Where is the project located?

The solar farm will be located at Sladevale, about 5km north of the Warwick town centre in the Southern Downs region of Queensland. The site is a 1 hour 45 minute drive from UQ’s St Lucia campus, and about 1 hour 20 minutes from the Gatton campus.

What is the size of the project?

The solar farm is expected to total around 64 MWac and 78 MWdc. The project site is around 154 hectares, of which just under 30% will be covered by solar modules. The balance will be made up of the spacing between each row of panels, 16 inverter stations, access roads, screening vegetation to be planted, and several small buildings including a site office and a visitor/learning centre.

Why was this site chosen?

The site meets a range of essential technical criteria such as proximity to a suitable substation, topography, aspect, geotechnical conditions and limited remnant vegetation. Importantly for UQ’s teaching, research, and engagement objectives, it is also close to the services and amenities of a major regional centre and to UQ campuses.

What is the history of the project?

UQ has a long track record of leadership in the deployment of renewable energy. Investigations into the feasibility of leveraging this experience to become 100% renewable began in early 2017. The business case for the initiative was endorsed by UQ Senate in October 2017. Agreement was then reached with Terrain Solar in late December 2017 to purchase the Warwick solar farm project once construction is ready to commence.

What is the current status of the project?

Land agreements have been finalised and Southern Downs Regional Council recently granted development approval. The project’s Application for Connection is currently being reviewed and finalised by Ergon Energy and the Australian Energy Market Operator. Negotiations are being finalised with a lead contractor to prepare for the start of construction.

What is the expected timeline for the project?

A formal Connection Agreement with Ergon Energy is likely to be the final step before construction begins. This is anticipated around the end of September 2018. Detailed design, construction and commissioning is expected to take 12 to14 months, meaning the solar farm will be complete and generating energy by the end of 2019.

How much will the project cost?

A budget of $125 million covers all project costs including acquisition of development rights, land purchase, construction, connection works, professional fees and contingency.

How is the project being funded?

A loan from the Queensland Treasury Corporation will fund the majority of the project cost. A large portion of UQ’s former electricity spend will now go towards paying back the capital and operating costs of the solar farm.

Who is developing the project?

Terrain Solar is leading the site selection, land agreements, development approval, and connection agreement aspects of the project. UQ will take ownership of the project once the construction phase begins. UQ intends to maintain full ownership and operational control over the expected 25-year life of the facility.

What are the economic & employment benefits project?

Construction of the solar farm is expected to create more than 100 direct jobs. Experience suggests that many of the construction jobs will be filled from within the local region, and UQ will be encouraging the use of local subcontractors and suppliers. Enquiries about potential employment or supplier opportunities should be directed to info@warwicksolarfarm.com.au.

Following construction, the site is expected to support 6 to 7 operation and maintenance positions for the life of the solar farm. These include both skilled and unskilled positions. UQ will also be recruiting a facility manager to be based at the site full-time.

The wider local economy is also expected to benefit from frequent visits to the site by members of the UQ community and other stakeholders.

What other regional benefits and opportunities will the project create?

UQ is excited about establishing a long term presence in the Southern Downs region and is actively working to identify and develop additional opportunities from this development. As an example, Terrain Solar and UQ are working with the Southern Downs Industry Education Association (SDIEA) to develop potential training and upskilling opportunities local people during both the construction and operation phases of the project.

To help facilitate additional opportunities for the region, UQ is proud to have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Southern Downs Regional Council. This MOU commits the parties to working together to help identify and deliver additional benefits for the region. These include things such as scholarships for local students, the establishment of visitor information facilities, and the potential to supply surplus power from the project at cost-price to power Council facilities and help put downwards pressure on operating costs for rate payers.

UQ has also committed to installing several electric vehicle ‘fast chargers’ either at or near the solar farm site. This Queensland-made technology can charge a car more than 20 times faster than a regular socket and has been successfully deployed at UQ’s St Lucia & Gatton campuses. This infrastructure will be free for the public to use, and will open up opportunities for electric vehicle travel and tourism in the Southern Downs region.

How will agriculture and renewable energy be integrated?

UQ is committed to agricultural co-production opportunities at the Warwick Solar Farm. The University has successfully piloted the integration of sheep within an operational solar farm at the Gatton Solar Research Facility and will seek to partner with local graziers interested in agistment within the solar array area at Warwick. Agistment for cattle or other livestock will also be available for parts of the site not used by the solar farm. Research into the integration of other potential agricultural activities at the site is also expected to be a focus area for UQ.

What are the current research opportunities?

