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27 April 2015

First Solar and Queensland launch Australia's largest PV system research facility

In late March, on the 10 hectare former airstrip at the Gatton campus of The University of Queensland in Brisbane St Lucia, the 3.275MW Gatton Solar Research Facility (the state's largest solar array) was officially opened by Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane at an event attended by federal, state and local officials and national energy industry leaders. 

The Gatton project is part of a research collaboration between the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales, cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film photovoltaic (PV) module maker First Solar Inc of Tempe, AZ, USA and AGL PV Solar Holdings Pty Ltd (an affiliate of Sydney-based AGL Energy Ltd, Australia's largest private owner and operator of renewable energy assets). It is funded by a $40.7m Federal Government Education Investment Fund program grant administered by the Department of Education.

Project partner First Solar managed the facility's engineering and construction and supplied the panels. Consisting of more than 37,000 modules from First Solar, the facility will produce enough energy to power more than 450 average Queensland homes and will displace the equivalent of 5600 tonnes of CO2 annually.

The new infrastructure brings the University of Queensland's total solar generation capacity to more than 5MW. "UQ made a significant step into solar power generation and research four years ago when it installed a 1.22MW solar system across four rooftops at St Lucia [Australia's largest rooftop system]," says professor Peter Høj, university vice-chancellor & president. The Gatton system is almost three times bigger than the one at St Lucia. 

"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," commented Macfarlane.

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.

"This landmark installation will be a showcase for the region, helping to ensure that solar plays a strong role in Australia's energy mix," believes First Solar's Asia-Pacific regional manager Jack Curtis. "The lessons learned here will have global impact," he reckons. 

"This research is about improving the way that we integrate solar into our state's overall energy mix," says professor Paul Meredith, UQ Solar director. "It also works towards establishing and proving the business model for solar generation in Australia at the megawatt scale," he adds. Managed by University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, the UQ Solar initiative 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. "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."   

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," he believes.

Tags: First Solar Thin-film photovoltaic CdTe

Visit: www.gci.uq.edu.au

Visit: www.agl.com.au

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