The 11MW Dunblane solar farm in Barcaldine, Queensland, is far from the biggest solar farm in the country, or even in the state.
But it is setting some important new benchmarks, especially in the speed of construction and the way the industry can embrace modular structures.
For one, Dunblane was entirely privately funded, and received no financial support, taxpayer subsidy or offtake contract from any government agency. It’s likely the first such project to be completed in Queensland, and one of the first in the country.
The Dunblane solar farm uses the Belectric PEG framing system, pictured above, and is so far the biggest solar farm in the world to use that system. It features close fitting arrays that allows for nearly twice the capacity per hectare as other systems.
YD Projects chief engineers Rob Mailler says construction commenced in August 2017, the DC plant was complete and inverters in place by the end of October 2017 – a period of 10 weeks and 4 days.
The plant was first energised in early December 2017 and after completing the commissioning cycle, reached full production in February, 2018. The plant has delivered 5,000MWh to the grid so far.
Mailler says the grid connection approvals process was technically challenging due to severe local grid constraints, with Dunblane being the first plant in Australia to deliver a PSCAD study as part of the approvals process.
“The Belectric PEG system allows for a fast, high-quality build in a fraction of the time compared to other methods,” Mailler says.
It got good feedback from the Queensland Workplace Health and Safety, and also from Ross Garnaut, from SIMEC ZEN Energy who visited the plant recently and whose company has plans for 1GW of solar and storage in South Australia, and more elsewhere.
The construction of the plant was recently featured in a Queensland election campaign advertisement from the Australian Conservation Foundation. -You can see it here.
Mailler says the advantages of the system are that it needs minimal use of heavy equipment onsite, no installation operations above shoulder height, and no 240V electrical equipment on site, and light and easily manageable components.
The system doesn’t require a large or specialised workforce, so many can be sourced from local communities. For this project, a team of nine was required for the initial frame installation, increasing to 21 for the modelling phase.
Casual team members were hired predominantly from the local community including providing work and training opportunities for young, disadvantaged people on this project.
“Local workers creating local energy, for local people – it’s a no brainer,” noted Cameron Mace, a Barcaldine local employed on the site and featured in the video (see below) and pictured above.
“Projects like Dunblane that engage the local community as effectively as Meralli has will have an important role to play in the economic revival of rural and regional Australia,” says Barcaldine Mayor Rob Chandler.
Meralli Projects director Methuen Morgan says his firm is structured to deliver plants in the 200kW to 30MW range.
Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.