Fly me to the sun, Melbourne Airport’s record solar farm

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Melbourne Airport, perhaps better known locally as Tullamarine, may not be the global traffic hub it usually is thanks to Covid-19, but it is certainly not using the time unproductively. The airport is installing of a new 12.4 MW(DC) solar farm, which, when it goes live in January 2021, will produce enough clean solar energy to power all four passenger terminals. 

As someone who once laboured unpacking shipping containers at Tullamarine, I can tell you it is a solar sanctuary; the place is on the sun’s speed-dial. In the summer, temperatures inside the containers would regularly soar into the 60s as some motley crew and I toiled feverishly back and forth like Dante’s usurers in Hell, except that usurers make good money. 

Melbourne Airport’s new solar farm is one of the largest behind-the-meter solar installations in the country, certainly the largest of any airport. The solar array was developed by Beon Energy Solutions contracted with General Electrical. The team used Canadian Solar monofacial panels specifically selected to avoid glare in the vicinity of the airport’s runways. 

Of course, it has been a long-held myth that solar is impractical at airports because of reflective glare, but as a recent CSIRO report on the green hydrogen potential of the aviation industry stated: “traditional silicon panels primarily absorb rather than reflect light. There is already a precedent for solar farms at airports with Denver International Airport already hosting 2 MW and currently implementing plans for expansion.” 

The solar farm is set to generate 17 GWh of electricity every year, equating to almost 15% of the airport’s consumption needs. “With the airport’s electricity demand expected to grow,” said Melbourne Airport Chief of Landside Access, Utilities and Facilities Group, Lorie Argus, “the construction of our solar farm makes sense for several reasons. The project is expected to deliver significant annualised energy cost savings, a timely benefit with the impacts of Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the aviation industry.” 

Beon Energy Solutions General Manager, Glen Thompson, said the “airport location brings with it some unique complexities and challenges, which utilises our collective strengths,” and should see the project’s completion by the end of September. 

Beon Energy Solutions has a storied history of large ground-mounted behind-the-meter installations, including solar projects for Victoria’s Central Highlands Water, Barwon Water, and Hardwicks Meat Works. But this is not to ignore the company’s EPC delivery of utility-scale solar farms including the 112 MW Karadoc (VIC), the 106 MW Yatpool, the 120 MW Bowmen (NSW), and the under construction 50 MW Jamalong (NSW). 

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