with RenewEconomy.
He stated that “We never felt any suggestion on favouritism issues concerning fossil fuel with the current government. Under the current leadership of the Andrews government, this is a non-issue. It is important to note though that this renewable solar generated power system to be generated by the two 20megawatt-hour farms could match, if not lower, the coal power cost.”
“We are, however, given the condition to not increase the cost of commuting as part of the mission. As such, we modelled historical contracted and future prices.. and subsequent result has become the driving forces behind this viable project,” Mr Holland further stated to Sophie Vorrath of RenewEconomy.
Of the two Melbourne solar power plants, the Swan Hill site is good to go while Mildura still processing its permits.
“Swan Hill site had already secured its planning and grid connection approvals and can operate within a week,” Mr Holland reiterated.
A budget allocation of $3 million was already spent on the solar powered trams project with another $70 million to be utilized once a ‘go’ is given by the government.
The financial equity component of the project is with Lighthouse Infrastructure but debt arrangements and suppliers are still under confidentiality clause.