Evaluating the key commercial and technical considerations in Utility Scale solar

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Evaluating the key commercial and technical considerations in Utility Scale solar

11 Oct 2017, 1:10 PM - 2:30 PM

Room 213, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
English (Australia)

Chairperson: Raymond Hudson, Global Solar Segment Director, DNV GL


The Future market for Australian large scale solar – Mega Watts!

Ben Willacy, Director, Sustainable Energy Research Analytics

2017 has seen unprecedented growth in utility scale solar in Australia, but 2018 will be the truly stellar year. The project planning, financing and contracting work being executed today will lead to massive capacity growth, value creation and a surge in M&A activity next year.

Our pipeline of potential solar projects exceeds 9GW, and it is growing, fast. Here we outline how 2018 is set to deliver over 12% of this total capacity, and whether this momentum can continue. We examine the key features of new Australian projects, including capital costs, technology, and crucially, breakeven prices.

With improving project economics comes higher returns, and more transactions. We deconstruct the recent M&A trend, investigating the drivers and deal breakevens to determine what the deals tell us about the future of the market.

How will solar contribute to the RET come 2020? How attractive is solar to investors? Come along to hear our answers to these questions, and more.


Making major decisions on your large scale solar project - Looking at how $/Watt is actually a poor measure for both project efficiency and cost of energy

Andrew Coughlan, Manager, Utility Scale Solar, Zenviron

While the domestic large scale solar industry in Australia has experienced a significant period of maturation in 2016, many developers, financiers and EPC contractors are still relying on the 'dollars per Watt' metric to make major decisions for their projects.

Through worked examples Andrew intends to illustrate that in many cases, $/Watt is actually a poor measure for both project efficiency and cost of energy.


Improving utility scale economics: How Different Solar Tracker Architectures can Impact LCOE

Ron Corio, CEO & Founder, Array Technologies

Recent years have brought a mass transition from fixed tilt structures to solar trackers in utility-scale projects. Solar trackers generate more electricity than their stationary counterparts due to increased direct exposure to solar irradiance. The resulting production increase can be as much as 25% depending on the geographic location of the tracking system. The widespread adoption of solar tracking technology can be attributed to the fact that trackers significantly boost energy production, and provide a better match to energy demand curves, increasing the competitiveness of solar power around the world as a reliable energy source.

By dramatically improving energy production, solar trackers also meaningfully improve the overall economics of solar power plants, leading to a better levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). But all solar trackers are not created equally. Since the tracker is literally the foundation of the project, the type of tracker technology selected can make or break the financial health of a solar asset over the long term. 

There are three distinct types of tracker technologies available on the market today, and each can have dramatic implications on upfront costs (CAPEX), long-term O&M costs (OPEX), as well as production and uptime. Since LCOE is a factor of these specific variables, analyzing the pros and cons of each architecture relative to LCOE will help solar asset owners identify the best technology for their utility-scale site. 

Push-Pull: A single actuator “pushes and pulls” rows of panels by means of a lateral linear motion drive shaft, similar to a shutter blind. Relatively straight forward in design, these devices normally require flat terrains for perfect alignment of the drive shaft as all the force is transferred through the central actuator. They also tend to be material-heavy and cumbersome to install due to their design architecture, which will ultimately impact CAPEX. The number of electronic and electromechanical components to consider for maintenance is limited to approximately 1,000 per 100 MW project site, allowing for predictable O&M costs.

Distributed Row System: Each row of solar panels is individually driven. These systems are known for their flexibility, since the absence of a centralized drive mechanism allows free placement of each row respective to the others. Because each row is individually powered and operated, this design can lead to up to 30,000 electronic and electromechanical components in a 100MW project site. The high volume of potential failure points creates a significant maintenance consideration and O&M cost impact, not to mention production downtime due to frequent repairs. 

Linked Flexible Driveline: Rows of modules are linked with a rotating driveline. Unique designs in this category have high terrain flexibility and employ minimal components to track the sun and survive extreme events, such as cyclonic winds. Some designs have fewer than 200 electronic and electromechanical components per 100 MW project site, providing the lowest cost of ownership and highest uptime due to minimized failure points.

Whether CAPEX-focused or OPEX-focused, utility-scale project stakeholders that ignore tracker reliability will likely pay for higher overall costs in the end. Thus, it is important to consider the overall levelized cost of electricity to ensure that the solar trackers selected for your project are efficient to install, easy to maintain and highly reliable. 


Siting  for Utility Scale PV projects: An example from the Solar PV Landfill Demonstration Project

Clara Mazzone, Construction Projects Manager, ITP Renewables

ITP Renewables developed the design and then installed a pilot 100kW PV project for Joule Energy with funding from ARENA. Phase 1 is one of the first solar landfill projects in Australia and the project adopted three different mounting technologies as proofs of concept with the intention of providing impetus for a multi-megawatt scale Phase 2. The findings of this demonstration project and the strengths of the three different footing types will be outlined in this presentation.

Two significant barriers faced by utility scale solar PV projects are the availability of cheap land and a grid connection. Landfill sites are particularly well-suited for solar development as they represent large amounts of land with limited secondary uses and large sites often feature landfill gas electricity generation with established critical grid infrastructure.

Landfill sites therefore provide the opportunity to reduce both land and connection costs for a solar PV installation provided the challenges of installing solar PV on a landfill can be overcome.

While PV technology is well-understood, sites for ground-mounted PV typically do not have restrictions on the depth at which the foundations are installed. The challenges presented by the relatively shallow landfill caps require careful footings design and careful construction techniques so as not to penetrate the full depth of the cap and generally minimise any likelihood of gas leakage. ITP Renewables’ work on the demonstration plant addressed all these things.


  • Raymond Hudson


    Global Solar Segment Director

    DNV GL

  • Ben Willacy



    Sustainable Energy Research Analytics

    Ben Willacy is a director at Sustainable Energy Research Analytics (SERA), where he helps clients make better, faster, data driven decisions in the...

  • Andrew Coughlan


    Manager - Utility Scale Solar


    Andrew Coughlan manages the Utility Scale Solar business for Zenviron, a full-service renewable energy EPC contractor, announced to the Australian...

  • Ron Corio


    CEO & Founder

    Array Technologies

    Ron Corio is the founder and CEO of Array Technologies, Inc., which he started in 1989. As CEO, Ron is central to product innovation and strategic...

  • Clara Mazzone


    Construction Projects Manager

    ITP Renewables

    Clara Mazzone is the Construction Projects Manager at ITP Australia. She holds a degree in Renewable Energy Engineering from UNSW and a Bachelor of...

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