Townsville’s Willows Shopping Centre gets a cool new solar car park

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Shade sails or a solar car park? In tropical Townsville where the heat of the sun can sear you to your car seat, Willows Shopping Centre owner Dexus Wholesale Property Fund has opted for the multiple benefits of shade, shelter from rain and solar energy generation, by signing up for 1.5 MW of solar PV to cover more than 500 new car spaces.

Centre Manager, Andrew Stallan identified another return on the multi-million-dollar investment when he said, “ We are pleased to commence this landmark solar project, which enhances the amenity for our shoppers, and also importantly supports Dexus’s pathway to a ‘net zero’ property portfolio by 2030.”

Epho, developers of turnkey solar energy solutions for corporate and government clients, and known for its 5.725 MW Brisbane Airport solar installation, will deliver the project which is calculated to generate about 2,500 MWh per annum, significantly reducing the shopping centre’s reliance on electricity from the grid.

Managing Director of Epho, Oliver Hartley, told pv magazine, that any large supermarket or shopping centre can expect to reduce its grid-energy consumption by between 30-40% by installing solar PV on existing rooftops and/or car park structures.

“The cost of the car park structure itself is something you need to factor in as extra, and you do have to put up a sizeable structure, particularly in areas like Townsville which is cyclone rated.”

In Townsville, whether the structure supports shade cloth or a solar installation, it must be able to withstand the conditions of Wind Region C.

On the supporting structure at Willows, Epho will install some 4,800 Hanwha Q Cells panels, which are themselves cyclone rated, having been verified at James Cook University Cyclone Testing Station as being suitable for application in extreme Australian wind zones. 

Hartley confirms that the Willows Shopping Centre project is among the biggest solar car parks ever constructed in Australia, and says the potential market for such installations is significant.

“It just hasn’t been done so often,” he says. Among the challenges he identifies is that, “The solar car park structures aren’t cheap. They have to be properly designed and installed.” And for established retailers, “construction obviously disturbs the flow of traffic around the shopping centre”.

He says that clients such as Dexus “Have to feel confident that the EPC contractors can do the job with respect for their needs,” keeping a proportion of car-parking spaces available at all times.

Construction on the Willows project will be carried out in stages, and is expected to be completed in April 2020.