Professor Ian Jacobs at UNSW

UNSW is believed to be the first university in the world to obtain 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables, following the signing of a corporate power purchase agreement.

The 15-year supply agreement with solar farm developer Maoneng and retailer Origin will see up to 124,000 megawatt-hours of electricity supplied a year from the 200 megawatt Sunraysia solar farm near Balranald in south western NSW, beginning in 2019.

A three-year contract has also been signed with Origin to manage any shortfalls from intermittency of generation.

“This landmark initiative is an exciting step towards realising UNSW’s goal of carbon neutrality on energy use by 2020 and reflects our commitment to making a positive global impact,” UNSW president and vice-chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said.

While the price terms of the PPA haven’t been made public, Professor Jacobs said it was a “highly competitive” agreement.

“The solar PPA arrangement will allow UNSW to secure carbon emission free electricity supplies at a cost which is economically and environmentally attractive when compared to fossil fuel sourced supplies,” he said.

The tripartite arrangement had support from law firm Norton Rose Fulbright and energy management consulting firm Energy Action.

“The PPA market has been extremely dynamic in the last 12 months and deals like UNSW’s have been critical in driving real change in the way universities and other users procure energy,” Norton Rose Fulbright senior consultant Kelly Davies said.

Energy Action chief executive Ivan Slavich said the PPA would provide greater price certainty for UNSW over the next 15 years.

“We are seeing a strong trend amongst corporate energy users turning to PPAs as a way to hedge against future pricing movements and to meet their green energy objectives,” he said.

The news was welcomed by NSW energy minister Don Harwin.

“Already a world leader in solar PV technologies, this agreement is yet another demonstration of UNSW’s commitment to a clean energy future,” Mr Harwin said.

“I congratulate UNSW for entering into this agreement, it’s not only great for the environment but it will deliver jobs and investment in regional NSW.”

However, the response from UNSW student activist group Fossil Free UNSW was more subdued.

While it called the move a “positive step”, it continued its call for the university to divest from its fossil fuel investments.

“UNSW still holds investments in Santos, a gas and oil company which maintains that a four degree global temperature increase is an acceptable business model,”  Fossil Free UNSW co-convenor Pip Louey said.

“And until UNSW pulls its funding from Santos, and other coal, oil and gas businesses, the thousands of students, staff and alumni behind the Fossil Free UNSW movement will continue to campaign for necessary climate leadership and fossil fuel divestment.”

Other universities around the country are engaging in the PPA space, including:

  • Monash University currently looking for 55GWh from a solar or wind farm
  • the University of Melbourne joining both a Telstra-led consortium and City of Melbourne-led consortium to secure energy from renewables farms
  • RMIT also joining the City of Melbourne-led Melbourne Renewable Energy Project
  • UTS seeking to meet 40-50 per cent of its energy use through renewable sourcing by 2019. UTS in 2015 also entered into a renewable PPA to supply power to its Dr Chau Chak Wing building