Solar is now the largest source of renewable energy in Australia, overtaking wind in 2020 thanks to a massive surge of small scale installations and utility scale projects. In 2020, rooftop solar installations increased by 27.5 per cent and large scale solar projects grew by 36.2 per cent, driving an overall market surge of renewables to 24.4 per cent. For the first time, the market share of renewable energy sources has overtaken fossil gas generation, which dipped to 20 per cent in 2020. As Australia continues to build its global solar energy credentials, we look at the five largest solar energy projects in Australia – both in operation and currently under construction.
1. Though under construction at the time of writing, New England Solar Farm - a joint venture between UPC Renewables Group and AC Energy - will be Australia’s largest hybrid solar and battery energy storage facility when completed. The 720 megawatt (MW) solar farm will be located across two fields close to Uralla in New South Wales, with a 400 megawatt hours (MWh) battery energy storage system on site. The farm will produce enough renewable electricity to power more than 250,000 NSW homes when it comes online in 2022. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year – that’s equivalent to taking 330,000 cars off the road! The project is expected to generate up to 700 jobs during construction and 15 ongoing roles over its 25- 30 year lifespan.
2. Also under construction, Queensland’s Western Downs Green Power Hub will become the country’s second largest producer of solar energy when finished. The farm will feature a 460MW capacity and 150MW of battery energy storage potential. Located 22km south-east of Chinchilla in the Western Downs Region, the farm is owned by Neoen and expected to become operational in 2022. Each year, the farm will produce enough renewable electricity to power 235,000 homes, displacing 864,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions – which is equivalent to planting 8.8 million trees! The project is expected to create 400 jobs during construction and seven to ten permanent positions when operational.
3. Darlington Point Solar Farm is Australia’s largest operational solar farm. Located 10km south of Darlington Point in western New South Wales, the 336MW farm is jointly owned by Edify and Fern Trading Development Limited. The solar farm commenced operations in August 2020 and now provides clean green energy to over 115,000 homes each year, saving 154,147 tonnes of CO2 emissions. This trailblazing project has led the way for Australia’s renewable future; while currently the largest solar farm connected to the National Electricity Market, it will soon be dwarfed by newer solar projects.
4. Next on our list is South Australia’s Cultana Solar Farm, currently under construction and due to go live in 2023. Delivered by SIMEC Energy Australia, the 280MW solar farm is located just north of Whyalla and will draw from 780,000 solar panels across an area 550 times larger than the Adelaide Oval. Once operational, the farm will generate enough energy to power 100,000 South Australian homes, offsetting 492,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. The project is forecast to generate around 700 direct jobs during its construction phase, and around 10 ongoing operation and maintenance positions throughout its lifespan.
5. Newly operational in the first quarter of 2021, Limondale Solar Farm is the final player on our list of Australian solar farm heavyweights. Located at Balranald in New South Wales, this 249MW farm draws energy from 872,000 panels across 900 hectares – an area equivalent to approximately 415 football fields. The farm generates enough electricity to power up to 105,000 homes each year. During construction, the project created 300-400 jobs, and now requires seven full-time staff for its ongoing operation.