The Queensland State Government has announced the opening of Australia’s largest flat panel photovoltaic (PV) solar array.


The $7.75 million array, to which the State Government contributed $1.5 million, has started to provide energy to the St Lucia campus of the University of Queensland (UQ).


It will produce about 1750 megawatt hours of clean renewable solar energy each year and provide about five per cent of the university’s peak demand power requirements. It will also be used for the university’s research program into renewable energy.


The solar power system also includes a ground-mounted, seven metre by six metre 8.4 kilowatt concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) array that tracks the sun as it moves across the sky


University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield said the university was focussing on reducing carbon emissions and increasing its use of renewable energy.


“As well as being part of the university’s functional energy infrastructure, the solar array will underpin research in diverse fields including physics, engineering, economics and sustainability,” he said. “Moreover, we will share this knowledge asset with the community by giving school students, teachers and any other interested people free access to a website showing live and historical data about UQ’s solar infrastructure.


Professor Paul Meredith of UQ's School of Mathematics and Physics and Global Change Institute, who has overseen design and installation of the Solar Array, said a major objective of the array research program is to provide a clearer understanding of how to integrate megawatt-scale renewable energy sources into an urban grid.


“Currently Australia's power grid is designed for a very small number of massive power generating plants – mostly coal, gas or hydro. In future, it will need to accommodate many, many more, smaller input sources in diverse locations, from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal and wind.  Mid-size, commercial-scale renewable power generating systems like UQ's will become increasingly common in urban and remote areas,” Professor Meredith said.


“Addressing the engineering issues around how these systems can feed into and integrate with the grid is essential so that people can really understand and calculate their value as we transition to lower-emission forms of energy.”


Electricity distributor and retailer Energex has joined UQ as a partner in this research project, and contributed for state-of-the-art equipment to allow high-quality monitoring and analysis of the power feed from the St Lucia solar array.

Another key UQ Solar research project involves addressing one of the most common criticisms of solar power: that it cannot replace 24/7 baseload grid power because it can only be generated when the sun is shining.

Through a partnership with ASX-listed Brisbane company RedFlow, a world leader in electricity storage technology, a 200kW battery bank will be connected to a 339kW section of UQ's solar array and allow significant research into techniques for capturing solar power during the day and feeding it into the grid at night and other times of peak demand.

“The RedFlow system uses next-generation zinc bromine batteries,” Professor Meredith said.

“These are more efficient than the lead-acid batteries that have been more common to date, and being filled with water rather than acid, they are much, much more environmentally friendly.”

Solar power generation has grown exponentially in Australia in the past decade, and particularly in the past two years, he said.  Developing effective, safe and cost-effective techniques for storing that power for use when needed would be a vital boost for the continued growth of the solar industry, and for securing its place as a reliable baseload power supplier.

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