The small township of Barcaldine, in central west Queensland, is making a big contribution to the state’s renewable energy mix.
Barcy, as it is affectionately known as by locals, was made famous for its role in the Australian labour movement and the birth of the Australian Labor Party.
In 1891, the little country town was one of the focal points of the Australian shearers’ strike.
Today, the region has something else to be proud of, with the 20MW Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm.
Located 520 kilometres west of Rockhampton and more than 1000 kilometres north west of Brisbane, the sunny central Queensland town is the perfect spot for big solar.
The 90 hectare solar farm features about 79,000 solar modules with single-axis tracking technology to maximise the effectiveness of the PV panels as they follow the sun.
Its position adjacent to an existing transmission substation enables grid connection.
The project was planned and developed by the Barcaldine Community Solar Farm Pty Ltd, a company owned by global solar energy development company Elecnor Australia.
The $69 million Barcaldine solar farm began feeding electricity into the grid in December 2016 – two months earlier than expected.
The project generates around 57,000MWh of clean energy per year, or enough power to meet the energy needs of around 9800 homes.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) committed up to $20 million in cornerstone debt finance for the development of the Barcaldine solar farm, which also secured $22.8 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
CEFC Large-Scale Solar lead Gloria Chan said the fast build demonstrated how knowledge and expertise developed for Australian conditions is benefiting the entire solar sector.
“Shorter construction times, increased knowledge, and access to suitable finance are among factors helping bring these kinds of projects down the cost curve,” Ms Chan said.
“We were delighted to see this project reach first energy generation in December, within just a year of our financing commitment.
“The fringe-of-grid location of the development has provided important learnings for other off-grid remote area solar PV projects.”
On May 9, Aurecon announced the early completion of the project.
Aurecon was commissioned by engineer-procure-construct contractor Green Light Contractors (GLC) to deliver detailed design services for the developer Elecnor Australia.
Aurecon’s Technical Director for Energy Loni Karabesinis said, “Because of its success, large-scale solar PV is likely to become one of the most competitive forms of energy in the long-term, both in Australia and in many other parts of the world with predominantly coal-fired electricity markets”.
With a challenging three-month deadline, Aurecon was able to fast track the design phase, engaging Aurecon’s East Coast Energy team, its local offices in Sydney and Vietnam and the team in Cape Town for the PV electrical works.
Aurecon’s Queensland Advisory team was also brought in for planning, flood study works, fire management, and government liaison.
The close collaboration between the engineers and GLC in delivering the project so quickly was highlighted by Mr Karabesinis as critical.
“Speed in the delivery of drawings in different stages (preliminary design, detailed design, and approved for construction) is crucial in executing short time frame projects like this,” he said.
“Having the GLC design manager co-located with our main delivery team in our office streamlined the process and meant we could resolve issues quickly.”
The importance of being able to deliver cross-disciplinary solutions utilising various design disciplines (civil, electrical, mechanical, communications, protection specialist) proved invaluable in responding quickly to the many issues that arose during the process.
“Illustrating this, Aurecon’s engineers saw the potential in using a disused water basin as a primary sediment detention basin for site runoff, saving significant time and cost by not having to build a new one,” Mr Karabesinis said.
In another example, during construction, sourcing quality material for unsealed pavement construction became an issue.
“Faced with the high cost of having material delivered from hundreds of kilometres away, Aurecon and GLC worked together to source locally available material that complied with the intended performance requirements to save time and costs,” he added.
In February, Elecnor sold the Barcaldine solar farm to Foresight Group, with equity financing provided by KDB Infrastructure Investments Asset Management (KDB KIAMCO) and Hanwha Energy.
The $33.4 million acquisition marked Foresight’s first Australian solar investment.
“This acquisition further confirms the increasing commercial maturity of Australia’s large scale solar sector, while also demonstrating to developers that there is a commercial appetite for completed and operational projects,” Ms Chan said.
The company’s Sydney team, led by Foresight director and Head of Australia Gary Sofarelli, has seen significant growth opportunities, following the November 2015 launch of the $200 million Australian Bioenergy Fund, which targets investments ranging from A$2m to A$50m into energy from waste projects across the continent backed by a cornerstone investment from the CEFC.
“We are delighted to be working alongside prestigious financial institutions and investors such as KDB KIAMCO and Hanwha on the Barcaldine project,” Mr Sofarelli said.
“The project will be meaningful not only for the local community’s energy generation, but also as one of the early utility scale solar facilities being constructed in Australia.
“The acquisition has evidenced Foresight’s ability to apply its extensive solar expertise to the growing Australian market alongside the investors, with whom we look forward to delivering a strong pipeline of future energy projects both in Australia and around the world.
“Foresight will continue to work with developers and investors over the coming years to firmly establish itself as an astute energy infrastructure investment manager of solar, energy from waste and wind assets in Australia.”
With more than 175 locals jobs created from the project, the Barcaldine region is benefiting from the project in more ways than one.
Barcaldine Mayor Rob Chandler said after supporting the project from development to construction, the local community was celebrating the completion of the solar farm.
“The people in our district are enthusiastic supporters of solar energy and the great benefits it can bring to outback communities like ours,” Mr Chandler said.
“If it’s one thing we have a lot of its sun, so it’s great to see it being harnessed to power the electricity grid.”
ARENA chief executive officer Ivor Frischknecht said projects like the Barcaldine solar farm are giving rural and remote communities access to cleaner and more reliable energy.
“Communities and business located on the fringes of electricity grids, such as those in Barcaldine, can be disadvantaged by power reliability issues and outages caused by network constraints and lack of infrastructure,” he said.
“The Barcaldine solar farm complements the grid by alleviating pressure on it during periods of peak demand, and providing voltage control to deliver more reliable power supply.
“The Barcaldine region also features high-strength solar energy, so it makes sense to harvest that bounty to provide reliable power while strengthening the existing grid.”
Elecnor Australia business development manager Manuel López-Vélez said the company is progressing with the development of the second stage of the solar project.
“Barcaldine Solar Farm Stage II will be double the size of Stage I, with an additional capacity of 40MW AC/50MW DC,” he said.
Construction will commence in the last quarter of 2017, and will be exporting electricity by 2018.
THE TECHNICAL DETAILS
- The Barcaldine solar farm used photovoltaic technology, which converts sunlight directly into electricity with no harmful greenhouse gas emissions or noise pollution. The project is located within an area of super-premium solar irradiation, on land that contains existing power sub-station infrastructure that can be leveraged to connect to the immediately adjacent 132/66kv network grid system.
- JA Solar, a TIER1 supplier, was selected to provide the modules using type JAP6 72-315/3BB, with a nameplate rating of 315W. It is a conventional polycrystalline silicon module with 72 polycrystalline silicon solar cells. The Power Electronics HEC Plus FS2110CH inverter has been selected to convert the DC electricity produced by the PV array into AC electricity. These inverters have a nominal rating of 2.11MWAC each.
- Power Electronics has supplied in excess of 2GW of power inverters globally, and has a manufacturing capacity of 3GW per year.