SUNSHINE is being turned into energy and knowledge at The University of Queensland’s Gatton campus, where the state’s largest solar array was switched on today.
The 3.275 megawatt Gatton Solar Research Facility comprises more than 37,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels, mounted on the campus’s 10ha former airstrip.
The advanced technology photovoltaic (PV) modules from First Solar will produce enough clean energy to power more than 450 average Queensland homes and will displace the equivalent of 5600 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane opened the new research facility this morning at an event attended by federal, state and local officials and national energy industry leaders.
“One of the world’s great challenges is ensuring safe and sufficient access to sustainably sourced energy,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“This facility will not only benefit the University in terms of its own electricity supply, but the knowledge coming from the research will enable the global community to be better equipped in addressing energy security needs.
“It’s an honour to be the one to throw the switch on such a significant solar project.”
UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the Gatton installation was one of the most advanced research facilities of its kind in the world, and its commissioning was a landmark in UQ’s clean energy journey.
“This infrastructure brings UQ’s total solar generation capacity to more than five megawatts,” Professor Høj said.
“UQ made a significant step into solar power generation and research four years ago when it installed a 1.22 megawatt solar system across four rooftops at St Lucia. That remains Australia’s largest rooftop system.
“The Gatton system is almost three times bigger than the one at St Lucia, and takes the University’s renewable energy research to greater heights.
“This project is a great example of UQ working hand-in-hand with industry and government to ensure our excellent research and technology contribute to a viable clean energy future for the world.”
Project partner First Solar managed the facility’s engineering and construction and supplied the panels.
First Solar Asia-Pacific Regional Manager Jack Curtis said the Gatton facility’s advanced capability and research potential was unrivalled almost anywhere in the world.
“This landmark installation will be a showcase for the region, helping to ensure that solar plays a strong role in Australia’s energy mix,” he said.
“The lessons learned here will have global impact.”
UQ Solar director Professor Paul Meredith said the facility would be a game-changer in renewables research.
“This research is about improving the way that we integrate solar into our state’s overall energy mix. It also works towards establishing and proving the business model for solar generation in Australia at the megawatt scale.”
“Queensland gets about 2700 hours of sunlight a year. This site turns that into energy, and into knowledge about how to better service local, national and international energy needs through effective solar technologies,” Professor Meredith said.
The development is funded by a $40.7 million Federal Government Education Investment Fund program grant administered by the Department of Education.
The Gatton project is part of research collaboration between UQ, the University of New South Wales, First Solar and AGL PV Solar Holdings Pty Ltd, an affiliate of AGL Ltd.
The UQ Solar initiative, managed by UQ’s Global Change Institute, seeks to better understand the cost efficiencies of solar technologies to improve the integration of solar energy into the electricity grid, paving the way for future large scale solar systems to be connected.
For the first time in Australia, multiple PV mounting technologies including fixed-tilt, single-axis and dual-axis tracker technologies will be in operation side-by-side in the same field to inform electrical and economic performance.
Professor Meredith said the Gatton facility was an exemplar of how clean energy could integrate with agriculture and was a test bed for off-grid applications such as remote communities or mining settlements.
“This project features state-of-the-art, thin-film panels, configured in tracking and non-tracking geometries,” he said.
“It is a world-first and will position The University of Queensland at the forefront of renewable energy research globally.”
The plant will also include battery storage to improve understanding of the value of short- and medium-term energy storage, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits.