Australia’s first utility-scale solar power project, the Greenough River Solar Farm, is now underway, but will use photovoltaic modules from the US. The solar farm is scoped to be 10 times larger than any other operating solar project in the country. It is expected to be fully operational mid 2012.
Output from the 10-megawatt AC project on 80 hectares of cleared land 50 km southeast of Geraldton will contribute to offsetting the energy requirements of the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.
Financially, WA power utility Verve Energy and GE Energy Financial Services will each own 50 percent of the solar project. The WA state government will provide $20 million, including $10 million from the WA Royalties for Regions program.
All of the solar farm’s energy output will be purchased by the WA Water Corporation, for powering the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant which will produce about 50 gigalitres of potable water per year.
Significantly, the 150,000 advanced thin film photovoltaic modules at the core of the solar farm will be supplied by First Solar, who will also provide engineering, procurement and construction services, in addition to operations and maintenance support once the solar farm is operational.
First Solar is a US-based company, with manufacturing facilities in Germany, Malaysia and in Ohio, US. It is believed that no Australian photovoltaic manufacturers will be involved in this project.
According to Verve Energy’s Peter Winner, the tendering process was open to the industry and market players. “It was an open process. All the big boys took part, and First Solar came out better,” Winner said.
Spokesperson for First Solar, Peri Muddle, said the company was focused on building a team in Australia to pursue opportunities in what the firm viewed as a burgeoning market (especially given the region’s solar reception), and there would be the chance for local manufacturers and supply chain players to participate in future projects.
For GE Energy Financial Services, the project represents its first renewable energy investment in Australia.
Providing clean, affordable and sustainable energy to partially power the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant, near the town of Binningup, the solar project is expected to create more than 50 construction jobs.
The project will produce energy during the day, and will displace 25,000 tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 5,000 cars off the road.