While not impressive in size, the Robinvale Solar Farm provides a litany of firsts for the Australian renewable energy sector. The 9.4 MW project commissioned last week marks the arrival of a new project developer and new technology, which holds the promise of opening the door for small businesses to access renewables energy Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).
Located approximately 90 km south-west of Mildura in Victoria, the solar farm was developed by Suntech Power Development Australia, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suntech Power Japan Corporation. The project features 24,920 Suntech’s mono-crystalline PV panels mounted on single-axis trackers. It is one of the first solar farms in Australia to utilize string inverters on utility-scale, following in the footsteps of FRV’s Winton Solar Farm featuring string inverters from Huawei.
The Robinvale Solar Farm boasts 147 string inverters and three transformers connected to Powercor’s 22kV network, just 700 meters away from the Robinvale substation. It is expected to generate approximately 18,000 MWh annually, enough to power around 2300 homes.
“The Robinvale Solar Farm is our first 100% owned project in the Australian pipeline to come to realisation, and we look to further expand our solar footprint in Australia.” Indicated by Zeight Gao, CEO of Suntech Power Japan Corporation.
Despite multiple disruptions, due to bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Robinvale Solar Farm completed construction on schedule. The project was delivered in just six months without delays, the developer said, thanks to comprehensive and proactive planning by Suntech’s team.
“Given this experience, we are now confident to deliver Riverina Solar Farm which is currently under development,” said Lorita Chen, the country representative of the IPP business of Suntech Group. The 40 MW development is one of the slew of large-scale solar farms announced for the region.
A new type of PPA
The electricity from the Robinvale Solar Farm is contracted under a long-term PPA with innovative electricity retailer Mojo Power. What makes this 10-year, $10 million PPA different from others is its underlying technology developed by Lithuania-based blockchain startup WePower.
Using WePower’s contract architecture, PPAs tokenization and trading platform technologies, Mojo Power will open a secondary marketplace for power from Suntech’s solar project. This means that corporates of any size will be able to purchase verified renewable energy directly through the online marketplace.
Traditionally, PPAs are only accessible to large customers purchasing over 10MW or $2 million of energy, locking most companies out of the market. With the new platform, the threshold for direct energy purchases will drop from $2 million to $100,000.
The blockchain technology, which provides an immutable audit trail, will make it possible for offtakers to know with certainty where their electricity came from and how it was generated. Essentially, WePower’s blockchain allows to break the original PPAs down into smaller ‘tokenized’ pieces and track the source of generation with 100% reliability.
“Energy customers in Australia can now receive an unprecedented level of transparency, access and insight by purchasing energy through our platform,” said WePower CEO Nikolaj Martyniuk, adding the project going live was a milestone on the road to energy democracy in Australia.
While the PPA still exists in its traditional form, what sits underneath it is a smart contract and tokenized energy that collectively form WePower’s digital PPA layer. The nature of “the virtual PPA” allows token holders i.e. offtakers to restructure the primary PPA as they wish. For Mojo, this meant that after it contracted 100% of the Robinvale farm’s output, it was able to ink a secondary PPA with boutique electricity retailers People Energy and Q Energy.
For WePower, the Robinvale project was only the beginning. The company says it is focusing on the utility-scale sector in Australia, which means projects above 5 MW. This is understandable given that the technology can host a huge number of users – the company says it has tested the platform with 750,000 simultaneous offtakes.
“For a corporate, this is probably interesting in some ways, but for a retailer, this can be quite powerful,” Jenya Khavatski, Director of Business Development at WePower tells pv magazine Australia. WePower currently has 16 deals in its Australian pipeline, most of which are linked to big PV projects located throughout the NEM. “Two deals are in advanced stages of onboarding,” Khavatski says. “One of them is a 100 MW development with 50% of its output put through the WePower platform.”