First Solar: Delivering solar to Australia en masse
The sixth largest country in the world, Australia boasts the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent.
And its growing rapidly, thanks to the Renewable Energy Target (RET) – a government scheme designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector. It also encourages the additional generation of electricity from sustainable and renewable sources.
American solar panel manufacturer, First Solar, entered the Australian market just seven years ago. Now, it’s acquiring, developing, financing, operating and maintaining some of our largest renewable projects.
It’s supplying 203 megawatt (MW) modules to two large-scale PV projects Queensland, the Kidston Solar Farm and Sun Metals solar farm, and building the $230mn, 48.5MW Manildra Solar Farm in New South Wales.
Originally established to just supply the technology, the company saw a gap in the market and ramped up a capability to construct projects.
The last 18 months have certainly yielded for the company. Federal government agency, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), intended to fund and support about 200MW of large-scale solar. It ultimately ended up awarding approximately 450MW to 12 developers, including First Solar.
This is down to First Solar’s delivering capabilities and unique core technology, Cadmium Telluride (CdTe). This is thin film technology whereby the semi-conductor material that goes in-between the glass converts sunlight to electricity. First Solar is the only company globally that manufactures this technology at commercial scale.
Over the next 18 months, First Solar will launch new products, including its game-changing, next generation Series 6 module, which utilises a new production methodology, employs a larger glass size, has lower capital expenditures and is more cost effective.
First Solar is also building and supplying Australia’s largest solar project, Sun Metals solar farm Queensland, with 140MW over a 12 to 15-month timeline. The construction of the project is being managed by its construction partner, RCR Tomlinson Ltd.
The business is also a major supplier on the Genex Power-owned Kidston Solar Farm in Queensland, providing 63MW DC of advanced thin-film photovoltaic (PV). The technology will produce approximately 145,000MW of electricity in its first year alone.
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First Solar and RCR are also working together on the NSW Manildra Solar Farm, which was awarded $9.8mn of grant funding from ARENA.
It will utilise approximately 466,000 First Solar thin-film PV modules to produce 120,000 MWh of electricity in its first year of operation, producing enough energy to power 14,000 homes and displace more than 91,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
The company is also enthusiastic about commercial industrial procurement. There’s a global campaign to promote 100% renewable energy use in the business world, with behemoths like Google, Amazon and Apple investing in solar and wind energy.
Sun Metals is a prime example of this. It is a large zinc refinery and the first large-scale solar farm to be built directly by a major energy user in Australia.
Cost has been the primary driver of this. Over the last 10 years the cost to produce each panel has been streamlined and efficiency has increased, and First Solar’s plan is to continue promoting utility scale solar projects and reduce costs. The future certainly looks a bright one for the company and the industry at large.