Work starts on Australia’s largest solar PV systems research facility

From left to right: Bogan Shire Council mayor Ray Donald; ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht; NSW Minister for Far West NSW Land and Water Kevin Humphries; First Solar vice president Brian Stanley; Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton, AGL Power Development general manager Scott Thomas; and NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy Leslie Williams stand behind Nyngan solar plant’s first panels

Australia will soon be home to one of the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) research plants in the world.

Global provider of PV solar systems First Solar and The University of Queensland (UQ) have begun construction on a 3.275MW research facility at UQ’s Gatton campus.

The solar PV research facility will support innovation in Australia’s renewable energy industry by providing world-leading research on large-scale solar power systems.

“The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” UQ vice-chancellor and president professor Peter Høj said.

“These researchers are some of the best in the business, and their teamwork with an innovative global company such as First Solar will ensure optimal returns on a substantial Australian government investment in renewable energy R&D, with excellent implications for society and the environment.”

Covering 10ha, the plant will be Queensland’s largest solar PV project and produce enough electricity annually to power more than 450 average Australian homes, equivalent to displacing more than 5600 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide or removing 1590 cars from the road.

It is a pilot plant for new and existing large-scale Australian solar projects, including the Nyngan (102MW) and Broken Hill (53MW) plants being built by First Solar for AGL PV Solar Developments, a subsidiary of AGL Energy Limited in New South Wales.

In addition to supplying and installing about 40,000 advanced thin-film PV panels in ground-mounted arrays, First Solar will also provide engineering, procurement and construction for the Gatton PV Pilot Plant.

First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific Jack Curtis said the collaboration will result in advanced local solar generation technologies that will strengthen the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix.

“The Gatton research facility will evidence the value that private and public sector research collaboration can bring to the renewable energy sector. It will also support First Solar in the continued delivery of best-in-class technology to the market,” he said.

Professor Paul Meredith, director of UQ Solar housed within the Global Change Institute, said the project was scheduled to be commissioned early next year and would provide 30 per cent of the UQ Gatton campus’ energy.

“The new research facility will enhance knowledge and implementation of grid integration of large solar power systems,” he said.

“It will allow us to compare and contrast new technologies by studying electrical and economic performance of multiple PV mounting technologies through the installation and operation of fixed tilt, single axis and dual axis tracker technologies side-by-side in the same field.”

The plant will include a megawatt-hour-scale battery storage research station to improve understanding of the value of short- and medium-term energy storage, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits.

The research project represents a key component of the $40.7 million grant by the Education Infrastructure Fund (EIF) to UQ and the University of New South Wales, announced last year.

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