Science at home: Investigating renewable energy in SA

Did you follow the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge at all? Dozens of solar cars built and developed by people around the world have just completed a race from Darwin to Adelaide.  Flinders University entered a vehicle in the Cruiser class.

Solar-powered vehicles are very cool, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to renewable energy in South Australia.  In fact, as of this year more than 50% of SA’s power comes from renewable energy!

Solar and wind power are not only good for the environment – once running, they’re often the cheapest forms of energy.  There’s likely to be a lot of work in the renewable energy industry in the future.  Here are three of the interesting renewable energy innovations that the solar car route will pass by.

The entire town of Coober Pedy ran on 100% renewable energy for 93 hours earlier this year.  The town is home to a relatively new solar plant, wind turbines and a battery, designed to create more reliable and cheaper energy for the local community.

In Port Augusta, Sundrop Farms grow tomatoes and other vegetables in entirely solar-powered greenhouses.  The greenhouses are watered with desalinated seawater, which has also been powered by their solar tower.  They sell over 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes to supermarkets each year!

One of the key challenges facing solar and wind power this decade has been consistency – because the energy can’t be collected when it’s dark and/or calm, we need better ways of storing electricity.  This is what the Hornsdale Power reserve is doing, near Jamestown  – they’re operating the world’s largest lithium-ion battery to store electricity for when it is more needed.  (Batteries are also something solar cars rely on – the most effective cars have very efficient batteries and ways of recovering energy from the car as it runs.)

There’s a lot of very cool work being done in renewable energy in this state!  If this interests you, you might want to take a look at our Electrical Engineering degree or our Nanotechnology degree.