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5B plans module pre-fab facility in Adelaide, “gigafactory” in Asia

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5B – the Australian solar plant innovators who are revolutionising the way the solar industry thinks about PV installations – has announced plans to set up a production facility in Adelaide, and is even looking at a “gigawatt” production line in Asia.

The company was established two years ago by some young engineers who used to work at Infigen Energy, and it specialises in a unique rapid installation, fully deployable solar array that is challenging established project development methods.

5B boasts of being able to install 100kW of ground mounted solar in a single morning – with just two people – and a “megawatt a week” through its appropriately named “Maverick” solution.

It has previously targeted off-grid and temporary installations, but is now looking to enter the large-scale utility market.

5B stands for 5 billion years, the estimated life-time of the sun – and co-founder Chris McGrath describes the company as “technologists, innovators and disruptors” whose inspiration came from a “lightbulb moment” in 2013 when they were installing a pilot solar plant at Infigen’s Capital wind farm.

5B is now looking to install a 500kW facility at the same location, and is partnering with Adelaide-based IXL – an auto-parts manufacturer that has now moved into solar – to create a manufacturing line where the arrays can be “pre-fabricated” before being trucked out to installation site.

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The company currently has a facility in inner Sydney that has a 30MW capacity (annual), but the Adelaide facility will lift that capacity four fold, and put it closer to some project opportunities, as well as employing some former GM car workers.

McGrath describes the installation technique as “stop, drop and roll”, or a “solar farm in a box”, and in the past few months it has been used to provide temporary power at large-scale solar projects such as Ganawarra and Swan Hill.

Now 5B wants to move into that utility market on its own account.

“2018 is going to be an exciting and pivotal year as we enter the utility-scale solar market,” he says. Not only is 5B’s technology fully redoployable, it is also turning out to be among the cheapest.

The company, which RenewEconomy first profiled early last year, made a public splash by rolling out its technology in front of Customs House in Sydney last July.

McGrath argues that because the price of solar modules will continue to fall – a prediction shared by UNSW solar guru Martin Green – the focus will not be so much on maximising yield, but getting it to the field in the lowest-cost and fastest way possible. 5B says pre-fabricated is the answer.

The idea of a “gigafactory” – the term that Tesla made popular for its large battery manufacturing plant, but is now used for anything “big” in solar and storage – could be applied to Asia, Africa, or the Americas.

“We see the possibility of having local and regional hubs,” McGrath says. “We are talking to the (major players) now.”

It could end up having an “additional line” at a major solar module manufacturing plant, where the modules are installed on the racking systems, and loaded into containers. Remarkably, the modules and racking are designed in a way that takes up little more volume than solar modules alone.

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The Infigen installation, which should be done before Christmas, is being used to demonstrate the company’s shift beyond the commercial and industrial (C&I) sector. “This is going to challenge people’s perceptions,” he says. “We do move very fast.”

McGrath says the technology is fast approaching that of single axis tracking on a LCOE (levellised cost of energy basis). Although the modules do not tilt towards the equator, that means fewer losses at lower latitudes, but around 8 per cent losses around Sydney.

But the lower cost of installations exceed the reduction in yield.  

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  • Ray Miller

    Maybe two of the team after installing 100kW in the morning can be sent to sort out the AEMC’s mess on Friday afternoon and then have time for drinks after?

    • mick

      1 takes a plunger the other a plug

  • Ralph Buttigieg

    Look a bit flimsy to me.

    • GlennM

      Thanks Ralph,
      I am sure the team with their engineering degrees and year experience of installing large solar systems will now be re-evaluating their designs and business plans based on your six word comment.

      • Ralph Buttigieg

        Still looks flimsy. If they go for large scale utility i would want to know how it handles major storms

        • Solar Queen 17

          This is classic fake news. Sad

        • Alex Hromas

          In all probability very well

  • Jon

    Looking at this equipment now for a temporary power system.
    It’s quite well built and looks like it can be redeployed several times without issue.

  • Tom

    Prefabulous

  • BushAxe

    Fantastically simple idea which is innovative and cheap. I can see anyone outside of urban areas jumping at this -miners, rural communities, power networks, etc. When you see products like this it’s not hard to see why centralised generation is going to get smashed.

    • Chris Drongers

      Superb! More prefabrication (Genex appear to have pre-assembled panels into ‘panes’ of 8 PV panels for quicker and better field erection) would seem to be the way to go.
      For larger, permanent installations quickly inserted screw piles would seem to allow for greater efficiency, even a series of centrally mounted rail frames that can tilt.
      An interesting thing in rural environments is that farms are getting larger by taking over their neighbours. Even the pro-solar farmers, and there are a lot as you would expect when paying $3000 a quarter for power to run air-cons, freezers, coolrooms and machinery, are wary of putting in a permanent solar installation that would only get a few years use until that cattle station is amalgamated with the one next door.
      There is a business opening – leasing these Maverick systems with matching batteries. Each would have to support about 100-150 kWhrs/day.

  • George Michaelson

    The installation cost was always a bit of a killer. Removing that is the story, which is pretty much the last sentence. Ongoing maintenance costs of a low ground mounted unit .. well in the sector in question (farming, mining, rural and remote) there is usually somebody on book who was thinking about smoko, who can be sent out with a broom and hose. But masking that cost is usually a bit of a cheat. I’ve seen other people routinely critique deployments in India for being worse than useless because of dust and pollutant masking the PV cells and reducing efficiency to zero.. and thats in an economy where labour really IS close to zero cents in the dollar.

    So I suspect this is going to wind up being either yea… nah. Or else adapted pretty quickly for high-mount deployment at a reduced, but probably still a bit higher install cost, but with (a) less chance of breakage during install (b) higher likelihood of compliance with the CEC (c) rapid deploy, so in $/hr terms, cheaper than the alternatives.

    • Alex Hromas

      In rural India the dust problem is about the same as here. The big plus is that you can get someone to clean the panels at very low cost. The big problem in India is the monsoon when you have about 2 months under heavy cloud.

  • Jonathan Prendergast

    Is this what is meant by ‘Dispatchable Renewables’?

    Congrats to the 5B team on their great innovation.

  • Carl Raymond S

    A megawatt a week with two people. “Solar Singularity”, I think is the technical term – the point where the energy generated overcompensates (in energy and profit) for the cost of deploying more solar energy generation. Goes off like fission.