Australian-First Cloud Predicting Technology Showcased at Karratha Solar Farm

The 1 megawatt (MW) Karratha Solar Farm, next to the Karratha Airport, about 850km southwest of Broome, was officially opened on the 9th of November by City of Karratha Mayor, Cr Peter Long at an on-site ceremony.  

“As the new owner of the Karratha Solar Farm we are very proud to see this exciting project, one of our first solar energy assets, opened today. Not only is this the largest airport solar farm in WA, it is the largest PV grid-connected project to showcase game-changing Cloud Predictive Technology (CPT),” said Impact Investment Group’s Chief Executive Officer, Chris Lock. The Impact Investment Group (IIG) is a Melbourne-based fund manager focused on investments that blend financial returns with deep social and environmental benefits.

City of Karratha Mayor, Cr Peter Long said, “This is a really exciting project for Karratha and I’m very pleased that the City, through Karratha Airport, has been able to facilitate it. We have so much sunshine here in the Pilbara so it makes sense that we start looking at solar power for our energy needs as it becomes more financially viable. Making renewable energy like solar a larger part of our energy mix is going to give us a bright future by helping to reduce the City’s carbon footprint and potentially save us money into the future.” 

Karratha Airport initiated the Karratha Solar Farm project with the aim of reducing their energy costs. The airport has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to buy electricity from the Solar Farm for 21 years. It is expected to generate approximately 1,824MWh of energy in the first year of operation, meeting approximately 30% of the Karratha Airport’s energy requirements. Airport officials expect to save millions of dollars on the airport’s energy costs over the life of the PPA. 

The Cloud Prediction Technology, showcased at the solar farm is designed to smooth out power generation from the facility in tandem with a battery system. In the case of the Karratha Solar Farm the CPT has enabled the battery capacity to be significantly reduced. The CPT at the Karratha Solar Farm tracks cloud movements and predicts when they will block the sun’s energy from hitting the panels and cause a sudden drop in the power output. The CPT avoids this by gradually reducing electricity output, allowing the solar farm to meet its obligations to the grid. It has saved more than 20% in battery storage, significantly reducing construction cost and resource consumption. CPT comprises an all-sky camera, irradiance sensor and data analytics system. 

The Solar Farm also features piles rated to withstand cyclones, meets CASA height restrictions for safety and includes 3,104 anti-reflective photovoltaic (PV) panels that cut glare to pilots landing and taking off from the nearby airport. The Solar Farm was built by the Australian arm of electronics manufacturer, Flex, who took over construction project management in August, when the company acquired Sun Edison (Australia).  

The project received a $2.3million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s (ARENA) Regional Australia program based on its innovative use of CPT that will help to reduce costs for remote area PV installation.   

“We thank ARENA for their support in delivering this important project and look forward to sharing knowledge from this Solar Farm with ARENA to promote the use of renewable energy across regional Australia,” said Mr Lock.  

The Karratha Solar Farm will be owned and operated by Impact Investment Group’s IIG Solar Income Fund (Fund). The Fund is an unlisted solar infrastructure investment vehicle launched in mid-2016, led by IIG Head of Renewable Infrastructure, Lane Crockett, and overseen by an independent board chaired by Ross Garnaut AO. The Fund closed its capital raising in August 2016. Prominent investors in the Fund include ethical super fund Future Super as well as high net wealth individuals and family offices.  

An economic analysis has found that IIG’s target $100 million Solar Income Fund is expected to deliver about 270 jobs during construction, as well as approximately $57 million in savings from health and environmental costs associated with fossil fuels. The Fund expects to power the equivalent of 9,000 homes over its life, abating 48,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. 

More Coverage

The Guardian: Cloud-tracking cameras to tackle dips in solar power output

Renew Economy: Karratha Solar Farm with cloud predicting technology opens in WA

Pilbara News:Project the start of city’s solar ambitions

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