The University of Queensland has teamed up with First Solar to build what is slated to be the largest solar photovoltaic research facility anywhere in the southern hemisphere.

Construction work on the research complex has already commenced at UQ’s Gatton campus in the Lockyer Valley. The facility will cover a total of 10 hectares and possess 3.275 megawatts of capacity, enough to supply the energy needs of 450 average Australian homes. Producing this volume of energy via clean power sources is the equivalent to removing 1,590 cars from the roads, or cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions by 5,600 metric tonnes.

UQ hopes the project will provide Australia with a world-class research facility for exploring the potential of large-scale solar systems.

“The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” said UQ vice-chancellor and president Peter Høj.

Høj noted that Australia already possesses some of the world’s leading renewable energy experts, and that their efforts should be significantly enhanced by collaboration with a key partner from the commercial sector.

“These researchers are some of the best in the business, and their teamwork with an innovative global company such as First Solar will ensure optimal returns on a substantial Australian government investment in renewable energy research and development, with excellent implications for society and the environment,” he said.

According to Professor Paul Meredith, director of UQ Solar, the project will provide 30 per cent of the electricity used by the UQ Gatton campus, and in addition to exploring the integration of large-scale solar systems with the grid, it will also explore various PV mounting technologies.

Artist's impression of the solar facility courtesy of UQ

Artist’s impression of the solar facility, courtesy of UQ

“It will allow us to compare and contrast new technologies by studying the electrical and economic performance of multiple PV mounting technologies through the installation and operation of fixed-tilt, single axis and dual-axis tracker technologies side-by-side in the same field,” said Meredith.

The facility will also explore the value of a short and medium-term energy storage and its impact on the quality of power supply, via the use of a megawatt-hour-scale battery storage research station.

As UQ’s private sector partner for the project, First Solar will be entrusted with providing and installing approximately 40,000 advanced thin-film photovoltaic panels in ground-mounted arrays, as well as supplying engineering, construction and procurement services.

Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for the Asia Pacific, hailed the project as exemplifying the potential for collaboration between academia and commercial firms in the field of renewable energy research.

“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. “The Gatton research facility will evidence the value that private and public sector research collaboration can bring to the renewable energy sector. It will also support First Solar in the continued delivery of best-in-class technology to the market.”