Energy security at Mt Hotham

Resilience from potential power blackouts is one of the main drivers behind a trial of renewable energy at Mt Hotham snow resort in south-east Australia.

It’s an issue the snow resort knows well at the moment. Mt Hotham and some surrounding areas have been experiencing a telecommunications blackout for at least 18 hours as part of a regional landline phone and mobile service drop-out in Victoria.

View of the Orchard ski area during the 2015 winter season

View of the Orchard ski area (Caroline Gonzalez)

The resort’s management board Chief Executive Officer Jon Hutchins says besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a renewable energy system would make Mt Hotham independent of the electricity grid and provide energy security.

‘Being in a remote area, it’s about resilience, and so we have a chance to get off the grid, guard against blackouts, and provide utility for our guests,’ Mr Hutchins says.

A bank of diesel generators currently provide a back-up source of power in the event of electricity outages, he says.

The International Energy Agency says climate change will have an impact on energy supply and infrastructure. Approximately 1°C of warming can be expected to reduce available electricity generation by 16 per cent in the United States in the 2040 decade.

Pilot projects

Mr Hutchins says there are several small trial projects in renewable energy at Mt Hotham.

It’s part of the snow resort’s Master Plan that will be submitted to the State Government for approval this year.

Solar-powered lights have been installed in the village in addition to PV cells on several ski lodges.

The resort chipped in half of the cost for a geothermal heating project at an apartment complex.

An electric car sub-station was installed at a private apartment in the village, which has an elevation of 1750m – the highest village in the state of Victoria.

Further potential

With the elevation also comes strong winds, up to 120km/hour. The mountain’s Master Plan states that two 2.3MW wind turbines would produce about 16,300MWh of energy each year – equal to about 3050 average homes in Victoria and saving 16,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Diesel fuel powers the 13 ski lifts, which constitutes about 25 per cent of the mountain’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The renewable energy project will cost an estimated $20million to implement, requiring public and private investment.

Mr Hutchins says climate change is well and truly an issue at all snow resorts but the biggest impact is increased bushfire risk in the summer.

Snowmaking equipment has been used to put out fires on the mountain, he says.

Mixed winter

It’s been a variable winter season in Australia so far. Victorian ski resorts have had several major snowfalls in between periods of heavy rainfall and milder temperatures.

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