Genex Power: Developing world first power infrastructure for the north

A 100-year-old gold mine, 270 kilometres northwest of Townsville in Queensland, is now home to one of Australia’s most exciting energy projects—Genex Power’s $1 billion Kidston solar and pumped hydro energy hub.

Supported by ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the project has been designated as critical infrastructure by the Queensland Government and Stage Two is in full due diligence for potential support from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

The project is transforming a remote site, which was once Australia’s largest gold mine, into a 21st century renewable energy hub. It will use the valuable infrastructure left behind after the mine’s closure and the region’s high solar radiation levels to supply the national electricity grid via Townsville.

By 2021, the Kidston facility will be using around 3.5 million solar panels and two water reservoirs to sustainably generate, store and transmit reliable and affordable power.

Stage One of the project will supply 50 megawatts of power by the end of 2017, enough to power 26,000 homes. Stage Two, scheduled to commence in June 2018, in a world-first, will use pumped hydro to store solar generated power, with the capacity to produce 520 megawatts of power, enough to supply over 200,000 homes.

“Our energy project will assist the supply of affordable and reliable power in the north Queensland region and into the national grid,” says Genex Power’s Executive Director Simon Kidston.

“We will be able to provide reliable, renewable energy on tap during peak demand periods, supressing power prices and stabilising the grid.”

“It will also encourage other renewable energy projects to start up nearby and will open up opportunities for other businesses.”

The legacy of the old gold mine to the Kidston project includes an existing airstrip, good road access to Townsville and Cairns, onsite accommodation, electricity transmission lines into the national grid via Townsville and permits and regulatory approvals.

The jewel in the project’s crown is two 300-metre-deep disused mine pits situated in very stable, hard rock. They will be used for pumped hydro, creating a giant ‘water battery’ so that the solar power generated when it is sunny can be stored and supplied to the national grid during peak demand periods.

“Pumped storage hydro, which is in use, for example in the Snowy Hydro scheme, makes intermittent solar power available as and when required which is what the grid needs up in north Queensland,” Mr Kidston says.

“We will use the two pits or reservoirs, an upper pit and a lower pit. Solar power will be used to pumped water to the upper pit, and hydro power will be generated when we drop the water down into the lower pit.”

Already 35,000 solar panels are being installed on the Kidston site each week, and what was once a mining ghost town, is now thriving.

One hundred and twenty workers are employed on the project with the majority living onsite, and that figure will rise to 500 in Stage Two, with a remaining 25 to 30 people required to manage the facility in the long-term.

“We want to provide jobs to surrounding, local communities,” Mr Kidston says.

“Pumped storage hydro facilities have very long lives so this asset should still be operating for 100 years or more, underpinning stable power supply in the north.”

Read more at genexpower.com.au.

Image: In October 2017, 35,000 solar panels were being installed on the Kidston solar and pumped hydro site each week.

Published: 16 October 2017