Australia’s largest solar car park

Australia's largest solar car park at USQ

A solar car park just makes sense, particularly at a university campus where it can be used for research and education. A recent ATA branch meeting heard about the largest one in Australia, recently installed at USQ.

It’s inspiring to see renewable energy projects springing up in Queensland even in areas of significant fossil fuel production. One such example is Australia’s largest integrated solar car park, which is now operating at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Toowoomba in the Darling Downs. This is a rich agricultural region that is also home to coal mining, coal seam gas production and two of the country’s youngest coal-fuelled power stations, alongside large solar (2 GW) and wind farm (500 MW) proposals—a region with very diverse business interests.

The solar car park is part of a bigger project at USQ, the Sustainable Energy Solution, which involves installation of significant PV arrays around the university: a 1 MW car park solar array at the Toowoomba campus, 196 kW of rooftop PV at Ipswich, 205 kW of rooftop PV in Springfield and another 506 kW of rooftop PV in Toowoomba. Quite a feast of solar!

The solar project is intended as a feast for research as well. Andreas Helwig, a sustainable energy researcher from the school of mechanical and electrical engineering, is undertaking several research projects using the resulting “100 km virtual aperture” (i.e. modelled like 100 km of solar panels!) to investigate the “secret life” of solar panels. With PV across three locations, the research will investigate how solar cell performance is affected by transient clouds, varying levels of relative humidity and different types of airborne dust (including coal dust). All of these can degrade the PV output, reduce the cooling benefit of inverter heat sinks and exacerbate PV manufacturing faults.

Andreas notes, “A big question—and an expensive one—is when is it necessary to clean and maintain the surfaces of the arrays and the inverter heat sinks?” Research projects are also using infrared photometry to identify PV faults, whether from manufacturing or degradation over time.

Read the full article in ReNew 142.

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