Australia’s first utility-scale solar farm performs above expectations

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Data from Australia’s only utility-scale solar farm shows it performing above expectations. That should help lower future financing costs.

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This should probably be our graph of the day, but we’ve already got one of those on Western Australia’s wind contribution on Tuesday. Of equal interest though, is the performance of WA’s – and Australia’s – first and only utility scale solar farm, the 10MW Greenough River solar project near Geraldton that was commissioned in September last year.

At Clean Energy Week, First Solar, the US solar giant which built and operates the plants, is releasing data for the first time about the performance of the plant, which will provide critical information for financiers and others who will invest in future large scale solar projects in the country.

First Solar says the slides below indicate that after the first 10 months of operation, about 19,000 MWh of energy has been produced with the power plant operating on average 1 per cent higher than modelled (i.e. predicted).

The first chart shows a comparison of performance (actual vs. expected) of MWh produced over the past 10 months, which is critical when assessing whether the technology is performing in line with the expectations of the project owners.

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The second slide shows a comparison of insolation(i.e. the solar resource over a given month) based on actual weather measured on-site and the predicted weather. This difference (i.e. a sunny month vs. a cloudy year) is the dominant weather factor explaining the variance between measured and expected performance.

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First Solar says the information is critical because institutional banks have historically nominated the absence of local resource (i.e. sun) and performance (i.e. technology) data as the key roadblock to the financing of utility scale solar projects, and it will help educate stakeholders about how utility scale solar projects operate and inform the use of more accurate and credible performance assumptions in project financial models.

This in turn will lead to less conservative financial assumptions and subsequently, a smaller economic gap that needs to be closed. Australia, it should be noted, trails the world badly in the deployment of large scale solar – and banking finance is considered to be one of the biggest barriers to be overcome.

“The strong performance of the Greenough River Solar Farm validates that utility scale solar is a proven, bankable source of power generation in Australia today, and especially in Western Australia,” Jack Curtis, First Solar’s vice president of business development and sales, told RenewEconomy.

“We believe that this data will drive greater adoption of utility-scale solar within the local financing and procurement community, leading to more projects that are increasingly economically and commercially viable.” He said it also underlined the value of having such projects developed and operated by experienced power market participants such as Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services.

Frank Teofilo, First Solar’s regional director, operations and maintenance, is presenting more data at CEW on Thursday afternoon. He said the performance data provides local validation of First Solar’s thin film module technology and a “valuable insight into many of the site-specific drivers of plant performance including solar resource, weather conditions, plant availability and soiling.”

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