ACT News

Majura Valley solar farm system tracks sun

Sun-tracking technology for solar panels will be deployed for the first time in Australia at a new solar farm in the Majura Valley on Canberra's eastern fringe.

Solar Choice is developing and will operate the $6.5 million solar farm, which will feature a QBotix robotic tracking system, developed in California in 2012. The system is used in the United States, Japan and Europe.

Self-charging, track-mounted robots adjust the tilt and orientation of individual solar arrays throughout the day to gain maximum exposure to the sun. 

Solar Choice, a brokerage firm which develops and manages solar projects throughout Australia and Britain, is finalising details for the 2MW first stage of its Canberra venture, which will generate about 3 million kWh of clean energy.

First proposed in early 2013, the project struck objections from Canberra Airport, which warned solar glare could blind pilots on the northern landing approach, and that the land on which the farm was being developed was subject to withdrawal clauses because it was in a transport corridor.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority ruled out the safety concerns. Final approval came late last year from the National Capital Authority.

Solar Choice managing director Angus Gemmell said the QBotix technology was unrelated to the air safety concerns, and would make sure the panels always faced the sun.

It also provided an option to adjust angles, if required later by the authority, Mr Gemmell said.

Although a small project, the new solar farm required a lot of paperwork, with as much due diligence required for a large-scale power generator.

Work on the solar farm should begin this year and would take two to six months from the start of construction to commissioning.

"We had hoped to be moving into construction in the first quarter of 2015 but will be later as the financier is bedding down contractual details on supply and construction," Mr Gemmell said.

Motorists on the Majura Parkway, which is due for completion in 2016, will have glimpses of the solar farm in the early years until a screen of native trees is well established.

Mr Gemmell said the Australian government's Renewable Energy Target review had not caused a delay on the Majura project, but was causing issues elsewhere.

"We have much larger sites in Victoria and Queensland, which are hundreds of megawatts. The regulatory uncertainty around the renewable energy target is causing investors to sit on their hands," he said.

Mr Gemmell said it was essential the right deal was struck on the RET.

"The solar industry in Australia, on the large-scale projects, would prefer no deal rather than a bad deal. The industry welcomed the Labor Party pulling away from negotiations after it was clear the Coalition weren't going to budge," he said.

"There's no point of having a target if you don't meet it; we don't want to be [the] first country to diminish the renewable energy target."

The US-China climate change agreement in November removed one of the central planks of the Coalition's battlelines around the renewable energy target, which was to say, as a minor player, Australia would not do anything until the big players did.

"That argument now looks all the more flawed," Mr Gemmell said.

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