Queensland’s biggest solar farm starts generating to grid

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Sun Metals solar farm – which led the way for corporate Australia to source their own renewable energy needs – switched on in Queensland.

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The Sun Metals solar farm – set to take over Clare solar farm’s short-lived mantle as the biggest solar installation in the state of Queensland – has begun exporting to the grid.

The 124MW (AC) Sun Metals solar farm overtakes the 100MW Clare solar farm as the biggest in the state, and began exporting into the grid late on Wednesday.

The solar farm is notable because it will be used to supply around one-third of the power needed by the Sun Metals zinc refinery, and its low cost (and cost certainty) will likely underpin a $300 million expansion of the complex.

Sun Metals was the first Australian big energy user to turn to large-scale solar, but since then many other companies have followed, including Telstra, Westpac, and most recently Mars Australia, whose six factories will be powered by a solar farm in Victoria.

“Once the solar farm is operational it will enable the refinery to be the largest single-site renewable consumer in Australia,” CEO Yun Choi recently told the Townsville Bulletin.

“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.”

Other big energy users are now proposing even bigger investments, with UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta talking of a 1 gigawatt solar investment in South Australia to power the Whyalla steelworks, and potentially more than 10GW of solar around the country.

Construction of the the Sun Metals solar farm was largely completed by contractor RCR Tomlinson a month ago, and the various sections will be progressively commissioned over the next few weeks.

On Wednesday and Thursday the solar farm generated a peak of 36MW, and that output will grow as more connection points are switched on over coming weeks.

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.

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15 Comments
  1. GlennM 7 months ago

    Seems to be a lot happening…

    What about the Solar ARENA funded that kicked all this off is it all finished and functioning ?

  2. George Darroch 7 months ago

    What a glorious day. Congratulations Sun Metals!

  3. Malcolm M 7 months ago

    Townsville must now be the best place in Australia to locate industries requiring cheap electricity. At present its bulk electricity is 10% cheaper than south-east Queensland because of the marginal loss factors arising from a net southward movement of electricity from wind and solar farms, and Queensland is cheaper than other States on the NEM. The area from Townsville and inland also has the lowest seasonal variation in solar output, because further south (such as Rockhampton) there is a pronounced dip in winter production, while further north there is dip in summer production due to cloud. Finally there are ranges of hills inland from Townsville with good wind resources, few NIMBY’s, and a complementary production profile to solar. This relative stability of solar and wind output should mean lower balancing costs than almost any other part of Australia.

    • Shilo 7 months ago

      So North Queensland is going to supply power to south east Queensland or just have cheap power for around that area?

      • Andy Saunders 7 months ago

        Doesn’t have to be either/or, it probably is both.

        • Joe 7 months ago

          And no need for the Nth Qld HELE that COAlavan, Christensen and co bang on about.

    • Mike Westerman 7 months ago

      To say nothing of potentially very large low cost pumped hydro in the ranges behind Mackay.

      • Andrew Scott 7 months ago

        Mike,
        You often refer to areas of opportunity for establishment of Pumped Hydro facilities and you range over much of the country in your thinking about this topic. You offer tantalising glimpses of what might be.

        I am sure there are many readers interested in mulling over this (Pumped Hydro) aspect of grid enhancement more often and some are keen to explore it in more detail. Better informed discussion could arise if a bit more information was shared about potential opportunities.

        Obviously you are well informed by your experience in the Hydro sector.
        Have you a series of maps, state by state, showing where key Pumped hydro opportunities exist?
        Is there an opportunity list, with a few key dimensions of what each facility might be and do, perhaps with some comments re the topography of the site and its proximity to HV Transmission?

        • Mike Westerman 7 months ago

          Andrew – I was initially sceptical of the work done by Melb Institute of Energy, and later by ANU using GIS to find offstream sites, partly because I knew that often site specific conditions have blown costs out of the water. But workshopping with Andrew Blakers led to the epiphany: individual sites no doubt would throw up problems, but if the population of sites was large, sites with few problems would be found, and they would have the very low development costs presently only apparent at the best sites now known.

          The version of the ANU GIS analysis is currently being upgraded (subject to funding) to incorporate solid engineering principles to try to eliminate more of the poorer sites, but even now, the tool is useful in sifting thru large numbers of possibilities and bringing in issues like transmission and geology manually.

          Andrews “alpha” model data can be loaded into GoogleEarth – go to http://re100.eng.anu.edu.au/research/phes/ . I now strongly believe that this model will eventually turn up even more quality viable sites, when lower head sites are also included.

