Australia: 25 MW Barcaldine solar farm to strengthen grid

The renaissance within Australia’s large scale renewable market is continuing with projects being developed particularly in areas where grid electricity supply is challenging. The AU$69 million (US$49.5 million) Barcaldine Regional Community Solar Farm is receiving support both from ARENA and the CEFC and may incorporate battery storage when completed in April 2017.

The town of Barcaldine is in the sparsely populated and remote central west region of the northeast state of Queensland. ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht describes the PV project as demonstrating the benefits renewable generation can deliver when located at the edges of the national electricity network.

“Fringe-of-grid locations in regional Australia face a number of challenges with reliability and outages caused by network constraints and a lack of infrastructure,” Frischknecht said. “There is a clear value proposition for large-scale solar in the Barcaldine area, which has an excellent solar resource and experiences voltage and frequency control issues as well as load management challenges.”

ARENA is providing a AU$22.8 million (US$16.4 million) grant for the solar array.

The ARENA CEO added that battery storage at the site will be investigated to allow the PV array to “work in tandem” with an exiting gas plant and to allow the local grid to be islanded from the national network.

“This project will serve as a test case showing how the network benefits from distributed renewable energy can improve network efficiency, and potentially enable solar plants to access an extra revenue stream through network support payments,” said Frischknecht.

The NexTracker single axis tracking system will deployed on the Barcaldine plant. NexTracker technology was deployed at the 70 MW Moree Solar Farm, currently under construction. The tracker components are being manufacturer by a local Queensland producer.

79,000 modules will be deployed at Barcaldine, although the supplier has not been named. Elecnor SA’s Australian subsidiary is acting as EPC and has established the Barcaldine Remote Community Solar Farm company to develop the project.

The CEFC is providing AU$20 million in debt financing for the Barcaldine project.

“Projects like this demonstrate the effectiveness of solar power as a competitive source of energy,” said CEFC CEO Oliver Yates. “Given the project’s location, solar power is ideal. Barcaldine has year-round sunshine, which means the project site has excellent insolation characteristics, allowing efficient and effective solar energy generation throughout the year.”

The state of Queensland is becoming somewhat of a focal point of PV power plant development in Australia, as it is one of the few locations in the country where electricity demand is increasing. In the past six months a number of large liquefied natural gas terminals have come online in the northern parts of the state, drawing large amounts of electricity from the grid. Local utility Ergon Energy is currently tendering for 200 MW of large scale solar in the state.

While continuing to roll out projects, the Australian Federal Government confirmed last week that it is still official policy to terminate both bodies. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put innovation at the center of its communications at the COP21 climate summit in Paris and specifically singled out the contribution the University of New South Wales had made to the solar sector.

The Labor Opposition’s Tanya Plibersek last week asked the government in Parliament last to clarify its position regarding both ARENA and the CEFC. Plibersek asked: “In the context of negotiations in Paris, is it still government policy to abolish ARENA and CEFC, the very agencies that drive innovation in clean technology?”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, standing in for Turnbull who was in Paris, answered: “The Clean Energy Finance bill has been rejected by the Senate, that is one issue. I’m informed that it [the abolishment of ARENA and the CEFC] remains our policy. It has been rejected twice by the Senate but it still remains our policy.”