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First Solar and University of Queensland to build world-leading research centre

The University of Queensland (UQ) has signed a contract with First Solar (Australia) for the construction of a solar photovoltaic research facility at Gatton. 

The 3.275 megawatt pilot plant – including more than 34,000 panels in a ground-mounted array – will be Queensland's largest solar power installation. 

First Solar will install its advanced, thin-film cadmium telluride PV modules on a 12.6ha former airstrip site at UQ's Gatton campus, 90km west of Brisbane. 

UQ and the University of New South Wales are partners on the overall EIF grant which also will fund new laboratories for Power Systems and Energy Economics Research at UQ's St Lucia campus and at UNSW's Kensington campus in Sydney. 

The Gatton plant is the pilot for two much-larger solar farms that AGL Energy and First Solar are building in western NSW: at Nyngan (102MW) and Broken Hill (53MW). The overall 155 megawatt, $450 million scheme will create Australia's largest solar power plant. About $167 million for the larger project is coming from ARENA; the NSW Government is contributing $64.9 million. 

UQ President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj said excellent UQ researchers underpinned UQ's ability to attract industry and government partners, who would be critical to the success of this globally significant solar research project. 

“Renewable energy research needs to be interdisciplinary and industry-integrated, to produce optimal results that are practical, efficient and attractive for industry and communities,” he said. 

“UQ's reputation for excellent researchers in areas including physics, engineering and sustainability helped secure the necessary buy-in from key industry leaders and government bodies. This will in turn drive outputs that can be taken up by industry, communities and governments. 

“Locally, the Gatton installation – like the St Lucia solar project – will yield clear benefits for campus energy supply, and for UQ research, teaching and community engagement,” Professor Høj said. 

Professor Paul Meredith, project director from UQ's Global Change Institute and the School of Maths and Physics, said the new facilities and associated research program had been designed to support the early-stage commissioning and operation of the main power plants in NSW. 

“Components of our research will focus on energy storage, plant optimisation, power systems and the impact of renewable energy on the National Electricity Market,” Professor Meredith said. 

“We will be able to test new technology and concepts at a meaningful scale and our work will help build national capacity for research in solar power deployment. We will create one of the largest and most sophisticated facilities for solar PV research anywhere in the world."

According to First Solar's Vice President of Business Development for Asia Pacific, Jack Curtis: “We are delighted to be partnering with The University of Queensland in delivering its new PV research facility. First Solar is committed to ensuring that learnings are fully leveraged to increase Australian innovation in solar power generation, to continue to facilitate a more viable and advanced utility-scale solar PV industry in Australia.” 

“The Australian local solar industry is gaining momentum with the recent financial close of our two utility-scale projects in Nyngan and Broken Hill in NSW. The knowledge gained through the construction and operation of large-scale, grid-connected solar power stations will help solar energy play a greater role in meeting Australia's electricity needs. The research facility will provide the opportunities for technological advancement that will ensure we can maintain this momentum for future projects across the country,” Curtis said. 

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