Power to the people

The SEXI website details possible locations for solar power stations in inland NSW.
The SEXI website details possible locations for solar power stations in inland NSW.
The SEXI website explains the proposed boardroom structure for the solar energy exchange initiative.

The SEXI website explains the proposed boardroom structure for the solar energy exchange initiative.

The Lake Cargelligo solar thermal plant uses a field of heliostats to concentrate the sun's energy. Photo: SEXI WEBSITE

The Lake Cargelligo solar thermal plant uses a field of heliostats to concentrate the sun's energy. Photo: SEXI WEBSITE

Dubbo civil engineer Matt Parmeter wants to use the power of the sun to create jobs and generate cash for inland NSW. Photo: FILE

Dubbo civil engineer Matt Parmeter wants to use the power of the sun to create jobs and generate cash for inland NSW. Photo: FILE

Councils in the blue area have given in principle support to the solar energy plan devised by Dubbo engineer Matt Parmeter. Councils in the green area are yet to pass motions of support. The yellow area is not included in the SEXI proposal.

Councils in the blue area have given in principle support to the solar energy plan devised by Dubbo engineer Matt Parmeter. Councils in the green area are yet to pass motions of support. The yellow area is not included in the SEXI proposal.

Matt Parmeter Photo: FILE

Matt Parmeter Photo: FILE

Matt Parmeter. Photo: FILE

Matt Parmeter. Photo: FILE

The solar photovoltaic PV plant at Nyngan is now feeding 102 MW of renewable energy into the national electricity market - enough to power 33,000 homes annually. Photo: AGL

The solar photovoltaic PV plant at Nyngan is now feeding 102 MW of renewable energy into the national electricity market - enough to power 33,000 homes annually. Photo: AGL

An aerial photograph of the Nyngan solar photovoltaic plant. The project has provided economic benefits for the community, including employment. During the peak of construction more than 250 people work on the site. Photo: AGL

An aerial photograph of the Nyngan solar photovoltaic plant. The project has provided economic benefits for the community, including employment. During the peak of construction more than 250 people work on the site. Photo: AGL

A DUBBO man who wants to leave the world a better place is pushing a SEXI idea to create jobs, generate cash and address climate change.

Civil engineer Matt Parmeter has spent three years devising a plan to create a series of solar power plants across inland NSW.

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The Solar Energy eXchange Initiative (also known as the SEXI Proposal) has the support of the NSW Legislative Council, 24 individual councils and four local government collaborations - Orana Regional Organisation of Councils (OROC), Central NSW Regional Organisation of Councils (Centroc), Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils (RAMROC) and Western Division Councils of NSW.

Mr Parmeter is promoting his vision as an extension of existing agricultural production.

"Farmers use sunlight, land and water to produce crops, sheep, cattle and wool," he said.

"I want to use sunlight and land to create energy. SEXI is not a pipe dream because solar energy is proven technology.

"By building solar thermal power plants and increasing solar panel installations SEXI can boost local economies, create local employment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"The added benefit is that solar is countercyclical - in times of drought it does even better.

"The flat, sunny, inland area of NSW is ideal for solar power generation. It makes sense to play to our strengths by creating a new industry."

Mr Parmeter has worked on the SEXI proposal as an individual without any funding or support, apart from some assistance in developing a website.

He is not seeking any personal gain and is not asking councils for money.

"I am after political support," he said.

"The aim is to help inland NSW obtain some of the funding the federal government has set aside to increase the supply and effectiveness of renewable energy technologies."

Concepts swirled around in Mr Parmeter's mind before he started placing ideas down on paper in 2011.

He "looked at different things and did some research" before putting a proposal together.

"The project really kicked off around December 2012 when I began the process of explaining SEXI to local government," Mr Parmeter said.

"The councils that have already made motions of support and the councils (including Dubbo) that are currently going through that process will show the federal government that the people of inland NSW are serious about moving away from fossil fuels and pushing ahead with solar technologies to gain economic and environmental rewards.

"Dubbo council has already given its support through OROC and is now looking at SEXI on an individual basis."

Mr Parmeter said $200 million in federal funding is needed to get his solar vision rolling.

He appreciates the money is unlikely to be available "in one go".

"If the submission is successful it is more likely that the money will be rolled out in stages," Mr Parmeter said.

"Any funding obtained would be managed by the SEXI board, comprising elected representatives from each council plus representatives from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and Essential Energy.

"Councillors would have 100% of the vote on the SEXI board. The ARENA representative would have a veto vote regarding the use of federal funds. The Essential Energy representative would have a veto vote regarding connection to the network.

"(Solar) projects built and commissioned by the SEXI Group of Councils would be fully funded by the federal government.

"Projects would be handed over to local councils to own and operate."

Mr Parmeter said SEXI aimed to construct six projects, including building $1 million worth of solar panels in council areas and establishing five solar power plants, each using different technology.

"There are two kinds of solar power - photovoltaic (PV) panels on roofs or in arrays and concentrating mirrors that shine energy into one place," he said.

"About five or six years ago these technologies cost about the same. Now the price of solar panels has dropped by more than 80%.

"It's great that panels are cheaper but when the sun does not shine no electricity is made.

"Mirror technology can generate power continuously. It's the kind of technology being used at Lake Cargelligo where a concentrating solar power plant stores heat from the sun in big graphite blocks.

"The blocks heat up to about 800 degrees Celsius and whenever electricity is needed water pumped through the system comes out as steam that drives a turbine.

"At Jemalong (near Forbes) concentrated solar energy is being stored in molten salt that runs like water and creates steam.

"At Nyngan Australia's largest solar photovoltaic (PV) plant has ramped up to full generation and is feeding renewable energy into the national electricity market.

"Another solar plant is being built at Broken Hill and a lot of work is occurring at Moree."

Mr Parmeter said SEXi does not have a preferred technology option.

His idea is to take baby steps "by trying a little bit of everything and getting each technology up and running".

"SEXI wants to be able to use solar to entirely power a typical country town of 2000 to 4000 people," he said.

"That won't radically change Australia but it will demonstrate what can be done and show that the same thing can happen on a larger scale for 30,000 to 40,000 people.

"With the price of solar technologies falling, now is the time to get on board a low-carbon, jobs-rich future.

"SEXI will be a win-win for councils and their communities. Rural areas will receive a much-needed injection of money and household bills should stabilise and reduce in the long term."

Mr Parmeter said ideally solar power plants should be located on paddocks or rangeland within 2 to 3 km of town electricity transforming yards.

Preliminary mapping has been completed at 80 locations in the SEXI area.

"At least 60 or the 80 zone substations have more than 10 hectares of suitable land," he said.

"Once SEXI is funded, mayors and councillors can argue the toss about power plants should be located.

"Over time many centres, including Dubbo, could be powered completely by solar. That is not just my view. University and government reports indicate all of Australia could be run renewable energy."