Construction has commenced at the 25MW Katherine Solar Farm, set to become the Northern Territory's largest (at least for a time), following the project's acquisition by one of Europe's largest oil and gas companies, ENI.
Construction has commenced at the solar farm site, located around 5km outside of Katherine, which will supply electricity to the main NT power grid via a power purchase agreement with government-owned retailer Jacana Energy.
The $40 million project is being constructed by engineering services provider British Solar Renewables (BSR) and will incorporate 6MVA/3MWh battery energy storage system.
More than 100,000 panels will be installed at the solar farm, that is expected to span around 75 hectares, on private lands north-west of the Katherine township.
Around 100 jobs will be created during the construction phase, with the project expected to generate around 70,000 MWh of power annually.
The battery energy storage system will help smooth the output from the solar farm as occasional cloud cover reduces output, mitigating the impacts of supply disruptions on the wider NT grid.
The solar farm will use Fulcrum3D's CloudCam technology, which was developed with the support of a grant from ARENA, which allows solar farms to pre-emptively, and gradually, reduce output in anticipation of cloud cover.
Crucially, this allows time for backup supply systems to kick in, reducing the chance of any supply disruptions to electricity supplies.
“Thanks to these technologies, the plant will be able to forecast and compensate for possible variations in solar irradiation by taking energy from a storage system so as to minimize the impact to the grid,” ENI said in a statement.
The project was originally being developed by Australian based Epuron, but was sold to Italian oil and gas company ENI Spa in February, and represents Eni's first investment in the Australian renewable energy sector.
While the NT has an abundance of sunshine, heavy rains during the wet season can impact the operation of solar projects, and already impacted on the commencement of construction.
The start of construction of the Katherine Solar Farm had initially been planned for late 2018, but potential delays had been flagged, particularly due to the potential impact of rains during the wet season.
The original project developers Epuron flagged last year
that construction may be put off until the dry season, to avoid the worst of the disruptions.
The Katherine Solar Farm is expected to commence first generation in late 2019.
With vast solar resources, the Northern Territory has been recognised as a high potential location for solar installations.
Alice Springs as positioned itself as the ‘solar capital' of Australia, which is approaching 50% solar penetration within the Alice Springs grid
Clean energy think tank Beyond Zero Emissions has advocated for the NT to embrace solar as crucial economic activity, publishing analysis
that shows the production of renewable energy, and exports of renewable gas, could provide a greater economic contribution compared to the current push into fracking.
You can hear more about Beyond Zero Emission's vision for up to 10GW of solar capacity in the Northern Territory in the latest episode of the Energy Insiders Podcast
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.