Construction of Conergy’s $42.5 million Lakeland Solar and Storage Project has passed the halfway mark, putting the world’s first utility-scale solar and storage project on track for completion in April this year.
Located off the Mulligan Highway at Lakeland in Far North Queensland, the project is the first integrated solar, storage and fringe-of-grid project of its scale, and will demonstrate grid-to-islanding functionality.
The project consists of a 13MWp/10.8MWac solar power PV ground-mounted array (featuring 41,440 solar panels), with a 1.4MW/5.3MWh Conergy ‘CHESS’ storage solution which will create a consistent power supply when combined, even during times of cloud cover.
It has been designed to consistently feed renewable energy into the grid and demonstrate the capability for large-scale solar and storage to provide reliable future power quality and supply at fringe-of-grid locations.
When commissioned around April this year, it will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 3000 homes, and will connect to Ergon Energy’s existing substation – one of the most remote National Electricity Market (NEM) connected substations in Australia.
The project, which is being constructed on approximately 23 hectares of land at Lakeland, is being developed, engineered and constructed by owner Conergy, one of the world’s most experienced downstream solar companies.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has provided $17.4 million in funding support, adding to its portfolio of fringe-of-grid projects that show how renewables can effectively supply energy to regional Australia.
Founded in 1998, Conergy specialises in the development, design, finance, build and long-term asset management of industrial and utility-scale solar power systems. It has pioneered the expansion of solar globally and has completed more than 1.5GW across more than 300 projects in more than 15 countries.
Conergy managing director David McCallum said the final commissioning and connection of Lakeland Solar and Storage Project was expected to follow soon after construction completion.
“Utility-scale solar and storage, combined with effective management software, is the Holy Grail of the global renewable energy industry, and with this project we are well within reach of it,” he said.
“This landmark project combines the latest developments in solar technology with utility-scale battery storage to feed consistent, quality power into the existing electricity grid.
“The Lakeland Solar and Storage Project is a pioneering development exploring a new breed of power station. It’s the beginning of a new way of thinking about how we generate, distribute and use power.
“It’s really no different to conventional power stations, except this one is situated close to the demand, rather than generating electricity hundreds and thousands of kilometres away.
“While there have been instances around the world where there have been big batteries on the grid for network services and where there have been solar and battery off-grid applications, there hasn’t been a project doing what we’re doing.
“We want to provide a real-life demonstration of how solar, battery and controller can provide predictable power supply on this scale.”
Due to the project’s unique nature and potential learnings, a Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP) had been established between Conergy, ARENA, BHP Billiton, Ergon Energy and Origin Energy.
Mr McCallum said ARENA was particularly invested in exploring and testing various operating modes to evaluate how renewables, storage and grid at a utility scale could assist in the delivery of smooth generation, reliable supply and islanding.
“This includes how projects like this can provide grid support systems by managing power quality in fringe and remote locations, in turn benefiting the efficiency of the entire network. This is something that hasn’t been done before,” he said.
“We’ll also be looking at ‘island mode’ testing, because in instances where the main backbone of the grid goes down, fringe-of-grid locations like here are often the first to feel the shutdown.
“What we will be testing is switching to ‘island mode’, so that if there is a fault further upstream this system may continue to supply the township with power for essential services.”
Prior to construction starting, Conergy completed community consultation, the development application, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) requirements, and detailed project management plans. A range of other onsite investigations were also completed, including geotechnical and environmental studies, storm water management plans, and cultural heritage studies.
The six-month construction phase in the remote location has involved up to 50 people working onsite. Materials and equipment, including piles and solar panels, are being transported in more than 115 containers by ship and rail to Townsville, and then another 570km by road to the site.
BMD Constructions was appointed the major sub-contractor for the project, undertaking all the civil, mechanical and structural works, while Nilsen Australia was appointed as the project’s electrical sub-contractor.
Mr McCallum said construction had proceeded as planned despite the challenges of working in a remote location in tropical north Queensland.
“We’ve made good progress and all the mounting structures have been installed, along with the associated cables. That’s about 11,000 piles that have been placed along a grid marked out by GPS,” he said.
“The mounting of the panels is well underway and by February about two-thirds of these will have been installed.”
The project’s location in Far North Queensland has been a key consideration in its design, influencing all aspects, particularly the storage battery and control units.
“Considering the size of the project, the energy storage and control units are relatively compact,” Mr McCallum said.
“We have two customised 40-foot shipping containers that hold the battery cells and one customised 20-foot shipping container that holds the electronics, control equipment, inverters and management system.
“These containers have been specially adapted and sealed, complete with heavy insulation, air conditioning and weather proofing, to accommodate the unique conditions and climate of the location.
“Conergy has been mindful to ensure that all activities, from construction through to operation, does not have a negative impact on the local community of about 250 people. This has included housing the construction team in existing facilities, rather than creating a separate construction camp, and considering how local resources are used.”
Once operational, the project’s automated control system will be operated from Conergy’s Asia Pacific regional office in Singapore via satellite broadband. While the region does have wired internet, satellite broadband is seen as being more reliable and ensures the project does not affect, nor is affected by, the quality of the local internet infrastructure.
The project’s control system is designed to signal performance and maintenance issues that need to be addressed. A team of local contractors will manage preventative and corrective maintenance, including landscaping and ensuring the panels are kept clean.
Up to 10 people will be involved in the ongoing operation of the project during its expected lifespan of more than 20 years.
With Australia’s rich solar resources, Mr McCallum said there was an immense opportunity for the widespread use of utility-scale batteries to store surplus power from excess solar generation for use during cloud cover, night-time and peak times.
“Along with our knowledge-share partners, we’ll be closely testing and demonstrating how the integrated technology performs, with the view that this model could be used more widely in the future,” he said.
“We want to demonstrate how this technology can provide an effective and reliable supply to the grid or operate in islanding mode, particularly in fringe-of-grid locations, paving the way for this integrated model to be used more widely around the world.
“In turn, this could limit and decrease future demand on traditional generation and transmission infrastructure, thereby reducing the need of expensive network upgrades– particularly in regional communities.”