The University of Queensland (UQ) have begun construction on a 3.275 megawatt solar photovoltaic research facility at UQ’s Gatton campus, and they’re calling it the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Working with First Solar, a global provider of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, UQ says the facility will support innovation in Australia’s renewable energy industry by providing world-leading research on large-scale solar power systems.

“The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” said UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj.

“These researchers are some of the best in the business, and their teamwork with an innovative global company such as First Solar will ensure optimal returns on a substantial Australian government investment in renewable energy research and development, with excellent implications for society and the environment.”

The plant will cover 10ha of the UQ's Gatton campus and will produce enough electricity annually to power more than 450 average Australian homes, equivalent to displacing more than 5,600 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide or removing 1,590 cars from the road.

In addition to supplying and installing about 40,000 advanced thin-film photovoltaic panels in ground-mounted arrays, First Solar will also provide engineering, procurement and construction for the Gatton PV Pilot Plant.

“Our collaboration with UQ will result in advanced local solar generation technologies that will strenghten the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Regional Manager for Asia Pacific.

“The Gatton research facility will evidence the value that private and public sector research collaboration can bring to the renewable energy sector. It will also support First Solar in the continued delivery of best-in-class technology to the market.”

Professor Paul Meredith, Director of UQ Solar – part of the Global Change Institute – said the project was scheduled to be commissioned early next year and would provide 30 per cent of the UQ Gatton campus’s energy.

“The new research facility will enhance knowledge and implementation of grid integration of large solar power systems,” Meredith said.  

“It will allow us to compare and contrast new technologies by studying electrical and economic performance of multiple PV mounting technologies through the installation and operation of fixed-tilt, single-axis and dual-axis tracker technologies side-by-side in the same field.”

The plant will include a megawatt-hour-scale battery storage research station to improve understanding of the value of short- and medium-term energy storage, its impact on the quality of power supply and any resulting economic benefits.

The research project represents a key component of the $40.7 million grant by the Education Infrastructure Fund (EIF) to UQ and the University of New South Wales