The Warwick Solar Farm will support a wide range of current and emerging research and industry partnerships across a broad array of disciplines. Many of these will be led by the dedicated UQ Solar research group within the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture & Information Technology. Potential areas of research include:

  • use of cloud cameras to predict solar farm output
  • use of inverters and new market structures to provide voltage regulation and reactive power services to the distribution network
  • co-optimisation of providing energy alongside frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) into the National Electricity Market
  • integration of behind-the-meter demand response with in-front-of-meter large scale generation.

Research opportunities will extend beyond the engineering disciplines. For example, the project could be used as a case study to examine the economic benefits of renewable energy developments to regional Queensland, and how they can be maximised in future projects. 

What about future research opportunities?

The Warwick Solar Farm will support the development of new and emerging research streams, particularly in fields such as energy storage. The generation profile of the solar farm will provide an ideal opportunity for piloting emerging battery energy storage or hydrogen conversion technologies. It also opens the possibility of working with pumped hydro or similar technologies for the ‘time shifting’ of energy on a large scale. These concepts are especially exciting from the perspective of developing collaborations with industry partners who wish to pilot and prove innovative new energy solutions.

How will the project be used for teaching and learning?

UQ will be able to leverage the Warwick Solar Farm for undergraduate and postgraduate students across a range of academic disciplines. Traditional learning experiences such as field trips will be used alongside innovative methods. For example, live and historical data from the site could be used to develop realistic, web-based simulations and ‘games’ to teach topics such as energy markets. The solar farm’s educational benefits may extend beyond UQ’s traditional student markets, forming the basis of specialist formal short courses or free online courses. Finally, the project will create a number of internship and work experience opportunities for UQ students, through both the construction and operation phases, across a range of disciplines such as engineering, occupational health and safety, and business/finance.

 

What are the engagement opportunities for the project?

The Warwick Solar Farm will become UQ’s flagship renewable energy asset. As such, it is expected to attract significant state, national and international interest. The site can expect to regularly host Australian and international delegations from academia, industry and government. Engagement with primary and high schools will also be a key focus area. Over 500 students per year participate in hands-on ‘introduction to solar’ programs at the St Lucia campus, and this is likely to be expanded to schools in the Southern Downs region once the Warwick Solar Farm is completed.

How can the local community stay up-to-date with progress?

A dedicated project website has been set up to provide additional information about the development: www.warwicksolarfarm.com.au. Monthly updates on project progress will be provided via this website. More information can also be obtained by contacting info@warwicksolarfarm.com.au.

Will I be able to visit the solar farm once it’s completed?

Absolutely. UQ will have a full-time staff presence on site, and intends to organise regular tours for interested members of the public. Further information will be available as construction nears completion.

How will the project connect to the grid?

Existing power lines will be extended to connect the Warwick Solar Farm to the network.

Ergon-approved contractors will design and build the extension, and Ergon will ultimately own these lines.

While the exact design for the extensions is still to be finalised, it is anticipated that existing road reserves will be used and no new easements will be needed.

Permits or approvals required for the works will be arranged by the contractor in consultation with Ergon Energy.

The final design of the power line extensions is required to be approved by Ergon Energy in accordance with their technical standards and guidelines set by independent regulating authorities.

More information: Ergon Energy

What are EMFs?

Any appliance with electric current flowing through it creates electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) – including personal computers, hairdryers, electric blankets - and power lines.

Independent regulating authorities set exposure limits for EMFs, based on peer-reviewed research and technical modelling.

Modelling for the Warwick Solar Farm project shows the power lines will have a maximum magnetic field of around 6 milliGauss – or 0.6 microtesla (µT) – at ground level.

This compares to the international guideline limits for public exposure of 2,000 milliGauss (200 µT).

Personal computers have been measured to produce around 5 milliGauss (0.5 µT).

The overall average magnetic field from the power lines at ground level will be significantly lower than 6 milliGauss, because  the solar farm will only generate power during daylight hours.

More information on EMFs can be found on the following websites:

Memorandum of Understanding

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Aidan Byrne and SDRC Mayor Tracy Dobie
Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Aidan Byrne and SDRC Mayor Tracy Dobie

UQ has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Southern Downs Regional Council.

The MOU is a commitment from both parties to work together to help identify and deliver additional benefits for the region.

The non-binding MOU was signed by UQ acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Aidan Byrne and Southern Downs Mayor Tracy Dobie on 14 June 2018.

Opportunities being considered include scholarships for local students, the establishment of visitor information facilities at the solar farm, and the potential to supply surplus power from the project at cost-price to power Council facilities and help put downwards pressure on operating costs for rate payers.

UQ has also committed to installing several electric vehicle ‘fast chargers’ either at or near the solar farm site. 

Enquiries

For additional questions related to the project, please contact Andrew Wilson, Manager Energy & Sustainability: a.wilson@pf.uq.edu.au