Construction has begun on what is being billed as one of the world’s leading solar PV research pilot programs, at the University of Queensland campus at Gatton, west of Brisbane.
A 3.275MW solar PV array is being built at the Gatton campus. That makes it the biggest such array in Queensland, but it is the mix of technologies and the study of grid integration that will make it unique.
The array will include fixed tilt, single axis tracking and dual axis tracking, two types of battery storage – totaling up to one megawatt hour – and two of the most sophisticated power system laboratories ever built in Australia.
It is being funded by a $40.7 million grant from the Education infrastructure Fund, a leftover of the now defunct Solar Flagships program. UQ and First Solar are contributing several million further in investment and in kind.
Professor Paul Meredith, the director of UQ Solar, said in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s opening ceremony, that the facility would be one of the most sophisticated and largest research solar PV pilot plants in the world.
He pointed to the mix of technologies, the addition of storage, and the creation of the power system labs, both by UNSW and UQ.
“All of us understand that what has been dragging back the development of solar PV is the systems integration issue,” he said. “Gatton will be at the front edge of engineering on connecting PV into network.”
About $15 million will be spent on the pilot plant, the solar array and the storage, as well as the research pavilion, while the rest has been used to build the power system labs and data labs at the two universities.
“This is risky stuff for a university. We don’t normally get into the power business. But it is our responsibility as a university to take the first step, to be an early adopter. Would a mainstream business be able to do this – the answer is probably no.”
UQ will have around 5MW of solar PV once this project is completed early in 2015, contributing well over one third of its power needs.
Meredith is not yet in a position to reveal the battery storage technologies, other than to say they will need a “fairly deep cycle” – something that can help manage the load demand curve. It would not focus on short term fluctuations, as that could be managed by the inverter system. There will be one foreign and one local supplier for the battery storage technologies.
Rob Bartrop, from First Solar, said the company would install around 40,000 advanced thin-film photovoltaic panels in the ground-mounted arrays, and provide engineering, procurement and construction for the project.
“Our collaboration with UQ will result in advanced local solar generation technologies that will strengthen the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix,” he said.
First Solar is also building the 102MW Nyngan and 53MW Broken Hill solar PV projects in NSW, and constructed the first 10MW Greenough River solar farm in WA – the first large scale solar project in Australia.
It also has a contract to build the country’s first large scale solar PV and storage array for a mining company, with a 6.7MW plant planned for Rio Tino’s Weipa refinery in north Queensland.