Australia’s first utility-scale solar farm marks 10th anniversary


The first grid-scale solar plant in Australia, the Greenough River Solar Farm near Geraldton in Western Australia’s midwest, has notched a decade of operations after it was officially opened in Oct. 2012.

The original 10 MW Greenough River Solar Farm was the nation’s first large-scale solar power project when it was commissioned but it has since been dwarfed by the increasingly large utility-scale solar projects appearing on Australia’s landscape.

In the decade since the Greenough River Solar Farm came on line, more than 100 large-scale solar projects totalling almost 7 GW of generation capacity have been connected to the grid.

In the past year alone, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has registered 29 new generation and storage projects totalling 4 GW of capacity, including what is now Australia’s largest solar farm, a 400 MW power plant being developed in Queensland’s Western Downs region by the Australian arm of French renewables developer Neoen.

The 400 MW project, which is now exporting to the grid, forms part of Neoen’s $600 million (USD 376 million) Western Downs Green Power Hub.

The Greenough River Solar Farm was developed by Western Australian state-owned energy generator and retailer Synergy and GE Energy Financial Services before it was acquired in 2018 by Bright Energy Investments (BEI), a joint venture between Synergy, Dutch Infrastructure Fund and Construction Building Union Superannuation.

The original 10 MW first stage of the Greenough River Solar Farm is here flanked by the stage two arrays.

Image: BEI

The original 10 MW first stage of the solar farm comprises 150,000 Series 3 thin film 85 W PV panels supplied by American module producer First Solar. The panels were mounted on fixed racking.

The output from the first stage has from the outset been purchased by WA’s Water Corporation to help offset the energy requirements of its Southern Seawater Desalination Plant near Binningup.

The capacity of the Greenough River Solar Farm has since been increased with a 30 MW expansion completed in 2020. Stage two comprises 300,000 First Solar 117.5 W Series 4 panels mounted on a Nextracker single axis tracking system.

The expanded solar farm now produces an estimated 98 GWh of clean energy per year to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) – enough electricity to power the equivalent of almost 20,000 Australian households.

While no longer in the conversation when it comes to the largest solar projects in the country, BEI General Manager Tom Frood said the Greenough River Solar Farm has served as a model for utility-scale solar in Australia.

“Greenough River Solar Farm was a pioneering project when first developed by Synergy in 2012 and has been regularly recognised as one of the best performing in Australia since Bright Energy Investments’ stage two expansion in 2018,” he said.

“Stage two’s ability to tilt its panels to track the sun throughout the day has significantly increased the output of the now 40 MW solar farm to provide clean, affordable and sustainable energy for Western Australians.”

Operations and maintenance at the solar farm is handled by NovaSource Power Services, which took over the role from First Solar’s in-house O&M services branch last year.

NovaSource Australia country manager Daman Cole said Greenough River Solar Farm had been a great success story and he expects that to continue.

“It will forever be an important part of Australia’s energy history,” he said.

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