While the use of renewable energy is gaining momentum in Australia, medium-scale commercial and industrial sites are being left behind in the current market. In response to this, Prological has teamed up with University of Wollongong to explore this untapped opportunity. We caught up with the research-lead Craig Pickup and Clayton McDowell, Associate Research Fellow at the University to find out where the research is at and what they hope to achieve.
Identifying an untapped opportunity, Prological has funded Craig Pickup, a Masters of Philosophy student at University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Research Centre (SBRC) to explore how to lower CO2 output and reduce operating costs for Australian manufacturers and logistics providers through renewable energy technology.
Through Craig’s research, he will develop an economic evaluation of sustainable energy generation technologies to both commercial and industrial buildings.
The research will evaluate the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of new and existing technologies when installed in existing infrastructure and designed into greenfield developments.
According to Associate Research Fellow Clayton McDowell, partnering with industry is a great opportunity for the university to explore sustainable solutions. “We love to partner with small to medium-size enterprises as they have great ideas. We can then help provide the expertise and resources to explore them and this is a great example of that,” he says.
The solar opportunity
The utilisation of solar power in Australia has grown rapidly. According to Geoscience Australia, the Australian continent has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent and consequently some of the best solar energy resource in the world.
Australia receives an average of 58 million PJ of solar radiation per year, approximately 10,000 times more than our nation’s total energy consumption at just over 6000 PJ’s pa. So the opportunity for solar to play a major role in Australia’s renewable energy uptake is clear.
After a review of all the renewable energy solutions available, Craig’s initial research revealed that solar is the most viable option for renewable energy technology for medium-scale industrial and commercial facilities.
“We carried out a mass canvas on all the tech available in the renewable space but many of the solutions are not in the right space or market location. Through our process we narrowed it down into something which is market-ready and landed at solar,” Craig says.
While large-scale commercial and residential properties have started to explore solar power as a sustainable solution, medium-sized sites are yet to tap into these solutions.
“This is an under-researched and under-utilised area in Australia. There is lots of information on the (large) commercial side and the residential side, but for medium-scale facilities – solar is an opportunity,” Craig says.
According to Craig, commercial warehousing and distribution sites offer the perfect opportunity to utilise solar-powered energy as they feature large flat surface areas on their rooftops. Additionally, the operating times of these types of businesses are perfect to take advantage of the generation period of solar PV, i.e. daytime which is usually tariffed by electricity companies at the maximum rate during the day (because it is the greatest demand period for businesses). Having a cheap alternative to the maximum cost in the day improves the economics.
Optimum investment opportunity
Once completed, the research will lead to the creation of an assessment tool that will allow businesses to evaluate commercial opportunities for improving energy efficiency through the application of various technologies.
“We are analysing the economic side of the installation versus the cost of energy from the grid. Our expectation is that over time the battery and installation costs associated with solar will decrease, and the cost of energy from the grid will increase. Through our research we will be able to inform a company what year will be the optimum year for investment in solar solutions depending on their energy usage – this could be anywhere between 2021 and 2030,” Craig says.
Depending on the size of the solar system needed and the cost of the grid power, based on a typical <5-year ROI, 2021 may not be the best year for investment – but 2025 may be, Craig explains.
The goal is to allow a business to look at the tool and easily understand the financial costs and opportunities associated with investing in solar. “Businesses will not need to go into the technical side of things, this tool will simply communicate whether it is a good financial decision to invest now, or later,” Craig says.
To find out more about the research so far, visit: