High-efficiency solar technology

The Australian Government confirming bipartisan support to the Large-Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) has the potential to unlock significant investment into the large-scale solar photovoltaic market in Australia.

This news is especially positive for large-scale solar developers given the current high market price of Large-Scale Generation Certificates (LGCs), because it could accelerate financial returns of large-scale solar plants.

The support may also increase adoption of merchant solar power plants, which would sell clean energy into competitive wholesale markets without requiring the security of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

As a result, numerous Australian Distribution Network Service Providers (DNSPs) are now considering proposals from renewable project developers in order to provide support to their networks. In addition, some energy retailers are offering PPAs to clean energy plants that are already in operation, as well as establishing funds to encourage development of large-scale renewable energy projects.

While this does show new support for clean energy in Australia, SunPower Corporation Australia’s Andrew Gilhooly tells ES&D it’s important to understand some key elements that can help ensure a large-scale solar plant will be successful in attracting financing and securing a PPA – which has been challenging in Australia due to inherent uncertainties in political support for various bodies such as the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“It’s important to find the right solar technology partner to minimise risk and provide confidence that the system will deliver the amount of energy expected over its lifetime in order for project proponents to meet their required returns on their investments,” Andrew says.

For Andrew, this confidence can be achieved through specification of bankable, well-warranted, reliable solar products, backed by a financially stable company.

“There are steps industry can take to guarantee operational confidence and rapid issue resolution over the system’s lifetime. Equally important is getting the project built on time and on budget, with the utmost quality control,” he says.

“Identifying a reliable operations and maintenance provider helps ensure maximum energy production from the project.”

Another focus in planning for a successful solar energy project is ensuring the cost of delivered energy will be low enough to meet the PPA strike price, while still delivering the required profit margin to the plant operator. This is where high-efficiency solar technology comes in, Andrew says.

“Although upfront costs can be slightly more for high-efficiency solar panels, they often provide the lowest cost of energy over time due to superior performance throughout their working life, as well as in hot and low light or cloudy conditions, compared to conventional solar energy solutions.

“High-efficiency solar panel manufacturers like SunPower, for example, often employ Six Sigma, Statistical Process Control, Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) and other rigorous quality control measures on their automated solar cell binning, which results in tighter and more reliable performance tolerances of their end products.”

High-efficiency solar panels also do not incur light-induced degradation (LID), and demonstrate substantially lower annual degradation – sometimes as low as -0.25 per cent compared to 0.7-1.25 per cent for conventional solar solutions.

“Attaching high efficiency panels to a single-axis tracker, such as the SunPower Oasis Power Plant, combined with robotic cleaning, can provide an additional energy uplift of approximately 25 per cent compared to fixed-tilt systems,” Andrew says, adding this can also result in greater energy production at the time of peak demand on the grid in the late afternoon, which can potentially result in premium PPA rates.

“Using high-efficiency solar panels also offers significant cost reductions in terms of onsite labour and Balance of System (BOS) costs. For example, a 21 per cent efficient panel will require substantially fewer mechanical parts (such as foundation piles, racking steelwork, and clamps); less direct current (DC) string cabling and containment; fewer installation hours, the hourly and mobilisation costs of which can be particularly significant in remote areas with scant available workforce, and significantly less land used, which can be attractive in spatially constrained areas close to suitable grid connection locations, as well as less costly to prepare for construction.”

High-efficiency panels also often use high-quality anti-reflective glass, which, in addition to optimising energy generation also minimises glare, thus benefitting the local community, especially if the site is on a flight path.

“Whether you own and operate centralised utility-scale power plants, procure solar energy contracts, or craft programs to offer solar directly to your customers, today’s market has smarter, simpler solar technology. Find an energy solution that meets your goals,” Andrew says.