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28 October 2013

University of Queensland and First Solar to build 3.275MW PV research facility

The University of Queensland (UQ) has signed a contract with First Solar (Australia) Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA, for the construction of a solar photovoltaic research facility. The 3.275MW pilot plant – including more than 34,000 panels in a ground‐mounted array – will be Queensland’s largest solar power installation. First Solar will install its modules on a 12.6ha former airstrip site at UQ’s Gatton campus, 90km west of Brisbane.

Under the engineering, procurement & construction (EPC) contract between UQ and First Solar, electricity is due to start flowing by the end of 2014. UQ’s Property and Facilities division will manage and operate the plant.

The new research facility will augment UQ’s 1.22MW PV array, which was completed at the university’s main campus at St Lucia in Brisbane in 2011. That project remains Australia’s largest rooftop solar installation.

The installation is being funded by a $40.7m Federal Government grant, via the Education Investment Fund (EIF), which will also fund a battery‐storage research station alongside the Gatton pilot plant. UQ and the University of New South Wales are partners on the overall EIF grant which will also fund new laboratories for Power Systems and Energy Economics Research at UQ’s St Lucia campus and at UNSW’s Kensington campus in Sydney. The Gatton PV project is also part of the Solar Flagships Program, administered by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The Gatton plant is the pilot for two much‐larger solar farms that AGL Energy Ltd and First Solar are building in western New South Wales: at Nyngan (102MW) and Broken Hill (53MW). The overall 155MW, $450m scheme will create Australia's largest solar power plants. About $167m for the larger project is coming from ARENA; the NSW Government is contributing $64.9m.

“Renewable energy research needs to be interdisciplinary and industry‐integrated, to produce optimal results that are practical, efficient and attractive for industry and communities,” says UQ president & vice‐chancellor professor Peter Høj. “UQ’s reputation for excellent researchers in areas including physics, engineering and sustainability helped secure the necessary buy‐in from key industry leaders and government bodies. This will in turn drive outputs that can be taken up by industry, communities and governments,” he adds. “Locally, the Gatton installation – like the St Lucia solar project – will yield clear benefits for campus energy supply, and for UQ research, teaching and community engagement,” Høj believes.

The new facilities and associated research program are designed to support the early-stage commissioning and operation of the main power plants in NSW, says professor Paul Meredith, project director at UQ’s Global Change Institute and the School of Maths and Physics. “Components of our research will focus on energy storage, plant optimization, power systems and the impact of renewable energy on the National Electricity Market,” he adds. “We will be able to test new technology and concepts at a meaningful scale, and our work will help build national capacity for research in solar power deployment,” Meredith continues.

“First Solar is committed to ensuring that learnings are fully leveraged to increase Australian innovation in solar power generation, to continue to facilitate a more viable and advanced utility‐scale solar PV industry in Australia,” says Jack Curtis, First Solar’s VP of business development for Asia Pacific. “The Australian local solar industry is gaining momentum with the recent financial close of our two utility‐scale projects in Nyngan and Broken Hill in NSW,” he adds. “The knowledge gained through the construction and operation of large‐scale, grid‐connected solar power stations will help solar energy play a greater role in meeting Australia’s electricity needs. The research facility will provide the opportunities for technological advancement that will ensure we can maintain this momentum for future projects across the country.”

Tags: First Solar Thin-film photovoltaic CdTe

Visit: www.firstsolar.com

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