The challenge with solar power – like many other alternative energy sources – is inconsistency: when it is cloudy, less power is produced.

UQ's solar arrays have been set up to allow researchers to experiment with different ways of storing and collecting energy consistently, and how best to feed energy from stand-alone generating plants into the electricity grid.

Several experiments are currently under way:

 Gatton Solar Research Facility

The Global Change Institute is shaping a brighter future for Australia’s renewable energy capability with the construction of the largest solar research facility in the Southern Hemisphere at UQ’s Gatton campus (located about 90 km west of Brisbane) . The 3.275 megawatt research station is a pilot plant for new and existing large-scale Australian solar projects, and explores ways to better integrate solar with conventional electricity grids. The project is a collaboration between UQ Solar, US photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar and AGL. The facility has generated more than 5.8 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy since installation in March 2015.

Read more about the Gatton Solar Research Facility:

Solar milestone: One year could power 1000 homes

Solar research facility a game-changer for industry

Battery Energy Storage System (BESS)

A 600 kW, 760 kWh Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) has recently been integrated with The University of Queensland (UQ) Gatton solar PV plant. This addition to the Australian Government funded 3.275 MW pilot PV plant brings a new dimension to UQ’s large-scale PV grid integration research. This document intends to introduce the BESS at UQ Gatton and share some of the aspects considered during the testing and commissioning process to make this facility suitable for research and development on BESS applications for enabling large-scale PV integration. Read more here.

Next-generation Battery Storage

The application of a large-scale zinc-bromine battery storage system will allow significant research into interactive yield management, and in various new methods of feeding power to the grid.

The prototype RedFlow 200 system, rated at 200kW,  is linked to a 339kW section of the UQ Solar array, allowing electricity generated from the sun during the day to be fed into the grid at periods of peak demand, when electricity is most valuable.  An identical 339kW adjacent group of panels will feed their power directly into the grid as the power is generated. A comparison between the two sections will provide valuable data on how solar PV power with storage can assist the network.

Meanwhile, local distribution company Energex has contributed $90,000 to fund state-of-the-art metering and monitoring equipment to provide high-quality data and analysis on the solar-generated power feed. This data will support detailed research into the engineering and economic aspects of how a medium-size solar energy generating plant interacts with the grid.

The research will pave the way for numerous other renewable energy plants – including wave, wind and solar — to play an increasingly complementary role and eventually help replace carbon-intensive power generation from coal and gas.

UQ's Professor Paul Meredith says the research would help advance understanding on how a range of renewable energy sources will interact with the power grid.

"The grid has been set up to take massive, high-voltage electricity inputs from a very small number of enormous coal or gas power stations," he said.

"With this research — we expect to answer important questions about how to integrate our electricity grid with numerous types of small and medium-sized renewable energy sources feeding in power in numerous, varied locations.

"We at UQ are very fortunate to have RedFlow and its world-leading technology here on our doorstep in Brisbane, and to have the support from and engagement with Energex on this project.

"We are very excited about working together on this globally significant research."

Professor Meredith said the research project also would allow better understanding of the capabilities of zinc-bromine batteries, which have big environmental benefits over their traditional counterparts, lead-acid batteries.

"A big advantage is that they are filled with water, not acid," Professor Meredith said. "Zinc-bromine batteries are next-generation technology. They are making solar energy much more useable, useful and effective."

Concentrating Photovoltaic Array

UQ's array is one of only 31 CPV tracking panels in Australia; the ground-mounted array tracks the sun across the sky each day.

A seven-metre by six-metre Concentrating Photovoltaic Array has been installed on Sir Fred Schonell Drive, adjacent UQ’s multi-storey carparks.

The ground-mounted array tracks the sun across the sky each day and had its first full-sun, non-cloudy day on 23 March 2011, allowing it to be calibrated to the sun and to start generating power.

The 8.4 kilowatt CPV array is valued at about $90,000 and was donated by Ingenero, the Brisbane firm that won a contract to install the PV solar array across four rooftops at UQ, St Lucia. UQ's is one of only 31 CPV tracking panels in Australia; the other 30 are at the Alice Springs Airport (also installed by Ingenero).