          It is one of the mistakes in applying conventional hydro thinking to pumped hydro, that higher head is more economical. Clearly with pumped hydro, what comes down must first go up: round trip efficiencies depend on losses in both direction, both within the units but also in the waterways. Higher head means higher stress components and expensive materials, leading to the “economic” diameters being smaller and round trip losses higher. The smaller volumes of water may not be offset by lower civil costs. The “optimum” head probably has a larger range in pumped hydro, so this expands the potential number of sites further, making it more likely we will find geotechnically low cost/risk, topographically amendable sites in more places.

          Key will be getting solar developers to look for the suitable PHES sites first, and see if they can develop their solar around them (floating solar is still too expensive but may in time hit the mark).

          • Andrew Scott 6 months ago

            Mike,
            I am aware of the efforts re Pumped Hydro over a number of years by Melbourne Energy Institute and Andrew Blakers and the ANU team. They are to be commended as early thinkers and investigators in this space and for their ability to look west beyond the limits of the eastern seaboard states.

            However, like you, I think it is unfortunate that much of the initial focus has been on high head options – perhaps a legacy of conventional Hydropower thinking.

            Lower heads/Lesser pressures will allow use of larger diameter pipe systems and adoption of operations at lower water velocities.
            Lower water velocities tend to initiate less turbulence and smaller friction losses. Such contributions to better round trip efficiencies are very important for Pumped storage systems.

            The high head focus of investigations has also bypassed sites in the <300 metres head range that may be good Pumped Hydro prospects. I am aware that this is so in South Australia.

          • Andrew Scott 6 months ago

            Mike,

            The ANU work for South Australia lists high elevation storage sites along the Flinders Ranges that run along the east side of Upper Spencer Gulf and further north.

            With its focus on >400 metres of elevation for an upper storage only it has not identified sites that are potentially much more viable and are offered by the plateau extending over 30 kms from north to south along the west side of the head of Spencer Gulf. The elevation of its surface varies from 250 metres to almost 300 metres

            The north zone is narrow and dissected by gullies into remnant ridges of relatively small area but the central and southern areas broaden out and offer many square kilometres of flat terrain that may be suitable for establishment of large to very large ‘turkeynest’ storage ponds.

            The elevation of the south west end of this long plateau ranges from 270 metres to 295 metres.
            The south west scarp slopes down and away about 5 kilometres to a dry inland clay pan. (Tregalana “lake” – you can view it with Google earth )
            The surface of this potential lower pond is at sea level, so the differential head available is 270+ metres.

            The water required for initial charge of a Pumped storage system at this site, could be River Murray water sourced from a trunk main about 8 kms away .
            Alternatively sea water could be sourced from the Spencer Gulf False Bay area about 12 kms away. The nearby Whyalla Saltworks might be another convenient source of seawater.

            A cluster of four HV circuits that connect Cultana near Whyalla and Davenport near Port Augusta passes by about 12 kms west of this area.

            There has been a proliferation of renewable energy generation proposals in the Port Augusta -Whyalla region in recent times. Several solar farms and a wind farm are currently being built. Several small Pumped Storages and a Solar Thermal Storage system have been talked about by various parties but no large scale energy storage has been mooted.

            Could a large scale (say 10,000 plus MWhrs) pumped storage facility in this region, be of assistance to the operations of these renewable generators?
            Could it be used to enhance the viability of all parties involved?
            Could it contribute to the much needed transformation of the Grid?

          • Mike Westerman 6 months ago

            Andrew – you are correct re the earlier published model, but the updated model which should be released soon will be revised to capture sites down to 150m, in recognition that these sites may be more viable.

            Because of the demand curve, grid storage systems have little arbitrage value beyond 6h, altho behind the meter systems may work otherwise. These means even 6GWh is a very large scheme, whereas smaller schemes, of the order of 1-2GWh are viable and avoid many of the challenges of larger schemes. They do, however, still face very lengthy permitting processes, and these need to be refined – 18-24mths is too long for schemes of such low impact as PHES on ephemeral streams.

            Altho Cultana and Goat Hill may have technical challenges, and Baroota the typical challenges arising from repurposing a pondage, Kanmantoo Copper Mine is proceeding, and I would hope several other schemes off SA Water reservoirs may also proceed. But there are as you point out, numerous good sites along the Flinders.

            I have a detailed photogrammetry survey of an excellent site in this region, with 275kV and the Whyalla pipeline at its doorstep. It would be viable at 150MWx6h I believe, so for sure there will be others. On the east coast, there are numerous excellent larger sites and these will become attractive as more coal is retired in NSW and the transmission constraints begin to impact on prices.

  4. Jon 7 months ago

    Congratulations Sun Metals for leading the way.
    Is the install “behind the meter”, it sounds like it is “directly power a large industrial user and export electricity”

  5. Mike Westerman 7 months ago

    Brilliant, literally and strategically

  6. Jehannus Ros 6 months ago

    it’s a drop, it won’t sut down any fossile plants. maybe create some gas-backup.

    you need large clean energy production, that is delivered on demand.

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