University of Queensland and First Solar begin work on Australia’s largest solar photovoltaic research facility


The University of Queensland (UQ) announced last week that construction of the Gatton PV Pilot Plant – the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) research facility in the southern hemisphere at UQ Gatton – has officially begun.

An artist's impression of the solar research facility at UQ Gatton on completion. Image: Wilson Architects
An artist’s impression of the solar research facility at UQ Gatton on completion. Image: Wilson Architects

The research project is part of the $40.7 million grant by the Education Infrastructure Fund (EIF) to UQ and the University of New South Wales announced last year.

First Solar will supply and install around 40,000 advanced thin-film photovoltaic panels in ground-mounted arrays, while also providing engineering, procurement and construction services for the entire project.

The pilot facility is set to support innovation in Australia’s renewable energy industry as it will provide world-leading research on large-scale solar power systems.

“The researchers using this facility will provide new insights on integrating large-scale renewable power plants with conventional electricity grids,” said UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj.

“These researchers are some of the best in the business, and their teamwork with an innovative global company such as First Solar will ensure optimal returns on a substantial Australian government investment in renewable energy research and development, with excellent implications for society and the environment.”

The plant will cover 10ha and will power over 450 average Australian homes.

“Our collaboration with UQ will result in advanced local solar generation technologies that will strenghten the solar industry’s position within Australia’s energy mix,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Regional Manager for Asia Pacific.

“The Gatton research facility will evidence the value that private and public sector research collaboration can bring to the renewable energy sector. It will also support First Solar in the continued delivery of best-in-class technology to the market.”

The project is scheduled to be commissioned early next year and is set to provide 30% of the UQ Gatton campus’s energy.

“The new research facility will enhance knowledge and implementation of grid integration of large solar power systems,” said Professor Paul Meredith, Director of UQ Solar – part of the Global Change Institute.

“It will allow us to compare and contrast new technologies by studying electrical and economic performance of multiple PV mounting technologies through the installation and operation of fixed-tilt, single-axis and dual-axis tracker technologies side-by-side in the same field.”