First Solar sources Australian parts for utility-scale PV plants

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Local manufacturers are supplying system components for two utility-scale PV projects First Solar is developing in Australia this year.

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Australian manufacturers are supplying utility scale solar developer First Solar with mounting systems for its two projects under construction in 2014. First Solar reports that it has been “pleasantly surprised” to be able to source the mounting systems and racking components for the company’s 102 MW Nyngen power plant, currently under construction, and the 53 MW Broken Hill site, which is due to get underway later this year.

While some areas of the Australian manufacturing landscape have struggled of late and announcements of auto manufacturers leaving the country made headlines around the country, large-scale solar development is delivering demand to Australian manufacturers. First Solar is employing Australian manufacturer IXL Group to supply its PV power plants currently in development in the country.

“It really has been not just a good story in terms of using local content, but also a good story as it relates to a company that is facing challenges in terms of its difficult customer base and being able to recalobrate and support the real growth potential that renewable energy represents,” said First Solar’s Jack Curtis.

First Solar first worked with Geelong’s Blackwell IXL in Australia for its 10 MW Greenough River power plant, outside of the West Australian city of Geraldton – currently the countries biggest PV development. First Solar has collaborated with Blackwell IXL in the design of the mounting and racking systems.

“It’s a bit of a collaboration, so obviously based on our past experience, but also working with the local suppliers to provide equipment suitable for local conditions and also ones that make the most sense from a cost perspective as well,” said Curtis – who is First Solar’s Regional Manager Asia Pacific. IXL Blackwell has historically supplied components to the Australian automative industry, including Toyota, GM Holden and Ford.

Beyond mounting systems, Curtis says that First Solar is also sourcing some of the electrical components for its PV installations from Australia also.

This is not the first time that solar developers have sourced components from Australian suppliers. Late last year, module supplier Upsolar collaborated with Dandenong sheet metal component supplier Hilton Manufacturing on a 98.6kW rooftop array. The array was installed on the roof of Hilton’s 15,000 square meter Dandenong manufacturing site.

340 of Upsolar’s smart modules, which employ Tigo Energy’s optimisation technology, were used in the installation, with Hilton developing and supplying tracking systems for the array. ABB supplied the inverters. Weather monitoring equipment installed on the roof will alert Hilton if high winds threaten the array, allowing it to be swung back into a safe position. Hilton also designed, produced and installed an observation deck, for visitors to inspect the installation.

“Our collaboration with Upsolar, Tigo and ABB presented a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of Australia’s most advanced solar technologies, while also cutting the electricity costs for our facility,” said Jacques Esper of Hilton Manufacturing, in a release announcing the array’s completion.

The potential for Australian manufacturers to supply large-scale solar projects is demonstrated by these installations and the collaboration between international PV developers and suppliers and Australian manufacturing firms. Some believe that a watering down of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) in the review, the details of which were announced yesterday, could threaten the sector. First Solar’s Jack Curtis is, however, confident that the economics of PV power plants are such that in two-to-three years solar will be able to successfully compete with wind for new projects in Australia. This is particularly true if PV’s competitive advantages, such as speed-to-realisation, less community opposition and reduced intermittence are taken into account.

“What we’re going to see is a new procurement and new development hiatus for the next year or two while everyone sits and waits to see what happens on the national level,” said Curtis, “but when that ultimately does crystallise there still will be a significant need for renewable energy to meet whatever version of the RET target that emerges.”

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