Switch flicked on Australia’s first utility-scale PV plant


While heading towards a predicted target of 2.2 GW of cumulative installed capacity by the end of this year, the vast majority of Australia’s photovoltaic capacity is in form of residential rooftop installations. This trend may be turning around with the completion of the country’s first utility-scale plant, in the Australia’s Midwest region.

The Greenough River Solar Farm was inaugurated today, in a ceremony attended by WA’s energy minister, landholders, community members and contractors. The 10 MW plant’s planning and construction took approximately 12 months to complete.

150,000 First Solar modules were used in the installation, with the American thin film producer also providing the EPC and operation and maintenance services for the next 15 years. Power from the plant will be purchased by the WA Water Corporation, to offset energy requirements for its Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.

The plant was directly funded by the WA generator Verve Energy and GE Financial Services, with the WA Government providing AUD20 million (US$20.5 million).

"As the largest photovoltaic solar plant in operation in Australia, the Greenough River Solar Farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia’s future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis. This is a positive first step in validating the bright future that large-scale solar represents in Australia," said Jason Waters, CEO, Verve Energy, in a statement.

This project marks GE Energy Financial Services’ first renewable energy investment in Australia.

In reacting to the plant’s opening, the Australian Photovoltaic Industry Association’s Chair Muriel Watt was muted in her response and told pv magazine that there isn’t an truly economic market for utility-scale photovoltaics in Australia.

"At the utility-scale, photovoltaics isn’t competitive yet in Australia, so there isn’t going to be a pipeline of projects without an underlying driver," said Watt. "Even with a carbon price and a renewable energy target, we can’t see utility scale PV being cost effective for another five or more years. So it’s going to need other types of special purpose support as we’ve seen."

Watt continued that on the commercial and residential scale, photovoltaics is competitive and that these markets are the ones that hold most promise for the Australian market in the short to middle term.