Construction of what will be Australia’s largest floating solar farm in underway in the New South Wales regional town of Lismore, with the installation of a 100kW council-owned, community-funded PV array at the East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant.
The floating solar farm – which is being installed on the sewage plant’s over flow pond – is part two of an innovative collaboration between community renewables group Farming The Sun and Lismore City Council, using a purpose built financial model and targeting local investors.
The first, a 99kW solar array on the roof of the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre, was completed and switched on in May, after being installed by local outfit Rainbow Power.
The 100kW floating solar farm, which was designed and installed by another local outfit, Suntrix, will initially provide 12 per cent of the electricity of the water treatment plant – which is the biggest electricity consumer of any of Lismore City Council’s services.
The council has further plans to grow the capacity of the solar farm in the future to the point where it will power the entire sewage works, as the local government works towards its goal of 100 per cent renewables by 2023.
Floating solar is gaining traction as an option, particularly for water management companies and assets, as the cooling effect of the water is said to make the panels more efficient and increase their lifespan. In turn, the PV panels provide shading and reduce the loss of water from evaporation.
While not the only example in Australia, the Lismore array is believed to be the biggest yet, with more and bigger examples likely to follow. Goulburn Council, for example, has commissioned feasibility studies into installing floating solar on it own water stores, to slash power costs.
But perhaps even more innovative than the project’s design, is the fact that it has been realised through a mixture of government and private funding, including community investment from 40 investors.
Adam Blakester, who is project director of Farming the Sun, said the community response to the investment offers, which were launched in June 2016, was “swift and positive.”
“It was clear within the first 10 days that the two investment offers would be fully subscribed,” Blakester said at the time. Indeed, the scheme received enough applications to fund an additional solar farm in its entirety.
Blakester said both projects had a majority of local investors from the Northern Rivers, with the balance coming from around the country, and representing “a strategic mix of shareholders and linkages with the community energy and sustainable investment sectors.”