Lagging Aussie Utility PV Getting First Solar Boost

First Solar appears to be locking in its roll as the utility-scale solar developer in Australia.

The Arizona-based company’s Asia Pacific office in Sydney this week got news that two big projects it’s heading up Down Under – announced a year ago – are finally financed and ready to rock and roll. At 102 and 53 megawatts these will be the biggest utility-scale solar projects in Australia and they will use First Solar’s thin-film panels.

australia solar utility pv

10-MW installation in Western Australia (image via Greenough River Solar Farm)

The projects “demonstrate that utility-scale solar is a proven, bankable source of power generation in Australia today,” First Solar’s Sydney man, Jack Curtis, said in a statement.

Until recently, utility-scale solar just wasn’t happening. The county was picking up the pace, embracing its abundant sunshine as a power source – in 2012, some 320,000 systems were installed. This was small-scale stuff, however, and the country’s long-term 100 percent renewables scenarios [PDF] see utility PV assuming a big portion of the burden that rooftop solar.

Nonetheless, Australia didn’t get its first big solar power plant until last August, when the 10-megawatt Greenough River Solar Farm in Western Australia began operation.

That will all change with these new projects, which reflect First Solar’s strategy, which began to unfold after a very difficult 2011, to focus on fresh markets for utility-scale development.

The two Australian projects, both in New South Wales are being developed for AGL Energy Limited.

First Solar has executed engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts to supply the projects with its advanced thin-film photovoltaic (PV) modules and provide EPC services. Construction of the 102-MW Nyngan project should kick off in January 2014 and take about a year and a half. Broken Hill project will get going next July and is expected to be in operation before the end of 2015. First Solar said it will provide maintenance support for a period of five years once the solar farms are operational.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.