Construction starts on UQ’s Warwick Solar Farm

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Construction of the $125 million Warwick Solar Farm is under way. The project was purchased by the University of Queensland (UQ) last November as part of its pledge to offset 100% of its electricity needs with renewables by 2020 and will be used for research and education.

With more than 45 workers already on site, and the number expected to exceed 160 at the peak of construction, the project is energizing the Darling Downs region’s economy. Early site works began in February. Installation of support structures is under way, with work to fit panels expected to begin around mid-year.

International property and infrastructure group Lendlease is acting as developer on the solar farm. The group’s other notable projects were co-developed with Carnegie Clean Energy’s subsidiary Energy Made Clean and include: the 5 MW Summerhill Solar Farm located on a disused landfill that was once part of a coal mine in Newcastle, and the 10 MW Northam Solar Farm, Western Australia’s first merchant solar farm commissioned last year.

UQ’s purchase of the project followed Terrain Solar finalising a connection agreement with Ergon Energy, and the development approval which was granted by the Southern Downs Regional Council in June last year. The project was officially launched on site on Thursday by Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) Mayor Tracy Dobie and University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor and President Peter Høj.

“We are proud to become a part of the Southern Downs community through this project, and to help generate regional jobs in our home state,” Høj said. “This will become a centrepiece of our education and research into renewables, and the Southern Downs region can expect regular visitors from UQ and further afield over the 25-year life of the solar farm.”

The UQ Warwick Solar Farm is slated to be completed late this year, and will employ about half a dozen staff on an on-going basis. It will generate 160,000 MWh of renewable energy each year as of early 2020.

“UQ’s investment gives this renewables project the extra dimensions of education and research – setting it apart from other solar farms being developed in regional Queensland,” Dobie said. “A memorandum of understanding includes plans for electric car charging stations by the end of the year and a visitor information centre offering guided tours of the project, and this will help put the Southern Downs on the map as a future-focused region.”

UQ calculates the utility-scale solar farm will pay for itself over the life of the project through electricity savings against a large amount of energy it uses to power laboratories, lecture theatres, libraries and other facilities for its 52,000 students and thousands of staff.

Its plan is to sell excess energy generated by the farm into the National Electricity Market, helping to put downward pressure on wholesale energy prices for all consumers, while a PPA with a third party is also on the cards. For backup power, UQ will need to be exposed to the 30 minute wholesale energy market ‘spot price’. It is planning to manage a risk of market volatility through specialist financial hedging instruments such as ‘cap’ contracts.

In the long run, UQ may even consider getting further off the grid, as its Warwick solar farm is designed to be battery storage-ready. In the meantime, the University is pursuing opportunities for energy storage ‘behind the meter’ alongside its 50,000 modules already in place at its campuses, including a 1 MW/2 MWh of lithium-ion storage at the St. Lucia campus, as well as the 600 kW/760 kWh of lithium-ion battery at the Gatton campus.

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