SIMEC Energy is delivering clean energy across South Australia and Victoria, proving itself as a leading light in the country’s transition towards renewable power
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Australia’s energy market is transforming.
A national electricity output traditionally dominated by coal supplied by a long-established mining industry, the sector is steadily shifting towards cleaner sources of power.
Indeed, according to the latest numbers from the national Department of the Environment and Energy, 2018 saw 19 percent of Australian electricity generated by renewable sources, an increase of 25 percent on 2017.
In terms of volumes, 19 percent equates to 49,339 gigawatt hours of electricity generation, with a roughly even split between hydro, wind and solar.
For companies such as SIMEC Energy, this transition phase represents a period of tremendous opportunity to make a difference.
“This is a once in a generation movement that is now occurring in the energy sector,” states Marc Barrington, the company’s CEO.
“I am a big believer in a strategic mix of all forms of power sources for the country which will include wind, all types of solar, storage and upgrades and improvements to transmission assets and transmission technologies.
“However, a full-scale harnessing of our country’s renewable energy potential will take time, as both the supply and demand side need to build resilience and technologies need to be proven and bankable.”
Barrington joined SIMEC in 2018, the latest chapter in a career which has seen him work in the energy sector for nearly two decades.
From trading and wholesale risk management to M&A, and from energy productivity offerings to renewable energy project development, he has covered almost every aspect within the industry.
“I have been in energy since 2001 and can honestly say that I have loved every minute that has passed since,” he adds. “I came to it from a background in trading precious metals and was really inspired by the formative nature of the industry post the de-regulation of the mid-1990s.”
“When the opportunity arose to lead a business whose aims were to bring real competition to the energy market – that focussed on the smart application of renewable energy solutions – I knew I had to find out more.
“As I continued through the interview process meeting with the likes of GFG Alliance Executive Chairman, Mr Sanjeev Gupta, and the other directors of SIMEC Energy Australia and then some of the executives, the decision was an easy one to make.”
GFG Alliance is the majority shareholder of SIMEC, whose footprint extends across South Australia and Victoria, the company selling up to 1.2 terawatt hours of power to a range of customers including schools, hospitals, retailers and mining houses.
Such sales are backed by long term offtake agreements struck with third party renewable energy developers, as well as SIMEC’s own renewable energy development pipeline.
Such a pipeline is headlined by the Cultana Solar Farm project in Whyalla region of South Australia.
Having selected Shanghai Electric Corporation as its EPC contractor for the construction and operation of the $490 million, 280 MW development, Barrington recalls one of his first duties after being appointed CEO.
“I wanted to undertake a detailed review of our engagement with the community of Whyalla – indigenous, business and of course local residents,” he says.
“As a result of this review, we have significantly increased our interaction with all members of the community to ensure that we fully understand their needs and that we are a good neighbour for the life of the solar farm.”
“Another aspect of the project which I am very proud of is our commitment to offer apprenticeships. These commence with the construction phase and will lead into operations and maintenance such that good, ongoing and secure jobs are offered to the community.”
SIMEC has cleared development application hurdles and commenced early works on the site, meaning that full construction can begin once financing is secured, something which Barrington believes will be achieved soon.
Another project highlighted by the CEO is the 100 MW Playford Utility Battery (PUB) which lies south of Port Augusta, South Australia.
In the final stages of development approval, SIMEC is seeking support from the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
“Their support will be critical in demonstrating the capabilities of full-scale deployment of battery storage technologies within an active retail electricity portfolio,” adds Barrington.
“Currently all battery operations have largely been for network support activities so the PUB will provide benefits not just for our portfolio and customers, but also the wider market, through the lowering of prices.”
That SIMEC is able to deliver such landmark developments is down to what the CEO describes as the company’s DNA.
“We have the drive to deliver globally competitive energy solutions for our customers in an open and transparent manner – taking advantage of any, and all, aspects that can reduce customer costs, such as energy productivity measures and demand side response,” Barrington explains.
“GFG Alliance owns one of the largest steel production operations in the business so at our heart we have a passion and belief in Australian industry and its ability to compete on the world stage, which often requires innovative and cost-effective energy contracting.”
Barrington also recognsies that, as a relative newcomer to the Australian energy scene (2004), SIMEC needs to act and operate differently in what is an industry traditionally dominated by large corporates.
“This starts with building the right culture internally,” he continues.
“I definitely won’t profess to have ‘nailed’ it, but my aims are to have a very open culture where ideas, driven by purpose, are what matters and not what political manoeuvres a colleague can wield. The energy sector is too vibrant and too important to our customers to do otherwise.”
Much of this has involved building communication and collaboration with SIMEC’s teams, with the customer at the front and centre of these dialogues.
Diversity and inclusivity are central to these efforts, Barrington highlighting plans to roll out a programme that focusses on Australia’s first nation peoples across all areas the company operates in.
“Moving forward, we will commence a programme of supported education in order to bring our next generation of leaders through the business, something which I am very excited about,” he adds.
Barrington’s priority for the immediate future is to ensure that the construction phase of the Cultana Solar Farm project runs smoothly, the CEO stating his desire to set the right safety culture and expectations for partners working this and other projects, including staff and local communities.
Asked if recent developments leave him feeling optimistic, he concludes: “I’m thrilled to be leading a company at the forefront of the energy transition, especially one that I definitively believe has the opportunity – backed by the capability – to bring together a number of stakeholder benefits for the community, industry and the environment.
“So yes, I am optimistic for renewable energy in this country and the role that it can play in meeting consumer needs whilst also delivering better outcomes overall.”