Australia’s biggest solar farm to date – the 124MW Sun Metals facility that will provide one third of the power needs for its zinc refinery near Townsville in north Queensland, is about to start commissioning.
The Sun Metals solar project is a landmark for Australia – having kicked off the major and growing interest from large energy consumers in sourcing wind and solar plants to slash their electricity costs.
Sun Metals, which also initiated the ground-breaking shift to 5-minute settlement periods on the national Electricity Market – a move that is expected to encourage more battery storage and accelerate the clean energy transition – says the solar farm is nearly complete.
Chief executive Yun Choi told the Townsville Bulletin that the plant would begin commissioning in a staged approach in the next two weeks, and should be operating at full capacity by the end of May.
He says the main reason for the solar farm is to help power the zinc refinery, and to lower electricity costs, which in turn would help build the case for a $300 million expansion of the refinery, and more jobs.
“Once the solar farm is operational it will enable the refinery to be the largest single-site renewable consumer in Australia,” Choi says.
“The solar farm will be one of a kind in that it will directly power a large industrial user and export electricity into the National Electricity Market – so I think that makes it pretty innovative.”
It may be overtaken when the Whyalla steelworks complete their first large scale solar array, part of a plan to source 1GW of solar and storage to slash electricity costs by around 40 per cent.
Sun Metals says it needs 900,000 megawatt-hours of electricity to produce 225,000 tonnes of zinc each year, and the solar farm should be able to provide 30 per cent of that need.
“If we go ahead, the expanded refinery would see an additional $300 million invested right here in Townsville and is expected to support up to 827 construction jobs during peak construction, also with significant increase in permanent workers at the refinery once operational,” he told the paper.
“There is still further work to demonstrate the business case of the expansion, including plant design, chemical engineering and infrastructure requirements.
“Part of this work includes implementing the new cutting-edge refining technology that is now up and running at our parent company’s plant in Onsan, Korea.” This would include reduced water usage and a reduced environmental footprint.
The Sun Metals solar farm is not the only one to be near completion. The 100MW Clare solar farm, also in north Queensland, has begun commissioning, as this graph courtesy of the Climate and Energy College illustrates.
It is one of a number of new solar farms that have recently joined the grid, such as the 30MW Griffith and 55MW Parkes solar farms in NSW, as we reported on Monday.
The 11MW Dunblane solar farm in Queensland, and the 4.9MW Peterborough solar farm in South Australia have also connected in recent weeks, as has the 20MW Emu Downs solar farm in W.A.. There is a further 1.8GW that could be completed around the country this year this year.
Note: The Australian large scale solar market is experiencing unprecedented growth. But it won’t stop now. Large Scale Lookout – compiled by SunWiz and RenewEconomy – provides an insider view of Australia’s large-scale solar market.
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