International solar fund weathers Australia’s storms, grid constraints


From pv magazine Australia

Foresight Solar Fund – a U.K. renewable-energy fund with international assets that include Australia’s Longreach, Bannerton, and Oakey 1 and Oakey 2 solar farms – has released a 2020 annual report that provides insights into the performance of solar investments.

With 723 MW of ground-mounted solar installed in the United Kingdom, 124.6 MW in Spain, and 146 MW installed in Australia, Foresight named the pandemic and company efforts to protect employees as the greatest operational challenges of 2020. But despite the underperformance of its Australian assets, which were acquired in 2017 and 2018, Foresight saw continued growth in 2020.

“The recent vote by shareholders to allow an allocation to BSS of up to 10% of GAV [gross asset valley] provides an additional and exciting area of potential growth for the company,” said Chairman Alex Ohlsson. “Foresight Solar’s U.K. portfolio delivered another 12 months of positive performance, with U.K. electricity generation for the year 8.4% above base case expectations due to good irradiation levels and asset availability.”

Overall, Foresight’s Australian assets were down on revenue by about 20% compared to budget, with three solar farms posting losses in projected production due to various factors. Queensland’s 17.5 MW Longreach Solar Farm, one of 12 large-scale PV projects supported in 2016  by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and originally developed by Canadian Solar, was curtailed in 2020 due to the low capacity of a local transformer, resulting in energy production that was 14.3% less than budgeted. The grid constraint was resolved in October, with an upgrade to the transformer negotiated by the asset manager with local grid operator Ergon Energy.

The 110 MW Bannerton Solar Park was of course one of five West Murray generators curtailed to 50% of their output from September 2019 to April 2020, due to oscillation problems in that area of the grid.

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Collaboration between the solar farms, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and inverter supplier SMA led to the tuning of the affected solar farms’ inverter settings. That resolved the issue, but Bannerton was also affected by lower than expected irradiation levels in the second half of the year, which led to overall underperformance of 31.3%.

Storms once again affected Oakey 2 Solar Farm in 2020, after significant damage was inflicted by hail and wind in 2018. A storm in January 2020 took out 15% of the site, which was subsequently rebuilt during the reporting period.

The project received compensation for revenue losses caused by construction delays due to the storms. The latest annual report says that tracker structures have now been “reinforced and their control system redesigned to meet the design wind speed required for the site.”

Negotiations with the network provider enabled commissioning (originally planned for 2018) to be staged as reconstruction works progressed, which clawed back some of the expected production revenue.

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