Major solar research facility switched on at UQ campus


Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane has officially opened the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) research facility in the southern hemisphere at the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Gatton campus.

Major solar research facility
Gatton Aerial (Credit Adam Harper)

Speaking at the opening ceremony attended by federal, state and local officials and national energy industry leaders, Mr Macfarlane said the 3.275 megawatt Gatton Solar Research Facility was part of a $400 million project led by AGL Energy and supported by $166.7 million of Australian Government funding through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

“The UQ is the lead researcher for the AGL project which is on track to construct Australia’s biggest solar plant at two sites in New South Wales. When complete, the Nyngan and Broken Hill sites will have a combined total generation capacity of 155 MW and the ability to generate enough renewable energy to power more than 33,000 homes each year,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“UQ received $40.7 million of Australian Government funding to build the 3.3MW research plant at its Gatton campus, which will test the technologies, performance, energy storage and operational strategies underpinning the AGL project. The plant is fully integrated into the Energex network and will supply 30% of the Gatton campus’s energy needs with excess generation being supplied to the Lockyer Valley.”

According to the press release by the UQ, the 3.275 megawatt Gatton Solar Research Facility comprises more than 37,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels, mounted on the campus’s 10ha former airstrip.

The advanced technology photovoltaic (PV) modules from project partner First Solar will produce enough clean energy to power more than 450 average Queensland homes and will displace the equivalent of 5,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the Gatton installation was one of the most advanced research facilities of its kind in the world, and its commissioning was a landmark in UQ’s clean energy journey.

“This infrastructure brings UQ’s total solar generation capacity to more than five megawatts. UQ made a significant step into solar power generation and research four years ago when it installed a 1.22 megawatt solar system across four rooftops at St Lucia. That remains Australia’s largest rooftop system,” Professor Høj said.

“The Gatton system is almost three times bigger than the one at St Lucia, and takes the University’s renewable energy research to greater heights. This project is a great example of UQ working hand-in-hand with industry and government to ensure our excellent research and technology contribute to a viable clean energy future for the world.”

First Solar Asia-Pacific Regional Manager Jack Curtis said the facility’s advanced capability and research potential was unparalleled almost anywhere in the world.

“This landmark installation will be a showcase for the region, helping to ensure that solar plays a strong role in Australia’s energy mix. The lessons learned here will have global impact.”

The Gatton project, which was announced eight months ago, is part of a research collaboration between UQ, the University of New South Wales (UNSW), First Solar and AGL PV Solar Holdings, an affiliate of AGL Ltd.