The CPV tracking panel uses different technology to the rest of the UQ Solar array:

  • It is made up of 28 parabolic focussing, photovoltaic modules, each with 20 individual reflectors and a high-efficiency triple-junction semiconductor solar cell.
  • It is motor-driven on a dual axis to keep it closely aligned with the sun so optimum solar harvesting is ensured.

In general, the CPV array is more efficient than traditional PV panels when the sun is shining, but less efficient than traditional panels on overcast days.

Having the two different types of technology operating side by side will allow a range of comparative data to be produced.

System Specification

 7.0 x 6.0 metre, 8.4 kilowatt Concentrating Photovoltaic Array

 Shading Analysis and Smart Modules Research

The project aims to increase the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels and will be undertaken on about 10 per cent of the panels in the UQ Solar array at St Lucia

This research incorporates the first large-scale field test of a prototype device, the SN2100 blocking diode, developed by NYSE-listed National Semiconductors.

The project, which aims to increase the efficiency of UQ's photovoltaic solar panels,  involves attaching diodes to the back of some 250 panels, with an additional 250 panels being used as comparative modules.

The effectiveness and application of the diodes will be monitored under a range of natural and artificial shading conditions, before they are released commercially.

Under the research, parts of the panels will be deliberately shaded to analyse the impact this will have on electricity generation. The shading devices will also cover adjacent panels that do not have the device installed.  This will allow a comparison between the two sets of data to determine the effectiveness of the technology.

Energy researchers at the Global Change Institute typically work on one or more research projects at any given time.

If you would like to know more about any of the following projects, please follow the link to contact the relevant researcher.

Project 1: Solar PV Yield Assessment
Dr Phillip Wild

Assessment of the potential for solar farm developments in Australia is based initially on calculated PV yield from BOM hourly gridded satellite solar and AWS climate data using the NREL System Advisor Model (SAM).  The objective of this research will be to compare the projected yields against terrestrial on-site measurements at the three solar farm sites (Gatton, Broken Hill and Nyngan) to assess the adequacy of modelling based on BOM satellite solar and climate data to replicate the on-site measurements.

Project 2: Assessing Wholesale Electricity Market Impacts of the Role-Out of Utility-Scale Solar PV Farms in the NEM
Dr Phillip Wild

The project will initially involve incorporating the Broken Hill and Nyngan PV solar farms into the Australian National Electricity Market (ANEM) model of the NEM to assess their wholesale market impacts. The project will later investigate the impact of the up-scaling of solar PV farm penetration to other regions of the NEM based upon PV yield projections from the SAM model using BOM climate and solar satellite data.

Project 3: Assessing the Commercial Viability of Utility Scale Solar PV Farms in the NEM
Dr Phillip Wild

Financial feasibility of renewable energy projects depends crucially upon estimates of the ‘Levelised Cost of Energy’ (LCOE) of such projects.  Comparison of LCOE and commercially available ‘Power Purchase Agreements’ will indicate to policymakers whether additional support might be needed or warranted to promote further investment in renewable energy projects. This project will include assessment of the efficacy of different public policy instruments including renewable energy obligation and feed-in tariff schemes.

Project 4: Optimising GSRF Array Outcomes
Dr Phillip Wild

This project involves investigating strategies using estimates of solar PV yield and battery storage associated with the UQ Solar Gatton Array as well as projections of UQ Gatton load to optimise the return to UQ from the array

Project 5: Gatton PV voltage control strategies
Dr Ruifeng Yan and Prof Tapan Saha

This project investigates the current voltage control options, and develops new control methods by coordinating available control devices for a more cost-effective voltage regulation performance. The established approaches will first be tested in the Renewable Energy Laboratory with hardware-in-loop experiments, and then if possible, they will be validated in the field.

Project 6: PV and battery integration into remote communities
Dr Ruifeng Yan and Prof Tapan Saha

This project examines and analyses PV and battery control algorithms when they are integrated into Australian remote communities. Control coordination will be the key challenge and will affect supply reliability and technical performance.

Photovoltaic Array

Live Data Feed – view real-time and historical information on electricity generated by the UQ Solar St Lucia Array.  The data from the meters is transmitted every minute to the server that generates the live data feed. Due to the time needed to send, receive and process data, the information on the live feed display is less than two minutes “old”.

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