Sydney Opera House Commits to Renewable Energy

To celebrate World Environment Day earlier this year, the Sydney Opera House announced plans to source more than 85% of its energy from wind and solar sources. It is to do so through an innovative and long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) with Flow Power, an Australian-based commercial electricity retailer.

Ian Cashen, the Sydney Opera House’s executive director of building, is quoted by PV Magazine as saying, “The Opera House is Australia’s first heritage-listed building to commit to this innovative energy retail model, joining a growing number of high-profile organizations leading the way toward a low carbon future through investment in large-scale renewable projects.”

Given its heritage listing, and world-famous profile, simply covering its sails with solar panels is not an option for enhancing the building’s sustainability. So, they’ve had to find alternative solutions. Cashen claims this is a “running joke” adding, “You can’t put a turbine on site, or solar panels on the sails. So, this [PPA] works very well for us.”

The PPA is expected to result in substantial savings on electricity bills. Each year the Opera House spends around AUD 2.4 million on its electricity needs and consumes 16 GWh of electricity, which is equivalent to 2,500 homes. Now, not only will the energy be cheaper, but it will come from green sources. Says Cashen, “This deal brings us another step closer to our long-term renewable energy goals and will deliver significant savings in operational costs over its seven-year period.”

Energy usage is expected to decrease by 20 percent by 2023 and the building intends to achieve a 5 Green Star rating according to the Opera House’s new Environmental Sustainability Plan. Already, the Opera House has a 4 Star rating. RenewEconomy notes its plans to source renewable energy will be alongside other plans to boost recycling rates for paper, plastic, operational waste, and even food.

Flow Power recently released statistics to show it had saved companies in Australia that have signed up to PPAs over AUD 14 million. Their service includes an assessment of each business’s unique energy needs and implementing a demand response to take advantage of energy produced during cheaper periods in wholesale energy-market rates.

Long-term PPAs have also helped other solar and wind power farms to get off the ground. One recent example is BayWa r.e, whose Director of Solar Projects, stated, “PPAs are fundamental to the success of solar energy projects of this scale. We’re very pleased to find a partner in Flow Power, who, in a restricted PPA market, will help us to bring renewable energy to businesses of all sizes.”

Renewable energy for the Opera House will be sourced from two locations:  the 170MW Sapphire wind farm located in northern New South Wales and the 100MW Bomen Solar Farm located in state’s south. Other organisations and entities such as the Australian Capital Territory government and Westpac have also entered into PPAs to purchase electricity generated at these farms.

Adding, or contracting, a big battery to store energy is also a potential option for the Opera House down the line. This could enable the Opera House to more closely match consumption of energy in the building with the renewable energy generated at the solar and wind farm. More modeling will be conducted as the renewable energy is sourced and used by the Opera House.

The Opera House has shown that preserving heritage can be combined with increasing sustainability. As Cashen states, “Sustainability goes to a lot of our core values. We are recognized as being a heritage site, but there is a really strong alignment between heritage and sustainability.”

A similar message was promoted by Opera House CEO Louise Herron who notes, “The Opera House was conceived with very broad ambitions in mind: to help mould a better and more enlightened community. The Environmental Sustainability Plan … is part of achieving that ambition.”


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on August 1, 2019.


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