Sun and cloud combine for powerful Karratha Solar Farm

Karratha Airport Solar Farm.
Karratha Airport Solar Farm

Two Australian projects are showing the world how a powerful combination of solar power and cloud prediction technology can supply cheaper, more reliable renewable energy.

SunEdison Australia announced today that its $7.3 million 1MW Karratha Airport Solar Farm has been completed, with $2.3m of support from ARENA.

The City of Karratha has entered into a 21-year agreement to buy power from the solar plant and is expected to benefit from lower electricity costs over this period.

A separate ARENA project, Fulcrum3D’s CloudCAM solution, is operating at the site – tracking clouds and optimising the amount of solar power produced at the airport.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the two projects demonstrated how ARENA was backing new technologies that demonstrate the benefits of renewable energy, especially in regional communities.

“Cloud prediction makes solar cheaper and more reliable while reducing the need for batteries. That’s what makes this project so exciting,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“The technology is in its infancy. This is one of the first commercial trials in Australia and will be crucial for proving the technology’s feasibility.”

CloudCAM is being used at the site to accurately forecast solar power output and employs ground-mounted cameras to track and predict cloud movements and shadows.

“Combined with innovative control systems developed by MPower, the technology makes solar cheaper and reduces intermittency by giving the operators a clearer picture of the solar resource they can expect in the immediate future,” Mr Frischknecht said.

“As large-scale solar ramps up in Australia, spurred on by ARENA support, there will be more opportunities for cloud prediction technology to work alongside solar farms and ultimately accelerate the deployment of solar across Australia.

“Insights from the operation of Karratha Airport Solar Farm will be made publically available and will focus on the performance of the cloud predictive technology.”

CloudCAM was developed through a separate $1.1m project supported by $545,000 of ARENA funding.

Fulcrum3D has completed its trial and the results are available online. The company is now focused on selling its product domestically and internationally.

Mr Frischknecht said the Karratha Airport Solar Plant would also create a case for more renewables to be connected to the North West Interconnected System (NWIS).