1.5 GW solar, 500 MWh battery project breaks ground in Queensland

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A project boasting 1.5 GW of solar PV and 500 MWh of energy storage broke ground 100 kilometers north of Brisbane on Wednesday, becoming Australia’s largest solar development to enter the construction phase. While no public announcement was made, the Smart Energy Council posted a photo from the ground breaking ceremony today on Twitter.

Not much is know about the project developer, as this appears to be its first and only project, judging by its website. According to a company extract from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Sunshine Energy Australia was registered in 2017 in Mitchell, ACT, with business headquarters in Melbourne. Its principle shareholder is Hong Kong-based Eastern Union Limited, while a bulk of the shares is owned by the company’s former and present director – Anthony John Youssef and Chi Man Li, both with a place of residence in Australia.

The massive project was given the green light by Queensland’s Somerset Council mid November, following a review. The Council noted that the application had been referred to various government departments and agencies for their input.

“This was a complex development application put together by Ethos Urban planning consultants, who have been involved in other large infrastructure projects throughout Australia, on behalf of Sunshine Energy Australia Pty Ltd,” Somerset Mayor Graeme Lehmann said at the time.

The plant is planned to spread across 2,055 hectares east of Harlin along the D’Aguilar Highway and be developed in three stages of 500 MW each. It will connect to the 275 kV high voltage national distribution network in Queensland.

Alongside the 1.5 GW solar farm, the project will feature two substations and a 500 MWh energy storage facility to be added at a later date, putting the overall estimated costs at around $3.5 billion.

“The site has been largely cleared in the past and is within one hour of the 570 MW pumped storage hydroelectric plant at Splityard Creek which is also in the Somerset Regional Council area,” Lehmann stated earlier, noting that the site is attractive because of its proximity to the existing high voltage power network and proximity to Brisbane.

Grid and economic boost

According to the project website, the solar farm will be able to generate average around 2259 GWh of green energy per year and supply around 300,000 Queensland households.

The development is being mooted as bringing an economic boost to the region, creating 1000 jobs, both onsite and logistically, and 30-60 permanent positions.

According to Sunshine Energy, the solar farm is expected to take approximately 6-8 months to do the initial site preparation and further 16-24 months to complete the construction. It could eventually expand in size to a whopping 2 GW within 36 months, depending on the suitability and size of the land around the area.

This project dwarfs any other PV plant currently under construction in Australia, such as innogy’s 349 MWp Limondale Solar Farm and Maoneng’s the 255 MWp Sunraysia Solar Farm in New South Wales, Total Eren’s 256.5 MWp Kiamal Solar Farm in Victoria.

As for the energy storage component, Sunshine Energy’s website refers to a patented solution called SEA-Power (SEAP). It says each SEAP unit consists of 4 MW of lithium-ion battery storage, a battery management system (BMS), fire suppression equipment, thermal management system, switchgear and other components, housed in a 40-foot shipping container. Sunshine Energy says that the SEAP solution can provide a range of grid services, along with “renewable energy smoothing and power quality management.”

With the capacity of 500 MWh, the Sunshine Energy battery will be among the nation’s largest, including the South Australian Tesla big battery (110 MW/129 MWh) at the Hornsdale Power Reserve and the construction-ready 200 MW solar PV+120 MWh battery project that form part of the Solar River Project in South Australia, the size of which could double at a later stage.

Another gigawatt project was waved through in Queensland two years ago, when Singapore-based Equis Energy secured approval to begin constructing the 1 GW Wandoan South Solar Projects.

Meanwhile, Australia’s other GW renewable energy projects are still awaiting a regulatory nod – a 4 GW renewable energy hub for New South Wales proposed by Energy Estate and MirusWind, and the 11 GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub , which is planned to export power to Southeast Asia via subsea cables and supply big miners and green hydrogen projects in the Pilbara region, in northwest WA put forward by a consortium comprising Vestas, Intercontinental Energy, CWP Energy Asia and Macquarie Group.