Australia’s biggest solar farm about to begin commissioning

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Sun Metals solar farm, the largest in the country, will begin commissioning in a few weeks and will supply 30% of electricity needs for major refinery.

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Sun Metals solar farm

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.

To enquire about ordering your copy of Large Scale Lookout, email [email protected]

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15 Comments
  1. Peter F 7 months ago

    So including rooftop and C&I solar we are talking about an additional 3-3.5 GW of solar for 2018. That will generate the equivalent of half SA’s entire electricity demand or a quarter of all gas output on the NEM. Throw in all the new wind and we could reach 30% renewables by 2020.

    • Steve Applin 7 months ago

      IIRC there was an article on RE in the last few days saying that Australia was going to achieve the original 28% RET with projects that had achieved financial close already, and there were projects in the pipeline and likely to achieve financial close that would get us comfortably past the 28% RET.

      • Hettie 7 months ago

        That’s right, but the NEG is designed to cripple renewables. The coalers want the peak mismatches in demand and supply to continue, so their very o to fit able price gouging in those peaks can alsocontinue. Solar and especially batteries are cramping their style, to the benefit of customers.
        The coal industry says jump. The Gov’t asks, How high. The consumer pays. And pays.

        • Ant.. 7 months ago

          Renewables is a disruptive technology that is happening on both sides of the meter. Across Australia there are 1.8M Domestic Solar System that are producing power for self consumption worth approximately $1,603M per annum. With a take up rate of 215,000 systems per annum reported elsewhere in 5 years that will be approximately 3M systems saving consumers over $6,000M per annum. Take away the RET’s contribution to the cost to get in and you are unlikely to slow down the transaction to self production.

          • Hettie 7 months ago

            I think your growth forecast is very conservative. Roof top solar is rapidly approaching the point of doubling every two years.
            We now have around 17% of domestic roofs with solar, so 34%, 68%, close to 100% within 6 years.

          • Ant.. 7 months ago

            I was only referring to owner occupied domestic solar based on data posted elsewhere by an organisation who’s commentary could reasonably be relied upon. Not sure where domestic rental properties feature in the scheme of things. Although I believe that segment offers a business opportunity which was identified in recent times by the Labor Party in SA [a Virtual Generator]. Of course commercial installation are accelerating as business who own vacant roof space recognise that can be converted into a source of cash flow or a cash flow offset [Bunnings, Smithfield, Cairns QLD]. It would appear that energy in Australia is on the cusp of turning into something quite different from what some would have you believe should be accept as the norm [Centralised Power Generation]. What really is a problem is that the Government appears to be oblivious to what is happening and unable or ready to develop good policy that will facilitate the transition that would avoid an extraordinary amount of capital being lost or put at risk.

          • Gayle Somerville 6 months ago

            It is great to see, however rates of increase often follow a sigmoid curve, the most rapid rate is around 50% (of those who will sign up), and the last few take a long time.

  2. Jon 7 months ago

    Sun Metals will be behind the meter, will it report into commercial solar generation and balance with demand AEMO doesn’t see in NEM Watch?
    Will all commercial size behind the meter arrays report this way or another way?

    • Ant.. 7 months ago

      pvoutput.org has behind he meter reporting for solar systems around the world including Australia.

  3. Rod 7 months ago

    That’s what a 124MW solar farm looks like! Jeebus it’s huge.
    Imagine if Mr Gupta builds his 1GW. Should make a great tourist attraction.

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