Biggest portable solar farm under construction for SA Water

A section of the re-deployable solar array at Happy Valley. Source: SA Water

South Australia government-owned utility SA Water is laying claim to the “world’s largest” re-deployable solar array, as works begin on the installation of a 12.8MW pre-fab PV system at the Happy Valley Reservoir on the outskirts of Adelaide.

Whether or not this claim is true is almost impossible to prove, but the solar system is most certainly the largest ever deployment of the prefabricated Maverick solar block technology of Sydney-based success-story, 5B.

Founded by two former Infigen Energy engineers, 5B has been going from strength to strength since its launch in mid-2017, when it promised to be able to deliver 1MW, battery-ready solar projects in just five-days, using a team of just six workers.

In August of this year, the Maverick technology was short-listed for the Clean Energy Council 2020 innovation award – in particular for the achievement of fastest deployed megawatt-scale solar project on a mine site worldwide at a Western Australia project that cut the facility’s electricity costs by around 40 per cent per kWh.

The 30,000-panel Happy Valley installation will sit on just 12 hectares alongside the reservoir that holds the drinking water for nearly half of metropolitan Adelaide, and once completed in early 2021 will generate around 18GWh of clean electricity a year, enough to power the equivalent of over 3,000 South Australian homes.

The solar plant is one of 33 PV arrays totalling 154MW that are being rolled-out across SA Water sites as part of its Zero Cost Energy Future project, which is being coordinated by Enerven.

According to Enerven, 5B’s technology was picked for the Happy Valley job for the flexibility it offered in terms of the long term management of the site, which is part of the greater new Glenthorne National Park and will be opening for recreational activities like kayaking and fishing in 2021.

“We chose to employ 5B’s Maverick technology due to the ground conditions and space constraints at the Happy Valley site. As a result of this unique solution, we were able to maximise the system’s capacity and mitigate risk for a valued client,” said Enerven’s program director, Leon Cocchiaro.

SA Water chief executive David Ryan said the solar array had the capacity to almost double the energy requirements of the Happy Valley Water Treatment Plant, while also slashing its emissions.

“With our extensive water and wastewater operations making us one of the largest electricity consumers in South Australia, being able to generate solar electricity at sites like Happy Valley will make us more resilient to the volatility of the electricity market,” Ryan said.

“This is such an exciting project that will make a real difference to our operations, and ultimately, by working towards our zero cost energy future, we aim to sustainably keep prices low for our customers.”

For 5B the SA Water project builds on what has been a remarkable year for the company, including being named as the preferred supplier for the giant 10GW Sun Cable solar project in the Northern Territory that is backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest, and supplying the solar for Cannon-Brookes energy resilience initiative to help provide off-grid power to bushfire victims.

“Happy Valley will be the largest Maverick array deployed to date, and is a clear validation from the market that the features that make Maverick so attractive at the sub-10MW scale are equally important – if not more – as we move up into the utility-scale / 100MW scale,” said 5B co-founder and chief ecosystem officer Eden Tehan.

“This project is an important stepping stone for our business as we scale up to meet the demands of the GW-scale projects that will be the hallmark of the PV industry over the next decade,” Tehan added.

“We’re seeing more and more PV projects of increasing scale being built by prefabricated, deployable technologies. This approach almost always reduces project risk and duration, and this is reflected in a reduced capex figure.”

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