Southern Hemisphere’s Largest Solar Power Plant Set to Go Online

A project in the Australian Outback that will more than double the country’s large-scale solar output should begin generating its initial power as early as this week, according to First Solar Inc.

The A$ 290 million (US $220 million) Nyngan solar plant in New South Wales state will start at 25 megawatts before increasing to full capacity of 102 megawatts, said Jack Curtis, Asia- Pacific manager at First Solar, a partner in the project led by AGL Energy Ltd. The plant will be fully operational by July, Sydney-based AGL said last week.

The solar project is expected to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere until a 141-megawatt First Solar project in Chile commences operation in late 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. AGL and First Solar, the U.S. panel manufacturer, are also building a 53-megawatt solar plant in Broken Hill, west of Nyngan in New South Wales.

“What was really constraining the large-scale solar market was the fact that it just hadn’t been done before, so there was a lot of misconception around the execution and cost challenges,” Curtis said. “It can only get more efficient.”

While the government says Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent, solar accounted for less than 2 percent of its electricity generation in 2013, the Clean Energy Council estimated.

As much as 4.1 gigawatts of large-scale solar photovoltaic capacity is forecast to be installed in Australia through 2021, about 85 times current amount, according to a January report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Combined, the Nyngan and Broken Hill projects are estimated to cost about A$440 million, with the Australian and state governments providing A$232 million in funding. 

A compromise between the government and the opposition Labor party on where to set the 2020 renewable energy target would revive investment in the industry. Spending on large renewable energy projects has tumbled in Australia amid uncertainty over the future of the country’s policy.

Copyright 2015 Bloomberg.

Look for a detailed account of the uncertainty surrounding the Australian renewable energy market in the March/April issue of Renewable Energy World magazine set to hit inboxes on March 25. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

Lead image: Aerial view of the location of the Nyngan Solar Plant. Credit: AGL.

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